After passengers were stuck for six hours on a sweltering train last summer, rail operator SJ blamed bureaucracy for the long delay in getting the train moving.
But an investigation carried out by Sveriges Television (SVT) shows that SJ could have evacuated passengers after an hour and a half. Instead, they chose not to.
The high-speed X2000 train, which was travelling from Stockholm to Gothenburg in July 2010, broke down between the Stockholm suburb of Flemingsberg and the town of Södertälje, where it was left standing for six hours.
Staff handed out free food and drink to passengers, but the refreshments soon ran out.
Passengers reported sweltering heat within the train after the air conditioning broke down – the Södertälje area was at the time basking in temperatures of 30-35 degrees Celsius.
Windows in the carriages could not be opened and staff refused to open the doors to let air circulate, citing health and safety rules.
Only after six hours at a standstill did the train start its slow journey onwards to Södertälje. By that time one passenger had been taken to hospital.
After the incident SJ blamed bureaucracy for the long delay in getting the train moved.
The company said it needed permission from the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), the government agency responsible for the rail track network, before it could move the train.
“It is terrible that this kind of thing can happen and totally unacceptable. If we could have done what we wanted and bring out an evacuation train then things would probably have been different, but we weren’t granted permission,” said Dag Rosander, the SJ press director, to SVT at the time.
But a transcript of the communication between SJ and the traffic administration tells a different story.
Initially the administration had advised against evacuation and instead another engine was sent to the scene to try to shift the train.
But after the train had been at a standstill for an hour and twenty minutes it was the traffic administration that was getting concerned for the well being of the passengers.
When told that the air conditioner had broken down the administration official decided that it would be worth the 45 minutes halt in other traffic to move the stranded passengers from the overheating carriages.
“Ok, I will let you evacuate – but you’ll have to make the decision pretty quickly,” the transcript of the conversation read.
Shortly after, SJ is reported saying that they have chosen not to evacuate.
“So, have you checked that passengers are OK there then, so this doesn’t hit the papers in the morning,” the traffic administration official said.
“Yes, I have spoken to staff onboard and it should be ok,“ the SJ official said.
When SVT questioned Elisabeth Lindgren, head of communications at SJ, she admitted that the information given to the public after the standstill was misguiding.
“I think that they really wanted to solve this the right way but it still went wrong, and there were a number of factors that contributed to the lengthy standstill,” Lindgren told SVT.
Lindgren had no answer for why SJ chose to put the blame on the traffic administration board after the incident.
“The most important thing now is what we do in the future. We have created a system that makes sure that we make a decision after 30 minutes standstill. No one should be stuck on a train longer than two hours,” Lindgren told SVT.
After six hours, passengers were finally moved to another train when they arrived in Södertälje. But 80 kilometres outside Gothenburg their replacement train also broke down, and they were forced to transfer to commuter trains.
They finally arrived in Gothenburg at 3.10am on Wednesday – more than 13 hours after leaving Stockholm.