South West Trains chaos: Police challenge pregnant woman over evacuation

Ruth Doherty



An eight-months pregnant woman was confronted by police and accused of trespass after being carried off a train where she had been trapped for hours last night.

Emma Firth joined a group of passengers in an evacuation after becoming fed up of being stranded just outside Woking station for four hours after what should have been a 20-minute journey.

Thousands of commuters were caught up in the chaos after signal failure left 60 trains stranded, some without power, until 11pm last night.

It was the second time in three days that signals have caused almost complete shutdown of the Southwest trains network - one of the busiest in the country that serves a big stretch of the London commuter belt.

Mrs Firth, from Farnham, Surrey, last night joined an Alton service at Clapham Junction on her way home from London.

It ground to a halt outside Woking station at about 7.15, behind a host of other trains unable to get past the faulty signals. After another two and a half hours, the power was switched off.

Emma told the Telegraph: 'I wondered if they were going to walk us down line.

'There were no refreshments on board and there had already been a call by guard over the PA system for any medical staff, or anyone who had insulin so I guessed one person at least was unwell.

'My husband James had by that point arrived at the station with dozens of others trying to collect people.

'He was told the power was off because passengers from the train in front had got out of the train and were walking to Woking station which could be seen in distance, less than half a mile away.'

But Mrs Firth, who works for Telegraph Media Group, and her fellow passengers were told that there were not enough staff to supervise an evacuation of their train.

Meanwhile, reports were coming back from friends and family waiting at Woking that there were around 22 trains backed up and that some of the drivers of those trains stuck at the station were going off shift.

'We were being told to sit tight for now, but there was no talk of what might happen or any suggestion they might have a plan,' she said.

'At this point I and some others decided to make a break for it. One guy had already opened the door, and we knew the power was off.

'I was talking about it to a man near me, we said: "This is our only chance". In my condition I wasn't going to sleep overnight on a train, I had no food or drink.

'So the man gave me a piggy back off the train and helped me walk down the track.'

Joined by four of other passengers they met a Network Rail worker who helped guide them along with his torch.

But at the the station police took them towards a side exit where they were confronted by more officers.

Emma explained: 'The police at the gates were very angry, saying we had trespassed.

'Cue lots of arguing, everyone and me pointing out I was almost eight months pregnant.'

Eventually the six passengers walked off but she said others following behind were also stopped and were ordered to give their details.

A spokesman for Network Rail said that 60 trains, all from Waterloo, had been affected by the failure which he claimed could have been caused by vandals.

'There were two trains where people were trying to get off and we had to get them back on.

'Signalling was switched back on at 10.55pm.'

A South West Trains spokeswoman said: 'We are very sorry for the lengthy delays and inconvenience this has caused to many of our customers.'

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