Picture it: It’s a Monday evening and you’re several hours into your quiet train journey home from London to Edinburgh, all worries of your trip being delayed having long drifted away.
Suddenly you receive a perplexing email – while the train is still moving – telling you your journey has in fact been cancelled and you will have to get off at the next stop.
This was the beginning of an “insane” ordeal for hundreds of rail passengers on Monday night, which culminated in dozens of school children being left stranded and others being forced to take taxis across the border with strangers in the middle of the night.
Five school teachers and the 50 students they were travelling with were among those ordered off the Avanti West Coast train at Preston station in Lancashire.
“We’ve been stuck at Preston since around 6.30pm with 50 12-year-olds,” one of the teachers wrote on Twitter. “It’s now 10.08pm. We’ve just been informed that there is no way of getting us home to Glasgow, as we can’t send kids alone on taxis. A staff member has said we are effectively stuck here.”
The school eventually managed to source a coach to take the group home. “If we had not, we would have 50 young children abandoned on the streets of Preston once the station closes,” the unnamed teacher added, describing Avanti’s service as “very poor”.
I’m not quite sure how to explain what’s happened tonight, because it’s still happening - but here goes…
At 4:40pm I jumped on a train from London to Edinburgh..
It was comfy, it was quiet
In hindsight, too good to last…
— James Nokise (@JamesNokise) September 25, 2023
Another passenger described how his 11-hour journey to Edinburgh ended at 3.30am after a “ridiculous” five-hour black cab ride with a group of strangers.
In a series of tweets viewed more than 2.6 million times, stand-up comedian James Nokise wrote: “At 4.40pm I jumped on a train from London to Edinburgh.
“It was comfy, it was quiet. In hindsight, too good to last.”
He explained that at 7.26pm he was among the passengers who received an email stating that the train was cancelled, which was “a surprise” as it was still moving.
About 10 minutes later, he said, the train manager announced they had “heard from passengers” that the train had been cancelled and they were going to investigate.
An announcement was then made that the “rumours were true” and the service would be terminating at Preston, but another train to Glasgow was being held to take those onboard to Scotland.
But the Glasgow-bound train was already full and left Preston just as Nokise and his fellow passengers arrived.
They were told to wait for the next train, which ended up being cancelled.
Nokise wrote: “It turned out there were no more trains north after that and, excitingly, no forthcoming information.
“Some people stood staring at the screens.
“Some people queued to ask the one ticket booth worker the same question everyone else was.
“No one knew anything.
“Around 9.20pm, news came down: alternative transport had been arranged.
“Bus? An extra train? Horses? No. Taxis. For hundreds of people. To a city three-and-a-half hours away.”
At 10.30pm he was in the final group of travellers to get in a cab, describing the situation as “ridiculous”.
The comic wrote that shortly after midnight “our cabbie decided to change lanes without indicating and almost crashed into a mini-van overtaking him”.
Nokise expressed sympathy with the cab driver – who stopped to buy two cans of energy drink – as “it is late, it’s a dark highway and he’s driving a city black cab not meant for this road”.
He added: “Perhaps, just possibly, throwing money at cab drivers and getting them to drive several hours in the middle of the night might not be the best contingency plan for train companies to have.”
The A72 is “a real motion-sickness nightmare of a road”, which is “narrow, dark, full of turns and occasionally just dips,” he wrote.
‘Truly insane odyssey’
During the taxi journey, Nokise received an email from Avanti West Coast informing him he would receive £70 compensation, which was how much his ticket cost.
After being dropped off at Edinburgh Waverley station at around 3am, he had to take another taxi to his accommodation.
In his final post on the trip, he wrote at 3.30am: “Thanks for being on this journey with me Twitter.
“A truly insane odyssey. Five hours late, 11 hours after I jumped on the train.
“I’m going to have a shower and eat something.
“Let’s never do this again.”
An Avanti West Coast spokesman said: “We apologise to our customers who were caught up in last night’s disruption.
“The closure of the West Coast Main Line for over three hours due to a track defect had a significant impact on our services, with trains and train crew unable to work our planned timetable, resulting in cancellations of services north of Preston.
“Whilst alternative transport and overnight accommodation was sourced for most of those impacted, we fully understand the frustrations of those customers whose journeys were affected, and we are extremely sorry for this.
“Anyone who was affected by last night’s disruption will be entitled to compensation and are urged to get in contact through our normal channels to process their claim.”