Panic on train over fire threat

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PANIC broke out among commuters after the driver of a packed train announced he was going to drive through a tunnel to check if there was a fire in there.

On Tuesday morning, the 6.28am Hastings to London Charing Cross service stopped at Battle station at 6.45am as usual.

But passengers were kept waiting at the station for up to 15 minutes following reports of a fire in the Mountfield Tunnel.

A tannoy announcement informed passengers that a member of staff was going to check out whether there was a blaze in the tunnel.

But minutes later, much to the alarm of passengers, the driver said he would be taking the packed train into the tunnel to check for the fire himself.

Simon Foster, of Castle Hill Road, thought he had seen it all in his 15 years of commuting.

The 53-year-old civil servant said: “They said they could not find anyone to check it out, so they were going to drive a train full of passengers through the tunnel at a quarter speed to check it out.”

He added: “We were pretty upset about it.

“They apologised for the inconvenience, but people said it would be inconvenient if we were burnt alive.”

The fire was caused by a blown conductor pot.

When a pot blows there may be a few small flames, but they usually go out very quickly, according to Southeastern, which runs services on the Hastings to London line. The signaller told the train it was safe to proceed, with caution, and that Network Rail was en route to investigate. But many panicked passengers were left shaken by the experience.

Mr Foster said: “I thought it was pretty lax. It’s always profit before safety on these trains.”

A spokesman for Southeastern said: “While we ask that drivers keep passengers informed, especially during disruptions, we appreciate that this particular announcement would have caused unnecessary alarm, and we’re sorry for that.

“The safety of our passengers is our highest priority, and rest assured at no time were they in any danger. Drivers are trained to conduct expert risk assessments at all times and make decisions based on what is safe.

“Information was exchanged between the driver, signaller and the control room at all times.”