Freelance consultant for digital heritage

Railway Signal Failure in Cardiff 22nd March 2011

I write this as I sit on the train rolling through the north Wiltshire downs. I have been travelling since 6am this morning. Glancing at the clock, it is currently 1pm. By the time I reach Salisbury I will have been travelling in some form or another for 7 and a half hours. So what happened?

I work mostly from home, and every other week I travel from Swansea to Salisbury for meetings and to catch up face-to-face with colleagues. Generally, I leave the house at 6am and cycle to Swansea station where I buy my ticket and have plenty of time to find a seat on the 6.28am train to London Paddington. I change trains at Cardiff Central and get the 7.30am Portsmouth Harbour service , arriving into Salisbury at about 9.32am.

Today has been somewhat different. I caught the 6.28am train as normal, but this time, some miles beyond Bridgend, at about 7.10am the train stopped. And it stayed there. An announcement apologised for the delay and told us that there had been a power failure with the signalling equipment at Cardiff and that this was affecting all lines in, around and through the city.

Half an hour later, we’re told that the problem is serious, and that it is not known how long it will be before we move on. At about 8.40am, we are told that the train will reverse to Bridgend where we can either catch a bus to Cardiff or “make our own arrangements”.  At Bridgend, having no other arrangements to make as I was due to have a meeting in Salisbury, I waited for the replacement bus. We were told that there would only be limited places, so I ran to get into the queue. After getting onto the second coach (the first one was filled by people already at the station) we left for Newport via Cardiff. And then got stuck in traffic.

Cutting the very long bus journey short, I arrived at Newport at 10.40am. Rushing off the bus, the 10.44pm Portsmouth train was announced by a guard at the barriers (which were open, sensibly) and I ran over the very long windy bridge to platform four with two minutes to spare. Or so I thought.

The clock on the optimistic electronic information board ticked over to 10.44 and the Portsmouth train entry vanished from sight. A wave of groans and tuts worked its way through the packed platform. No announcements were made, and a beleaguered member of staff confessed to people he “just didn’t know, and didn’t think anyone else knew” what was going on.

After the waves of people left him alone, I asked what was the best advice to get t Salisbury. He recommended me to “just get over the river [Severn], it’ll be better over there” on the 11.12am Taunton train, and to change at Bristol Temple Meads. Good advice. The Taunton train appeared to be the first on time train that morning, and I was able to reach Bristol.

So, after a pit stop to get some food and water, for I was parched and half-starved by then, I got on to the 12.23pm Portsmouth service. We have just departed Warminster, Salisbury next stop. I only hope that I don’t have to add to this entry about my journey back this evening!

Update: The BBC covered this story