Major London rail operator South West Trains was unreservedly lambasted by the public and media on Monday, after temperatures of a (let’s face it, even by UK standards, unremarkable) 25 degrees caused buckling in the tracks and meant speed restrictions were put in place. It threw the whole network into chaos, with delays left, right and centre, not to mention packed trains and thousands of sweaty commuters.
It’s worth noting that there is no air conditioning on a major portion of South West Trains’ (owned by Stagecoach Group) fleet, because the carriages are old rolling stock from the 1980s. But despite the suffering of thousands of commuters in the sweltering heat, a spokesman for the firm said insisted that only 2% of its timetable was affected. We suspect some of the thousands of people trying to get home after work yesterday would dispute that figure.
The spokesman said, without a hint of irony: ‘The ageing condition of our infrastructure has meant that despite the preparation work that has taken place, we have had to impose speed restrictions.’ He said that the tracks had reached 50 degrees centigrade over the weekend causing flexing of the metal, and that hydraulic machines had been used to artificially stress the metal and minimise the damage.’
The implication being that the problem was not caused by SWT itself, but by Network Rail, which is responsible for the tracks. Inter-company backbiting doesn’t help much in these circumstances, either.
Predictably, commuters took to Twitter in their thousands, and people flooded the local media with tales of how bad the situation was. Tory MP Mark Pritchard, who was on one of the affected trains, got in touch with London’s Evening Standard newspaper, saying: ‘Everybody on the train was either laughing or scornful. There is nothing cool about Network Rail bosses’ undeserved bonuses - and clearly nothing cool about their railway tracks.’ Very witty, for an MP.
At one point MT was sure it heard a tannoy message saying: ‘The 17.52 South West Trains service to London Waterloo has been delayed due decades of fund starvation, wilful under-investment and bafflingly generous executive remuneration.’