Commuters and the passenger watchdog have criticised South Western Railway (SWR) over a decision to close down its network by 8pm on Friday evening, ironically to ‘get as many of you home as possible’.
SWR, which took over the franchise last August, runs trains from Waterloo to the South West of England, where there has been serious disruption its services, as well as suburban services to areas such as Surrey, where there a Met Office yellow weather warning (the lowest level) was due to be in place until midnight.
The firm announced on Friday afternoon that with ‘further severe snow and high winds’ forecast and despite its staff and Network Rail battling tirelessly to get trains moving in very challenging conditions, it had had to make a ‘difficult decision’ to close down its service by 20.00.
It added: ‘This is so that we can get as many of you home as possible.’
Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: ‘Passengers want train companies to be clear what trains will run, especially when bad weather is forecast – the advice issued by some train companies is therefore welcome. But blanket suspensions of service on various routes is worrying, and the industry needs to better communicate why such drastic action is necessary.'
He added: ‘A careful balance is needed between caution and the railway’s duty to get passengers where they need to go, particularly at times when travel by road may be tricky.’
One Twitter user described the move as a ‘scandalous and shameful decision’, adding: ‘Certain routes heavily affected by fresh snowfall today maybe, but the whole network?’
The SWR decision comes after passengers were stuck on trains overnight this week.
A spokesperson for SWR said: 'We sincerely apologise to passengers who were stranded on trains overnight. They were taken to Bournemouth station where South Western Railway staff provided hot food and drinks. Hotel accommodation will be provided for those unable to travel onwards from Bournemouth this evening.
'We are advising passengers not to attempt to travel today, but for those who have already started their journey, we recommend they return as soon as possible. Due to the continued extreme weather conditions, we will be closing the train service early today.'
Southern rail, which runs services to many areas covered by SWR, suspended some services on Friday and said that it might suspend others 'if the weather becomes significantly worse than now forecast' but confirmed that for the most part, it was not pre-emptively cancelling trains.
A spokesperson said: ‘We are nevertheless urging passengers to travel as soon as possible to avoid the risk of being stranded owing to possible cancellations.’
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: 'We continue to work closely with the transport sector – including road, rail and aviation – to keep our national transport network moving in all weathers.
'We want operators and highway authorities to do everything they can to keep passengers and road users informed while pulling out all the stops to restore services.'