Tuesday evening was a normal dark winter time and a little chilly during the walk from the Pimlico office just north of the Thames to Vauxhall just south where I took the Guildford bound train for the 12 minute journey towards Wimbledon and home. The front coach was fairly crowded but with the Christmas holidays starting a seat beckoned. After Clapham Junction the train picked up speed in the dark as Earlsfield the next stop was a few minutes down the line. Mostly passengers including yours truly were quietly reading the free copies of the Evening Standard not least because the normal 12 minute journey from Vauxhall to Wimbledon doesn't provide much opportunity for conversation.
Suddenly there was a great bump and thud and the carriage swayed alarmingly. The train pulled up eventually halting about 150 yards further down the line. There was total silence. I thought we had hit a tree on the line. After a few minutes the guard announced that he would check the line. Then we were told that there seemed to be a person under the train.
The guard then announced that the train would be evacuated with passengers being led down the line to the next station. A while later the train lights were turned off and the winter coldness began to make itself felt in the gloom of the emergency lighting . No other train was passing either way on the four track stretch of line so we began to appreciate that the wait might be for a while. Copies of the evening paper were then put aside and fellow passengers began to talk to each other firstly of course about the incident but then about the by now obviously thwarted arrangements for the evening ahead. The train guard who was still unclear about precisely what had occurred, did a very good job of announcing that he would let us know as soon as he could and offered any passenger without access to a mobile phone to use his to contact friends. A fellow passenger told me of his small daughter's singing at school that evening which he would now miss; another who had expected to sleep until the train reached Guildford was rudely awakened and I managed to telephone maytrees min to come and collect me from Earlsfield. She then reported a bevy of ambulances at Earlsfield station.
Climbing down from the train to the track then proved too dangerous in view of the steepness of the trackside so after about an hour the decision was made that the train would be taken by a relief driver to Earlsfield station. By then the evening was proving not only tragic with the knowledge that someone had undoubtedly died but also a mixture of a strange warmth between passengers through being in this unusual situation together and eerieness with the usually busy mainline tracks to and from London Waterloo being silent.
After a further while (over an hour and 30 minutes by then) British Transport police boarded the train and explained that they would now try to take the train to Wimbledon so I manged to call maytrees min who had patiently waited for all that time to stand her down.
A while later the lights came on again and the train crawled forward to Earlsfield station. The station was clearly closed to other prospective travelers and was full of rail workers in luminescent orange overalls. Four or five SWTrain staff then entered the front coach and one of them was clearly very upset declining to to taken back to Waterloo and telephoning what seemed to be his union. The passengers had great sympathy for the driver nothing but praise for the guard and were impressed by the efforts made by SWTrains to keep us informed.
The relief driver (we had by then been aboard for about 2 hours) on taking the train forward slowly towards Wimbledon kept people's spirits up as much as was possible in such circumstances and caused a smile as well as a relief to some, by announcing the whereabouts of the lavatories at Wimbledon Station.
A sad but also admittedly interesting change to the normal travel routine. Thought provoking too about the meaning of life and the awareness of fellow human beings.
Christmas is perhaps not a happy time of year for some people who are for one reason or another lonely - May god be with them and the deceased (RIP)