Thursday, January 7, 2010...9:14 pm

Commuter chaos: three fires on South West Trains

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It seems there was more to today’s unrelenting commuter misery than the “adverse weather conditions” cited on the South West Trains tannoy.
My six-hour total commute featured not one but two trains on fire. I ended up stuck behind on for about half an hour at Surbiton on the way in to Waterloo – then delayed at Woking on the way back as a burning train was cleared from the opposite line.
And it’s not a statement by furious pyromanic commuters. As it pulled away from the platform at Farnham this evening, the train spewed a spectacular display of sparks – probably the cause of the undercarriage fires that plagued the service today.
Another train caught fire at Basingstoke, according to the Basingstoke Gazette. It reported a South West Trains spokesman blaming a short circuit:

“It was to do with ice and snow on the contact rail. It affected the power supply to the train and it can cause an electrical short circuit on occasions.”

The big question is whether this is inevitable in snow in the UK. It’s a tired cliche that other countries are better able to cope with severe winters. But it seems it’s not just a question of having enough grit for the roads…
[UPDATE: The Surbiton fire has been all over the BBC. But I wonder how many other trains are a potential fire risk.]


  • it would appear this is a widespread problem with SWT. There were TWO yes thats TWO separate reports of fires on trains today. 1 at West Byfleet around 7am this morning and another at Woking (AGAIN) later in the morning
    Clearly there is a serious issue with the rolling stock operated by SWT and the engineering and management teams there need to be brought to task over this. It is only a matter of time before a member of the public is injured in one of these times, and the fact that SWT seem to be remaining quiet on the whole issue would suggest they have no idea what the cause is.
    It’s a shame as I think they’ve been doing pretty well given the current weather and todays experience was the only time I’ve really been put out or delayed siginificantly

  • Pete – thanks for the update. Very interesting to hear how widespread this problem seems to be – and also how under-reported. I think it’s only in icy conditions. But if winters get more severe we could be in trouble…

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