Inquiry after Avanti passengers have to scale 2-metre spiked fence to leave station

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Luciana Guerra/PA</span>
Photograph: Luciana Guerra/PA

One of the UK’s worst performing train operators has launched an investigation after passengers had to climb over a 2-metre (7ft) spiked fence to leave a station when staff locked up early.

The Avanti West Coast train from London was 100 minutes late arriving into Oxenholme on Tuesday night, by which time staff had locked the station and left for the night, passengers said. Some resorted to climbing the fence in scenes described by the local MP, Tim Farron, as “an unacceptable farce”.

Avanti told the MP it took the incident “very seriously” and promised to investigate.

Several people on board the delayed 7.30pm from Euston said the train was running so late that they were initially told the service would not stop as scheduled at Oxenholme, the nearest station to the Lake District.

Instead, passengers were told to stay on until Penrith, where they could get a taxi for the hour-long car journey back to Oxenholme.

But when the train reached Oxenholme, it stopped after all, leaving passengers on the platform of what turned out to be a closed station. Passengers said they believed station staff had been told the final service of the night was not going to stop there and thought they could safely go home.

Farron said some passengers climbed the 2-metre spiked gates and fences surrounding the station to get out. There was also concern they would be forced to cross live tracks to find an alternative exit, he said.

Police were called and managed to locate a maintenance worker who had a key to the gates, allowing passengers out after midnight.

“This is just a further example of the failures by Avanti,” Farron said. “We have seen a mass of cancellations of Avanti services, failures in the reservation systems, and now a locked station. There are clearly systematic failures going on at Avanti and we cannot let it go unchecked.

“We must now ask the question whether Avanti are a fit and proper outfit to run a franchise. The Department for Transport should seriously consider removing the franchise from them.”

Avanti has recently reduced the number of trains between London Euston and Manchester from one every 20 minutes to one an hour, with the cuts in place “until further notice”, and is allowing tickets to be bought only a few days in advance.

After meeting Avanti on Wednesday, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, demanded the firm set out when the full timetable would be restored. He also urged it to suspend first class restrictions on the London services to make more seats available on the booking system at an affordable price.

“The severe reduction of services at this time of year is seriously detrimental to our economy. Avanti’s decision to take this action without any prior consultation or even notification shows a lack of respect for our city-region and its people,” Burnham said.

A spokesman for Avanti said: “We are continuing to investigate what happened at Oxenholme on Tuesday night.”

He said Avanti appreciated the opportunity to meet Burnham and will “fully consider” his requests.

The firm says it reduced the timetable due to the “current industrial relations climate which has resulted in severe staff shortages”.