Runaway tube trains #2

Runaway tube trains #2

In the first part of this we looked at runaway trains on the Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines and continue with the latter two. This second and a third part takes a look at those lines which one would assume did not have runaway trains of any sort. However its a surprise when one finds there have indeed been incidents on these. These are the Victoria, Waterloo & City and Island Lines. The latter two are is included even though they were not part of the tube system. The W&C was under BR control in older days whilst the Island Line is famous for its tube trains – and it too had a runaway train! There’s also a brief on two other incidents including the Metropolitan and Moorgate 1975.

Northern Line


We continue with the Northern Line from part one. In March 2014 the Northern Line was again in the news with regards to runaway trains. This time even though the line was now fully automated and 100% safe, a train of 1995 stock decided to take a non-stop journey through a number of stations. Its train operator was unable to intervene and stop the train’s progress – and he had no choice but to apologise to the extremely concerned passengers he had no control over the train.

The train passed four stations between Old Street and the Elephant & Castle. Moorgate, Bank, London Bridge, Borough.

Non-stop departure to the Elephant from Old Street tube station! No ifs, no buts, we’ve decided not to stop at the next four stations…

The passengers had just detrained from a faulty train at Old Street. They caught the following service and it was this that didnt stop. London Underground’s explanation was the defective train had been instructed not to stop at stations and somehow this also translated to the following passenger train.

The following is an extract from the news report on the incident:

Pat Hansbury, general manager of the Northern line, London Underground, said: ‘I apologise to customers who were inconvenienced when they were unable to alight at their usual stops for a short time on a southbound Northern line train this afternoon.

‘When an earlier defective train was taken out of service at Old Street station it was set to run directly to Kennington without stopping at the stations in between. ‘Due to this instruction this meant that the replacement train, which took on passengers at Old Street, also passed through four stations without stopping.’

This is the Elephant. All change here for trains back to Borough, London Bridge, Bank and Moorgate!

He said: ’The safety system built into the signalling controls meant that the train was at all times kept at a controlled distance from the train ahead – pausing when the train in front stopped at each station then proceeding when it was safe to do so, this is a key feature of the signalling system. The train travelled at a controlled speed throughout the journey without any risk to passengers safety at all times, however we are investigating why the instruction remained in place for the replacement train’.

Piccadilly Line


The Piccadilly Line had a runaway tube train in 1993 from King’s Cross to Holloway Road. Up to 150 passengers were aboard the 8.50am from King’s Cross to Cockfosters. It sped through the tunnels at up to forty miles per hour.

Fortunately it got stopped by the emergency brake tripping system as it passed a red light just before Holloway Road station.

On 2nd December 1993, the train in question was stopped at King’s Cross tube station whilst there was a problem occurred with one of the doors. Subhash Ramanuj left his driver’s cab to investigate the issue but before doing that he hung his bag, consisting of sandwiches and a football kit, upon the deadman’s handle. He went to the problematic train doors and fixed them. As he returned along the platform to his cab, the train suddenly moved off northwards, totally driverless.

Here’s a report on the incident – Independent 3 December 1993. As this article explains this is what happened afterwards….

The train has been taken to the depot at Cockfosters, north London, to be examined. The driver was interviewed and breathalysed, as a matter of course. It was later announced that the test proved negative.

The spokesman said that when a driver left a train he had to do certain things to make it secure. ‘We have to find out through our interview with him how he secured the train.’ He stressed that there had been no danger to passengers while the train was driverless. ‘The train could not have gone into the back of anything else. It was stopped by the first red signal it came to.’

In the meantime as the event itself unfolded, waiting passengers at Caledonian Road station must have been very surprised to see a driverless tube train complete with passengers hurtling past….

Back at King’s Cross Ramanuji radioed and told line control his train had been hijacked. It hadn’t of course. However in the event there was no time to check whether this was true or not. Passengers were detrained from the following service at King’s Cross. This second train was commandeered by both tube staff and British Transport Police and it set off in pursuit of the runaway train.

Meanwhile on the runaway train passengers realised the situation and many fled the front carriage fearing a collision. American student Robin Cullen told how he rushed away from the front carriage when he saw the driver had been left behind on the platform. He said: “That has to have been the most terrifying moment of my life.”

Holloway Road station, where the passengers of the runway train were able to get off and the episode safely concluded.

As has been mentioned the runaway was halted by signals just before Holloway Road, and the other train drew up to it. Police and staff reassured passengers and entered the train cab to find the driver’s bag draped over the deadman’s handle. It was absolutely clear to them hijack wasn’t even any sort of factor and the driver’s game was clearly up.

The tube staff took the runaway train into Holloway tube station where its passengers were able to get off.

LUL staff explained to the newspapers what had happened: “We believe the driver did not carry out the full procedure before getting out on the platform. He left it in driving mode, so as soon as he closed the defective door the train went off.”

At Snaresbrook Crown Court in October 1994 Ramanuji was sentenced to six months in prison for wilfully endangering the safety of his passengers.

Independent 29 October 1994 headline re runaway Piccadilly tube incident.

In an interview with The Times the day after the incident had occurred, another London Underground spokesperson explained that passengers abroad the train were entitled to compensation. Asked if he would travel on the Tube after enduring such an ordeal, he replied: ‘It’s a bit like falling off a bike really. The best thing is to get back on board as soon as possible.’


The next ‘runaway’ was meant for Heathrow Central (now 1,2,3 or if you prefer 2,3!)

Mention must be made of another ‘runaway’ train on the Piccadilly Line during 1985. Although it wasn’t exactly a runaway because it had a driver in charge, it had the unusual distinction of being fully laden with passengers and venturing down a new yet unopened tube line! In that respect it had run off its normal route!

On 20 November 1985 a Piccadilly Line train for Heathrow Central was erroneously sent down the unopened loop via Terminal Four. The new line was not opened until 12 April 1986 by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, yet this unofficial ‘preview’ train had the distinction of being the very first passenger train down the new loop. Naturally it couldn’t stop at the unfinished Terminal Four station so continued onwards to Heathrow Central.

Hatton Cross station – where a Piccadilly train was inadvertently sent via the Terminal Four loop.


The final incident to be mentioned in regards to the Piccadilly Line occurred in early 1976. Its not exactly a fully fledged runaway train of course but its driver failed to stop at some stations whilst at others he stopped his train partially in the tunnels.

Our guy’s journey from Cockfosters towards Earl’s Court. He must have passed through many of these stops, wittingly – or unwittingly – whilst drunk.

The driver in question was Walken Joseph Jeffers of Islington who had been trusted with the task of taking a Piccadilly Line service from Cockfosters to Rayners Lane. The only problem was Jeffers was totally drunk and barely in control of any sort of tube train.

Jeffers’ train guard became concerned at his driver’s erratic technique so he alerted the line controllers en route. Several line managers were dispatched urgently to await the train at Arsenal. When it arrived they ensured the passengers were detrained before driving it out of service with Jeffers still in the cab. The train was taken as far as Earl’s Court where police were waiting to arrest the drunk driver.

Jeffers refused to permit a blood test to be taken at Earl’s Court police station. However he was seen by a doctor who said without a doubt the tube driver was certainly unfit to be in charge of a train.

Earl’s Court – where our drunk driver’s trip ended right in the hands of the police.

The drunk tube driver was hauled before West London magistrates court on 4th March 1976 and pleaded guilty to being drunk in charge of a train. He explained he had not slept for two days and had problems regarding his wife. He was sentenced to two months imprisonment.

This post continues in Part Two with a look at runaway trains on the Victoria Line, Waterloo & City, Island Line – and more.

Victoria Line

One would think the Victoria Line would be impervious to runaway incidents. But these two particular cases prove otherwise. What is amazing is both incidents occurred in the same year and both involved Victoria Line trains proceeding without their train operators in the cab.

The first occurred in April 1990. The train in question formed a southbound service. Talk about passports to Pimlico – this was one unofficial one!

Our first automated runaway train in question stood at Victoria station waiting to depart. Its ‘driver’ (actually the train operator) left the cab to check a malfunctioning door. The golden rule for staff on tube trains is one must never leave their driving cab unless certain procedures are followed to ensure the train is incapable of moving of its own will. Clearly this one guy forgot it!

Victoria station.

As the operator walked down the platform to inspect the doors, these suddenly closed and the train took it as the all clear to depart.

The issue here in regards to this particular situation was how did the train depart of its own accord? If the operator was not in the cab how did the two buttons to start the journey get pressed?

I can only think the operator had in fact already pressed these two buttons, before realising he had a set of troublesome doors. Indeed the train had been given the signal to depart. Those troublesome doors simply held that fortuitous departure off.

The train’s journey to Pimlico was entirely without incident. Upon the train’s safe arrival at Pimlico, passengers had to wait on board for some time until an inspector was able to arrive, enter the cab and operate the train doors. They were allowed to alight and the train then taken out of service for investigation.

Pimlico station.

I assume the train operator was suspended and an inquiry swung into operation to find out what had happened and how to ensure no repeat incident occurred.

Self driving trains are obviously one way to ensure no problems arise. Yet this case clearly demonstrated one way an automated tube train could proceed without anyone in charge. Its most fortunate the train did what it always has done, which was to run in full automatic mode without the need for intervention and that alone ensured the full safety of its passengers.

Even having train operators still does not ensure everything goes smoothly. A train operator on a Victoria Line train bound for Brixton inadvertently opened all the train’s doors whilst it was still running in the tunnels as this report shows.

There have also been other incidents where trains have moved on their own accord due to a breach of operating procedure, and in two of these the train operators were almost killed by their own trains.

Here’s one of those very incidents where the driver was almost killed by his own train and this also happened in 1990.

I am not sure of the exact date however it was about mid October 1990. A northbound train had been held at signals south of Seven Sisters for some considerable time. Wondering what was happening the train’s operator decided to leave his cab and walk to a trackside phone to find out what was happening ahead.

Seven Sisters.

As he reached the phone the line signals changed to green the automated nature of the line meant his own train started moving again. The train operator realised to his horror what was happening and began running towards Seven Sisters station.

No chance! The train accelerated as it would and the poor train operator realised he was about to be mown down by his own train. In desperation he jumped on to the tiny ledge (called the acoustic shelf) that runs along the Victoria Line’s tunnels and lay hard against it as the train sped past with barely inches to spare.

A rare picture I found showing the Victoria Line’s acoustic shelf to good effect! Source: Twitter

As if that wasnt bad enough the next train came along and the poor guy had to squeeze against the ledge once again as this second train approached. However in the brief moments before it had passed the train operator had managed to wave and the operator of the second train spotted him. He applied the emergency brakes, stopping just in time.

All the time this was happening the first train stood in Seven Sisters with station staff puzzled as to how a Victoria Line train could have arrived without anyone in charge! Surely there had been someone in the cab when it left Finsbury Park!

An Underground spokesman said of the incident: “A lot of questions have to be answered. The passengers were in no danger whatsoever. But the driver could have been killed. He’s a very lucky man. The train passed less than a foot away from him. It would have been very frightening.”

Its clear the train operator flouted one of the procedures regarding automatic train operation – and that was to ensure his train was put into manual before leaving the cab. He should have put the selector switch on the train’s operating console to manual before leaving the cab.

The train operator was naturally suspended pending an inquiry.

The train selector on the 1967 tube stock. First position (top) is automatic mode. Second is normal (manual.) Third is neutral. Fourth is reverse.

One result of these two incidents was a ‘M-door interlock’ which was added to all 1967 tube stock. This provided for the instance should the train operator need to leave his cab, but in the event did not switch the train out of Auto, upon opening the door the interlock would come into play and disable the train. If this happened the operator was then required to close the cab door and if the train was in a station to switch the Auto selector out and then back in to regain automatic train operation. If the train was in a tunnel the only option was to close the door and then drive the train manually to the next station at which the first procedure could then be enacted to regain automatic train operation.

NOTE: Further information has come to light re the Seven Sisters incident. In a talk given to the Friends of the LT Museum on 25th February 2019, John Self, a long serving General Line Manger for the Victoria Line, explained the train cabin communications system was faulty in the Seven Sisters area and drivers were being requested to use the lineside telephones on the approach to the station in the event of problems. However this particular driver, instead of using his train (in manual mode) to draw up the short distance to the lineside telephone where he could then reach the phone from his cabin, he decided to walk it – which was a big mistake.

Secondly, upon the train (now without a train operator of course) arriving at Seven Sisters, a crew swap over was due. The replacement train operator was slightly late in arriving on the platform so did not see the train in question arrive. When he arrived at the cab it was assumed the other guy had taken off quite quickly thus the new train operator simply took the train on to Walthamstow oblivious of what had happened.

Continued in Part Three.

Part one of Runaway Tube Trains.

Part two of Runaway Tube Trains.

Part three of Runaway Tube Trains.