From the wrong type of snow to slippery rain - some of the train delay excuses

As commuters are left stuck on a train after the driver set off without the conductor, Chris Bond looks at some of the strange reasons given for rail delays over the years.
Rail passengers have heard all kinds of reasons for train delays over the years. (PA).Rail passengers have heard all kinds of reasons for train delays over the years. (PA).
Rail passengers have heard all kinds of reasons for train delays over the years. (PA).

There can be few more put upon people in this country than regular rail users and commuters.

Over the years they’ve not only had to contend with antiquated trains, staff shortages, strikes, insufficient and (subsequently) cramped carriages and exorbitant fares, but also a litany of delays and cancellations that have at times left passengers apoplectic.

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Some of the excuses given for these delays have had people shaking their heads in disbelief. We’ve famously had the wrong kind of snow which was blamed by railway companies for train hold-ups in the early 1990s - rail bosses claimed a particularly soft and powdery snowfall had found its way into the train network’s electrical system, bringing large parts of the network to a halt.

This became a byword for lame excuses and a few years later fluffy snow was blamed for delays on Eurostar services that left thousands of passengers stranded.

But it’s not just snow that’s proved to be a headache for rail operators. In 2003, Thameslink put delays down to “slippery rain”, while autumn leaves have played havoc with the rail network, and trains at Lewisham station in London were once disrupted due to “strong sunshine.”

This might sound odd here in Britain given that we aren’t known for our sweltering temperatures, but summer sunshine has been cited as a cause for delays in the past amid fears that rising temperatures can cause signal failure and even cause train tracks to buckle.

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In 2003, Network Rail even imposed speed restrictions of 60mph across much of southern England and the Midlands following a mini heatwave.

But the tricksy British weather isn’t the only culprit. In 2014, a burglary suspect caused disruption to commuters when he climbed a tree to evade police near a train line. Rail operator Southeastern had to suspend services while the man refused to come down as it was too dangerous to continue running trains in the area.

This week saw disruption in Yorkshire when a train driver pulled out of the station at Burley in Wharfedale without the conductor. Passengers were left stuck in carriages while a taxi was called to pick up the guard.

The fiasco, described by Northern Rail as an “operating incident”, caused one of the busiest morning services, from Ilkley to Leeds, to be terminated at Menston, half way down the line, and led to long delays for commuters travelling afterwards between Ilkley, Leeds and Bradford.

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Northern confirmed that a guard had been left on a platform and the company said it was “currently investigating the cause of the incident”.

The farce involving the conductor may sound like something straight out of a Carry On film but it certainly isn’t the most bizarre reason a rail company has given for train delays down the years.

That prize surely goes to delays on the line from Cardiff to London being caused by “a giant clown on the line”. This turned out to be an inflatable Ronald McDonald that had blown from the roof of a restaurant onto the South Wales main line.

But if you thought all this was simply a modern phenomenon then you’d be wrong. Back in the 1940s excuses were being made that locomotives were failing because of “the wrong kind of coal”. So not a lot seems to have changed.

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Joking aside, though, train delays and cancellations are not only frustrating and inconvenient for travellers they aren’t exactly a great advert for travelling by train either.

Perhaps given the growing penchant for referendums it’s time we had one on the state of the nation’s rail network?

Though having said that I think we can guess what the answer would probably be...