London Underground staff were not trained to handle a situation in which people smashed a window to get out of a carriage at Clapham Common tube station, according to a report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB).

The damaged train in depot after the incident (c) TfL/RAIB

The incident saw a tube train stop after an alarm was pulled, and then passengers tried to break out of the train after reports of smelling smoke. The report found that station staff were not equipped to deal with an incident of this sort, even though lessons from a previous incident said staff training needed improving.

The incident occurred on the evening of 5th May 2023, when a train was leaving Clapham Common tube station and a passenger alarm was pulled inside the train. Passengers reported smelling smoke, and after a couple of minutes of the train being stopped and being unable to open the main doors, people started getting out of the train via the end doors.

Twenty seconds after the station alarm sounded, passengers waiting on the platform began to break the train’s bodyside windows to help people inside the train evacuate. Passengers inside the train also began to break these windows and evacuate through the openings onto the platform.

Around a hundred people got out of the train before a member of station staff could open the train doors manually and let the rest of the passengers out more conventionally.

The whole incident stemmed from the smell of fire and the appearance of smoke, but no fire was detected. It’s suspected that the smell came from the brakes, possibly debris that had gathered on one of the braking units.

However, the panic came from the failure to open the doors after the alarm was sounded and the apparent lack of communication from staff. Staff members communicated with each other to deal with the situation, but people in the carriages couldn’t see or hear what was happening, leading to panic about being stuck in a train where they could smell fire.

As with any incident, the RAIB investigated what happened to make recommendations to prevent a future occurrence.

A main element of the report’s findings was the confusion in communicating between station staff, the driver, and the line controllers, particularly about whether it was safe to open the train doors to let passengers out. Insufficient CCTV at Clapham Common station also meant there was a lack of information at the line controller, which added to the confusion about what was happening at the station.

The report found that London Underground had not provided “operational staff with the procedures or training needed to effectively identify and manage incidents where passenger behaviour can rapidly escalate and cause a more serious safety incident.”

This issue was also highlighted following an incident a decade earlier at Holland Park, and the report suggests that London Underground hadn’t fully retained the lessons from that earlier incident.

The RAIB report recommends that London Underground should review its rule book about passenger incidents and how to handle them and ensure that they are regularly reviewed. The report also recommended that train drivers be reminded of the importance of providing timely and consistent information to passengers when incidents occur.

Responding to the report, Nick Dent, London Underground’s Director of Customer Operations, said: “I would like to apologise again for the distress this incident caused to customers at Clapham Common and would like to reassure Londoners that we are continuing to do all we can to ensure the safety of everyone on the Tube.”

“Our commitment to safety is at the heart of everything we do, and our staff work hard to keep our customers safe in sometimes challenging circumstances. We welcome any opportunities to learn lessons from incidents on our network and, following our own investigation last year, we are already making good progress on the recommendations from the RAIB. This includes changes to our training, which will be in place in the coming weeks. ”

In line with best practice, RAIB investigations are conducted in a blame-free environment, and the report recommends ways to prevent future accidents.


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  1. Giselle says:

    I’m glad about the blame-free environment of the investigation, that’s really important. Highly likely leads to better results too.

    • Matt says:

      The cynic in me and personal experience does not really believe that it is ever a blame free environment.

    • ianVisits says:

      Accident investigations are always a blame free environment to get at the facts, a practice pioneered in the aircraft industry and now a standard everywhere, and also in good management practice.

      A manager who is more interested in who is to blame and who is going to pay for the problem is a bad manager.

  2. Ashley says:

    London underground staff only do one of two things as far as I can see…stand around gossiping with each other around barriers and sit scrolling through their phones. There is very little politeness, no customer service and a general attitude that the public are a nuisance to their socialising with co workers.
    They ALL need training

    • Sam Milson says:

      Precisely. Even stopping fare dodgers is apparently too much effort for them these days.

      Why should passengers have fund so many staff doing so little?

    • Ronnie says:

      How are they supposed to stop fare dodgers? They are not really equipped to stop anyone. Police or the like need to do that. All these people become aggressive.

      It strikes me that there needs to be guards at every main station to deal with such people and have the powers to do so.

    • DA says:

      When I have a request to make of gate-line staff, they have been very helpful. A nice break in their routine to talk to a customer.

  3. Stephen Spark says:

    This incident must have been truly terrifying to passengers trapped on what they believed was a burning train. Last year, I wrote expressing my concerns to TfL, copied to Rosena Allin-Khan MP. TfL’s reply included this: “The train operator was unable to open the doors as the train had partially left the platform. Doors cannot be individually opened on the Northern line by the train operator, the operator would have had to open all of the doors on one side of the train, which would have risked customer injury in the tunnel.”

    TfL’s claim that there’s no selective door opening (SDO) on the Northern Line is clearly wrong as the rear doors do not open at certain stations with short platforms. SDO ought to be mandated, for safety reasons, on all trains and trams.

    No announcement was made to passengers on the train because “the driver was too busy” communicating with staff – no wonder they “panicked”. “Panic” is a perjorative term, but trying to get out urgently is not irrational: had it really been a fire, a few seconds delay could have made the difference between life & death (as Grenfell Tower proved).

    Clapham Common has a single island platform and access/egress is via narrow, winding tunnels. It is inherently unsafe and urgently needs to be rebuilt.

    Finally, why are there no emergency instructions on board TfL undergrund trains, unlike mainline trains? This needs to be mandated immediately.

    • Sarah says:

      “TfL’s claim that there’s no selective door opening (SDO) on the Northern Line is clearly wrong as the rear doors do not open at certain stations with short platforms”
      Read the RAIB report! Northern line trains have SDO which allows them to open everything except the first or last set of doors, but more than one set of doors was in the tunnel at the time.

  4. Sam Milson says:

    Seems everytime there’s any incident on the underground TfL staff find an excuse not to do anything while passengers take appropriate action themselves. Begs the question why do underground stations need so many staff?

    Why can’t TfL cut fares or invest in infrastructure instead of retaining thousands of station staff?

  5. Julian Dyer says:

    What seems a strange about the procedures here is that if the passenger alarm is pulled between stations the train doesn’t stop until the next station, but if any part of the train is in the platform it stops immediately… but the driver can’t open the doors. It’s absolutely certain this will happen again. Presumably there’s a good reason for the normal approach, but here matters got out of hand really fast. In the more-automated systems such as Paris the control room can remotely open doors, and have better situational awareness than a driver stuck in a cab a bit into a tunnel.

    • MilesT says:

      Which is exactly why the trains need a “emergency” SDO capability, su that the driver can selectively open doors in some carriages but not others if needed e.g train is partially out of station. Ideally paired with a way for driver to view video feed from each carriage easily and quickly, potentially enhanced with additional cameras to allow driver to confirm which carriages can safely have their doors opened.

      The current SDO on the Northern line is presumably “hard wired” to deal with stations with short platforms.

      Ergonomically this facility would need to be off the main driving control panel, ideally behind a door to make it clear this driver controlled SDO is for emergency use only.

    • Sarah says:

      “What seems a strange about the procedures here is that if the passenger alarm is pulled between stations the train doesn’t stop until the next station, but if any part of the train is in the platform it stops immediately… but the driver can’t open the doors. It’s absolutely certain this will happen again.”

      Once a train in Edgware had the emergency alarm pulled just as it was leaving platform 1. The operator drove it back into the platform. That would have been a sensible thing to do in this case: The driver should have walked along the train, checking what’s wrong, made an announcement and then log into the other cab and drive back. Of course signals wouldn’t allow it, but in such a case there could be an exception. The distance wasn’t enough to risk hitting another train, especially if it goes slowly.

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