The Glasgow-based writer Gerry Hassan took part in our Scottish independence debate on Tuesday, and then made the mistake of getting the train back to Glasgow. It took 15 hours. No one could help a landslip in Cumbria, but then one of the engines caught fire. His story, below (recorded by the BBC), is perhaps a reminder of the need for investment in our existing rail network rather than spending billions on HS2. (For more on this, do read Ross Clark’s recent HS2 magazine cover story.)
“It was both a bizarre and strangely OK experience – in that the weather wasn’t massively hot or cold. Otherwise it had the potential to be like a road to hell movie.
When we passed Oxenholme, at about 14:00, there was a flash flood beginning and lots and lots of water on the platform.
The train then stopped two hours between the flooding and landslide. The staff were very helpful, working out what to do and what to tell us to keep us content.
Eventually we were told we had to go back to Preston to get on a replacement train which was very, very packed.
It was meant to go straight through to Glasgow. They then changed their minds, and said we’d have to change at Carlisle. Two minutes before coming into Carlisle they changed their mind again and said it was going straight to Glasgow.
At about 22:15 the train hit trouble, which is when the fire started in the engine.
We heard the ominous words over the tannoy – Staff Code Three – which was obviously a message that something was up. They didn’t say for five or 10 minutes what it was. Some people said that at that point they could smell smoke though I couldn’t at the back of the train.
A member of staff then told us we were going to have to get on another train and leave all our things behind – but she didn’t tell us why.
Later we found out the reason… we had to exit the train on temporary ladders to the ground and in the middle of nowhere. I thought other people might have major problems getting down the ladder, but they got everyone off.
We then went up an easier ladder into the replacement train.
That train was stacked toe-to-toe with people. We waited two and a half hours before we moved from there. We kept hearing announcements that we should be leaving shortly.
I was standing by a group of people by the toilets and was able to lean against the wall.
It could have been worse. There was a pregnant woman on board, and someone with severe diabetic problems.
One tough Glaswegian guy had a huge head cut over his eye, showing blood. I asked him if he was OK and where he got it from. He said when the announcement was made about the fire he immediately opened the train doors and jumped out the train on to the gravel-strewn track.
People had left their bags on the other train – obviously containing house keys and the like.
The train with all our luggage on board was actually ahead of us, so we had to retrieve those when we finally arrived in Glasgow some time after 02:30 in the morning. And then we joined a huge taxi queue.
I have to say, because of all that had happened people were actually having conversations – which is something British people don’t often do. We made friends and joked that we should all meet up again five years from now.”