Amid a hail of adverse publicity – that is, more adverse than usual for this time of the year – there is one thing that no Network Rail (NR) spokesman can avoid, and that is that The Railway fouled up royally yesterday. Engineering works over-running is not uncommon – stuff happens – but the fall-back service put in place for those intending to travel out of London’s Kings’ Cross terminus went badly wrong.
King's Cross - closed yesterday
As it became clear that it would not be possible to reopen the line all the way into Kings’ Cross, it was decided to run a limited service into and out of Finsbury Park station, which is only a mile and a half away, and easily reached both by London’s buses, and the Victoria and Piccadilly tube lines. What could possibly go wrong with that? Well, rather a lot could go wrong, and it did just that in short order.
The numbers of passengers wanting to travel quickly overwhelmed the capacity of the station: the subway beneath the platforms could not cope with those coming from arriving trains, and those wanting to join trains about to depart, at once. The relatively narrow platforms were unable to cope with passenger numbers. So the station was closed for passengers’ own safety.
Finsbury Park, Platform 1 - a bit narrow
This exposed three shortcomings: one, the initial planning was inadequate, with nobody seeing the obvious – that Finsbury Park is not up to handling crowds. Second, NR did not get anyone onto the scene who was able to sort matters. And third, the passing of information was, let us not drive this one around the houses for too long, total crap. NR was deservedly awarded the Team Shambles prize.
But, d’you know what, the Finsbury Park crush should have come as no surprise, given recent concerns about crowding during upgrade works. Last year, warnings were given over “delays”, and the station had to be closed on at least one occasion. This year, more upgrade work began, and there were more warnings of congestion. On top of that are the potential numbers using main line trains.
Finsbury Park, Platform 2 - not much better
East Coast’s trainsets can take well over 500 passengers. And, although Finsbury Park’s main line platforms get busy with commuter traffic, trains do not normally start and end their journeys there. Those hundreds of passengers all coming at once, meeting hundreds coming the other way, the crush in the subway, the narrow platforms, all came together yesterday.
Yet NR managed not to see the obvious until the station had been closed, and even then, there was nobody calling the shots “on the ground”. Someone should have been doing their “what if” preparations, and that someone did not do them. Nor did that someone check out what facilities Finsbury Park had for travellers with special needs – or, as it turned out, did not have.
NR cannot blame anyone else for yesterday’s mess. Must try harder, folks.