Commuters call for 'Inspector Sands' codeword to be scrapped after it caused panic in busy train stations

General view of Waterloo station, as hundreds of thousands of rail passengers faced travel misery on Monday at the start of a series of strikes in the long-running dispute over guards on trains.
The codeword reportedly caused panic at Waterloo station after it was used recently. (PA)

Commuters who worked out the meaning of an emergency codeword have called for it to be scrapped after its use caused panic in busy train stations.

Rail authorities have long used the words “Inspector Sands” as a coded way to signify a possible fire emergency on the London Underground and at airports.

It is usually broadcast over a public announcement system along with a request for the “inspector” to report to the “operations room”.

According to The Times, however, the overuse of the announcement has led commuters to work out its true meaning.

File photo dated 06/02/18 of a London Underground sign. Tube passengers will have access to the 4G network anywhere on the London Underground by the mid-2020s, Transport for London (TfL) has revealed.
TFL and Network Rail staff reportedly use it to warn of a fire at stations. (PA)

One passenger, Emil Coman, 38, described an incident at Waterloo station where people started “nervously running down the tunnels and up the escalators” after it was used recently.

Another, 61-year-old Gabrielle Flannery, said “panic broke out” after repeated Inspector Sands announcements at Paddington station earlier this year.

Critics now say the “outdated” system should be scrapped.

A spokesperson for campaign group Railfuture said the codeword “clearly needed to be changed”.


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The codeword has reportedly been in use for around 20 years and is said to have been borrowed from a code used in London theaters where staff are made aware of potential fires.

Transport chiefs argues that its staff have never seen incidents of commuters being spooked after hearing it.

Network Rail's director of incident management and operational security said: “The ‘Inspector Sands’ phrase is a first-stage fire alarm check alert to enable staff to look for faults in our station systems.

“No staff at any station has ever witnessed any worrying passenger reaction to its use.”

Yahoo News has contacted Transport for London for comment.

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