Travel chaos hits major commuting routes in South West London


A fire alarm at a signalling station brought trains to a standstill


east croydon station train delays clapham junction

By Emma Birkett

A lone fire alarm has caused untold travelling misery to South Londoners this morning, with delays likely to continue until 4:00pm.

Major commuting stations including East Croydon and Clapham Junction were hit with large scale cancellations, as a fire alarm in a Three Bridges signalling station brought trains to a standstill.

Commuters faced long and congested trips into London as alternative routes became busy and train platforms were closed due to overcrowding. 

London Overground trains were also affected by the alarm, which saw workers at the large signalling centre in West Sussex being evacuated for two hours whilst the Fire Service investigated the building.

A suspected rail suicide in the Portsmouth area, another main starting point for trains travelling towards London through the South, also contributed to the chaos.

Passengers trying to get out of the city to popular destinations such as Gatwick Airport and Brighton were also affected.

Frustrated passengers took to social media such as twitter to vent their anger at a rail system that many see to be antiquated and expensive.

OneTwitter user ‏@WayneShad said: “6am there was a fire alarm at Three Bridges. 11am and there’s still chaos across the whole of South. Really?? #thiscountry

@Brettman said: “So if we did have a real fire at the Three Bridges signalling box, that would be it? The whole network would stop and we’d have to walk?”

Some users reported that they had to wait over two hours for a train with some even saying that although they are not on an affected route the knock on effect was huge.

National Rail asked users to use the hashtag #ThreeBridges to focus their tweets and to search for updates on the situation.

Some did see the funny side with Twitter user @Whereinsussex saying: “So who burnt their toast at Three Bridges this morning?”

@Gareth_Davies09 added: “BREAKING NEWS: Someone has got on a train at East Croydon. I kid you not.”

The incident page on National Rail Enquiries website says they are running a non-stop shuttle train between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria, and Gatwick Express trains are calling additionally at Clapham Junction and East Croydon.

Buses have also been brought in to move passengers to less affected routes and stations.

The signalling centre in Three Bridges controls the rail traffic on the busy Brighton Mainline, one of South England’s main transport links to London, as well as some other secondary routes. 

The Brighton line takes in popular suburban areas like Croydon, Crawley and Horsham terminating at either London Victoria or London Bridge.

Disruption on this line is not uncommon, with landslides, signalling failures, rail sabotages and line-side fires have all caused major rail backlogs in the last five years.

The importance of keeping this network open and moving has been subject to scrutiny by both Transport for London and Network Rail who have sought a number of improvements over the years.

Not all of these have been welcome by unions and workers.

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the transport union RMT, said: “RMT believes that this morning’s incident shines the spotlight on plans to centralise signalling operations into 14 regional centres, a move that clearly throws up real risks of putting all the eggs in one basket with the obvious problem of a whole region going down if a centre is taken out of action.”

Bob Crow has also categorically stated that lessons must be learnt over this incident.

Those planning to start a journey using affected routes today are being advised check before they travel.

Details on how to get refunds on journeys have been published by Southern and other train companies affected by the delay, the websites are below:

Photo courtesy of Ashley Hutchinson via Wiki Commons, with thanks.

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