Could King’s Cross cope during a terrorist attack?

image I have serious worries about how King’s Cross would cope if there were to be another terrorist attack. I was at the station last night when all trains in and out of the station were cancelled due to signal failures.

As you can imagine, it was chaos.

If King’s Cross cannot communicate and immediately operate an effective emergency strategy in these circumstances, what chance do we stand against Al-Qaeda‘s bloodthirsty bombers?

Commuters are very patient, too patient, and can understand if there have been technical problems. But they want to be given clear information about what is likely to happen next, how they will get home. This very basic right is denied them because rail staff are not informed themselves; and therein lies the crux of the problem – devastatingly poor internal communications which lacks any joined up thinking.

This is what happened to me. I arrived at King’s Cross via the underground just before 7pm to find it heaving with frustrated commuters and CANCELLED signs posted on all departures. No information was flagged up anywhere at that time about reasons for the delay, the gigantic television screen was still promoting slinky Audi cars instead of being used as an emergency communications system. I understand the problems started around 5.30pm.

One member of staff told me it would all be sorted in 10 mins, another said 30 mins, one advised me to try getting to Liverpool Street Station, another remembered that the King’s Cross underground had been closed and I couldn’t get to Liverpool Street unless I took a taxi. An elderly woman has a panic attack and collapses through fear of not getting home and an ambulance is called.

I am advised that trains for Peterborough and Cambridge (my desitnation) will leave around 7.30pm for Alexandra Palace where further information will be given, and that I should head for platform 9 – that is myself and what seemed like 1,000 others, all scrambling for standing room, even if it means standing on one leg. We inch further and further along the carriage until there isn’t even enough room to lift up a hand and answer a ringing mobile phone. The train remains stationary in this position for an eternity, then moves slowly, and slowly.

At Alexandra Palace, a loudspeaker tells us that Cambridge commuters should catch a train for Welwyn Garden City. I meet April and we team up as travel buddies, lost souls together. She is a buyer for Monsoon children’s clothes and wants to get to Cambridge too, having got up at 5.30am for her daily commute to the smoke.

At Alexandra Palace, we learn that commuters had been told to get on the train we had just disembarked for Cambridge. April and I decide to stay put. We didn’t know what to do next, so we caught the train to WGC. Only the train swung round a different loop and didn’t stop at WGC, so we had no idea where we were going to stop eventually, there was no loudspeaker information giving helpful advice.

I put my head out the door at some of the stations we stopped at and asked if I could catch a Cambridge train from there, but nobody knew, there were no signs anywhere, and everyone else was in the same boat.

Instinct and some local knowledge told me to get off at Hitchin where some commuters had been given compensation forms by staff who then went home, closing up the office. Of course, it would make sense to have extra staff on duty, but that does not happen. During my stop at Alexandra Palace and Hitchin, no staff were in sight at all. There were no compensation forms around for April and myself, or for the very tired woman who told me it had taken her five painful hours to travel from King’s Cross to Hitchin.

I heard one horror story after another from commuters. April says she has had enough and wants to jack in her job, she described yesterday’s King’s Cross’ organisation as being as being as bad as the day of the horrific July 7 bombings.

Everyone complained about the same thing, the lack of information. When we arrived at Hitchin, there were no departure times posted on the platform, we had no idea how long we were going to be stranded there. Many of the travellers had had no food for hours and it was now 9pm, we were tired, bleary eyed, cold, hungry and thirsty, yet in remarkably sane and good spirits, though we daren’t even go to the loo in case we missed an incoming train.

We were lucky that a train came within 20 mins and we both arrived at Cambridge safely. It then went on to Ely, my final destination and I arrived home at 10pm.

It was a very frustrating end to a great day for Julian Sturdy and his colleagues, including postmaster Aasif Rabbani, for whom this had been his first trip to London to hand in a petition protesting about the closure of his post office, and eventually arrived home after 1pm.

Will he ever want to return, I wonder…

Maybe you have your own commuter chaos story which is even worse, if so, do tell.


  1. Are you sure this happened in England? I thought this kind of chaotic delays only happened in third-world, underdeveloped countries. What the heck happened with famous British punctuality?

  2. Sorry you had such a nightmare journey, Ellee. As you say, the worst of it is not being given clear information.

  3. You see – we suffer terrorism from British Rail everyday

  4. I understand that, my point is that it is proven that they coped extraordinarily well in such times. One can hardly blame them for not responding to a signal failure with quite the same sense of urgency!

  5. Don, the point I was making was that if staff at Kings Cross cannot manage and communicate with commuters during a major signal failure which forces Kings Cross to grind to a halt, what confidence can we have in them if there were to be a terrorist attack?

  6. As someone who was caught up in the July 7th bombings, I think this is a little hysterical. As LU and all transport authorities involved that day proved, they coped admirably. Talk of “bloodthirsty bombers” in the light of a signal failure is scare-mongering of the highest order.

  7. To be utterly selfish, I am so glad I don’t live in London any more. Mind you, I used to go in and otu of Victoria or Waterloo which is probably just as bad now.

  8. Steven_L

    I would have gone to the pub as soon as they had announced the problems, got drunk, perhaps walked down to Soho for a chinese all-you-can-eat and caught a late train back rather than let them herd me around like that.

    If the trains still weren’t running then Liverpool Street (which is actually within easy walking distance from Kings Cross, and easily reachable by bus).

  9. Hi Ellee. Funny – I was going to post a comment here about last night’s journey but you beat me to it! Kings X was chaos – in fact it wasn’t just Kings X, it was the management of the whole process.

    I was advised to go to Finsbury PArk only to get there to find out there were no services but was told to go to Wood Green and walk to Alexandra Palace for services.

    In the end I went back to Kings X and waited.

    It was a good job too as a women at Finsbury Park – previously told there would be about 300 people at Ally Pally – asked if the station adviser could radio to find out if it was still busy. She was told “I can’t love, Alexandra Palace is an unmanned station!” God help those that went all the way over there!

    I’m not usually one to complain but I had a similar experience last week following overhead power cable failure šŸ™

  10. The Captain is right, Ellee. We suffer from complacency in the U.S. The perpetrators must be brought to Justice.

  11. When an attack occurs people say they will be ready for the next one…but they get complacent.

  12. Dreadful isn’t it ?

    Really the railways ought to be managed along military lines. Staff to undertake compulsory over-time and a coordinator to take charge under such circumstances with authority to order employees around on pain of discipline should they disobey. Proper contingencies ought to be in place with effective top down management.

    I used to despair sometimes in London – I’d drive into a station during times of upheavel and passengers would be asking me what was happening. Of course I hadn’t a clue because I’d been driving a train. There’d be no platform staff around and I’d be the only frontline uniformed employee present looking pretty gormless and totally unsupported.

    Shameful and humiliating. I see nothing much has changed since I left.


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