Transport bosses have pledged an inquiry after delays and chaotic scenes on the Metro system in South Tyneside on Great North Run day.
Sunday turned into a “journey from hell” for some commuters after signal point failures caused several early afternoon delays between Tyne Dock and Chichester in South Shields.
Adding to the misery, a train was suspended for more than half an hour after a passenger pulled an emergency door lever on a stopped train and around 20 disembarked and started walking along the track towards Chichester.
As a result the police were called to the scene.
By mid-afternoon runners and their supporters were waiting for trains at South Shields Metro station – with a huge queue stretching hundreds of yards from King Street, along Ocean Road to Anderson Street – and The Gazette’s website has been inundated with messages from angry commuters.
One wrote: “What was supposed to be a enjoyable day out to support our daughter, who was running for a children’s cancer charity, turned out to be the day from hell. We waited for over one hour at Gateshead platform to get to South Shields. Four trains stopped but nobody could get on as they were dangerously overfull.”
Another reader wrote: “After 30-odd years of the Great North Run and the Metro service, how can this still be a problem when Nexus are aware that this is the busiest day of the calendar?”
It emerged that transport bosses were faced with a number of Metro drivers calling in sick on the day of the race.
Spokesmen for Nexus and train operator DB Regio apologised for the delays and promised lessons would be learned.
A Nexus spokesman said: “Metro has been, as always, a key part of the Great North Run, carrying more than 100,000 passengers to and from this year’s event. Early indications are that passenger numbers were higher than in previous years. Metro managed to get everyone to the start of the race and home afterwards but unfortunately we did encounter some delays and there were complaints from some passengers.
We’re sorry if this caused delay and anxiety and we know staff did their best to manage the situation and look after passengers.
“We and DB Regio, will be analysing closely the planning and delivery of the event to see if we can improve our service. The Great North Run keeps on growing in size and is a huge challenge for Metro, and we will work with organisers and the police to make sure we continue to support it in the years ahead.”
He added: “It is clear that, while many extra trains were provided, there were some greater gaps between trains than normal in the morning. We’re sorry if this caused delay and anxiety and we know staff did their best to manage the situation and look after passengers.
“There were a number of incidents later in the day, as you might expect given the high number of trains and passengers.
“The most serious was a stoppage between Tyne Dock and Chichester just after 1pm when a train heading towards South Shields was affected by a power fault.
“While the fault itself was fixed within a few minutes a number of passengers disembarked on to the track and services were halted for about 30 minutes while Metro staff and police ensured the line was clear and safe for trains.”
Sharon Kelly, managing director at DB Regio Tyne and Wear, which operates the Metro on behalf of Nexus, said: “I’d like to thank customers for their patience yesterday. The Great North Run is our busiest day of the year, and came came under significant additional pressure due to more runners and spectators using the service, and the football match in Sunderland.
“After every Great North Run, we begin preparations for the following year but on Sunday a number of incidents had a significant impact on the service, and I’m very sorry for those customers who were inconvenienced.
“Unfortunately we experienced some delays early in the day due to last-minute driver sickness. We used replacement drivers to deal with this as quickly as possible.
“In addition, a power fault occurred in the South Shields area caused by the volume of trains. The fault was cleared quickly, but some customers left the train and walked on the track. This caused a significant delay to some services while we ensured the track was clear and it was safe to resume running trains. Passenger safety is our top priority.”
“We will be working with Nexus to undertake a full review of the day, including what lessons we can learn and how the service can be improved next year.”