Probe into train failure chaos

By Ted Jeory and Jonathan BarnesAN investigation has been launched after a train broke down, leaving commuters stranded on board for almost four hours.

By Ted Jeory and Jonathan Barnes

AN investigation has been launched after a train broke down, leaving commuters stranded on board for almost four hours.

The rush-hour chaos happened when a new First Great Eastern Class 360 train suffered suspected mechanical failure shortly after leaving Witham station for London at about 7.15am yesterday.

As temperatures began to plummet on one of the coldest mornings of the year, furious passengers suffered without heating, lighting and toilet facilities.

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At one stage, four trains stacked up at Witham station, leaving commuters scrambling in search of seats to the capital.

John Ikel, 29, from Witham, caught the First Great Eastern train at the town's station at 7.15am.

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He said the train had got half-a-mile from the station before it came to a grinding halt.

“There was a power failure, so there was no heat or lighting and the toilets were out of order - and nobody could tell us what was going on. The only way I found out was by calling customer services,” added Mr Ikel.

“Nothing happened at all until past 11am because an engineer didn't turn up until 10.45am. Some people had even kicked open the doors to break out.

“Eventually they opened the emergency doors and we walked along the track to carriages at the back of the train and then we crawled back to Witham station.”

The market data manager, who works at Canary Wharf, continued: “I have had a lot of problems with First Great Eastern - particularly in the really hot spell last summer - and I feel their communications with customers is pretty poor.

“I will be writing to them to get some compensation. These are supposed to be new trains, but it's the same old problems.”

But David Bigg, chairman of the Witham and Braintree Rail Users' Association, said yesterday's problem had been exacerbated by a points failure at Manningtree and he praised Witham station staff.

“They deserve a pat on the back for the way they helped people. We were running around like demented lemmings trying to find the first train to board, but the staff were exceptionally good for the way they guided us around,” he added.

A spokesman for First Great Eastern said the cause of the train failure was being investigated, but stressed all passengers would be entitled to compensation.

He added: “The type of train that broke down is fairly irrelevant - the delays were caused because we only had access to one line to move people.”

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