The first few hundred passengers to learn about a fierce lineside fire were aboard the Caledonian Sleeper. Firefighters were called to the blaze at a timber yard between Harrow and Watford at 11.47pm on Thursday night. Three minutes later the overnight express to Edinburgh and Glasgow set off from London Euston.
But the West Coast main line was closed while Network Rail assessed the risks to trains.
The train reversed and passengers spent the night at 0mph at a platform in London Euston rather than travelling to Scotland at 100mph.
They were promised the chance to travel north on the first Virgin Train to Glasgow. But that departure was one of the first of hundreds of Inter-City and commuter services to be cancelled on the busiest day of the week at Britain’s fifth most heavily-used railway stations. Engineers decided a wall damaged in the fire posed a danger to trains, the morning rush-hour was almost completely wiped out as they set about the task of demolishing the wall. The only trains that ran from Euston were London Overground stopping services to Watford Junction.
Euston station’s concourse, normally thick with commuters, was almost deserted. The normal flow is overwhelmingly inbound. But there were knots of people whose travel plans had been wrecked.
They included the noted economist, Justin Urquhart Stewart, who told The Independent: “I’m trying to get to Liverpool to give a talk on the state of the economy and the state of transport in Britain.
“This isn’t very encouraging, really. I don’t think I’m going to be able to get to Liverpool, and even if I do, I don’t think I can get back.”
He was directed to Marylebone station, where Chiltern Railways was carrying Virgin Trains passengers as far as Birmingham. Other travellers, such as a pair of American backpackers heading to Carlisle for a walk along Hadrian’s Wall, were directed to King’s Cross instead for an onward train to Newcastle.
Simon Calder explains delays at Euston after massive track-side fire sends travel into turmoil
Another disrupted passenger, Carol, found a more pragmatic solution. She said: ”I“m trying to get to Manchester, but with technology I’ll just go back to the office and use a video link.
”All the staff here have been marvellous but everyone’s at a loss about what to do. As it’s a Friday it’ll be a bad day for everyone.”
A skeleton service of trains ran from Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow to Milton Keynes, but the station has far fewer platforms available and only about one-quarter of the normal schedule was feasible. Buses were organised to transport southbound passengers to Luton Airport Parkway, from where they could continue their journeys to London.
Euston travel chaos: Fire involving gas cylinders beaks out at a timber yard near Watford Junction
By the afternoon, the wall had been demolished and the lines were re-opened. But dozens of trains and hundreds of staff were out of position. When London Midland and Virgin Trains started running again, passengers faced long delays and cancellations.
Train operators are likely to hand millions of pounds back to passengers whose travel plans were wrecked. The recipients will include the unfortunate Caledonian Sleeper passengers on the train from Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William. Their service came to an unceremonious halt at Preston, with passengers told to vacate their rooms by 5am.
Train operators warned that services would be disrupted until the end of service on Friday, but hoped that by Saturday morning the station would be operating normally.