Angry commuters slam replacement buses

COMMUTERS have slammed a train operator for the state of the buses laid on for passengers after a derailed train closed part of the Hastings to London Charing Cross line earlier this week.

The Class 66 diesel freight train had just been serviced in St Leonards and was heading to Tonbridge when it came off the line just south of the Mountfield Tunnel, shortly after 3pm on Wednesday.

All trains between Robertsbridge and Hastings were immediately suspended and a replacement bus service was put in place by train operator Southeastern.

But disgruntled passengers have slammed the poor condition of some of the buses used and there have been reports of buses breaking down and drivers not knowing which route to take.

Commuter James Allen catches the 5.41pm train from Tonbridge, which arrives at West St Leonards station at 6.30pm.

But on Wednesday evening, the journey took an extra hour.

James, 32, from St Leonards, said: “The buses laid on are in a very poor state of condition, both outside and inside.

“It’s been a while since I got on such a grim bus as the one last night, which was making very strange noises and struggling to achieve I would say 40mph.

“After going through John’s Cross and turning off for Battle, the long road was too much for the bus, which three times had to pull over, stop the engine, wait a few minutes, then restart and pull away again.

“This meant it took way longer than it should on a working bus.”

Once at Battle, commuters to Crowhurst were told to get off and change on to another bus, James said.

He added: “The bus was very, very old, rusty, and worn out generally.

“It had flat bench-style seats, which was like sitting on bare metal with all the padding ripped.

“I couldn’t see any seatbelts, and the seats were covered in crisps and nuts, presumably from the school run it had just done.

“If I had kids I would not let them get that bus to school.”

James turned up to West St Leonards on Thursday morning, but after being told by station staff the stricken train would not be moved until at least lunchtime and further disruption was expected during the evening rush hour, he decided to drive to work.

Commuter Gary Craig caught the replacement bus service from Hastings at 7am on Thursday.

He told the Observer the bus driver was driving down small roads and was heading the wrong way.

Gary said: “The driver of the bus I was on had to be guided by the passengers.

“He had no idea where to go.”

But a spokesperson for Southeastern told the Observer yesterday that the company had yet to receive complaints about the buses.

She said: “Nothing has been reported to us.

“We are sorry if in fact that is the case and we will be looking into it with the bus company.”

She apologised to passengers who had been affected by the disruption.

A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “We are working with Southeastern to minimise disruption and apologise for any inconvenience.

“Passengers should check with National Rail Enquiries for the latest situation before travelling.”

* A crane arrived on site on Thursday afternoon to re-rail the train and the line reopened at 3.30pm.

But just half an hour later a large tree fell onto the tracks at Mountfield, blocking the line in both directions.

Trains were further delayed while Network Rail worked to clear the line.

It finally reopened at 6pm.