Mick Collins, a businessman from Cheshire, England, who had been staying in the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, said the situation on Thursday night in the city of Kiruna had been chaotic.
“SJ were just horrendous when it went pear-shaped,” he told The Local. “They deserve a lot of credit for today, but yesterday, it was outrageous. They were just bluffing. They didn’t have a clue.”
According to Collins, it took SJ until 4am in the morning to inform passengers waiting at the station that trains to Stockholm would not be running, despite it being clear that there would be problems well before midnight.
“I’m now just under 24 hours late, and most of it has been sitting around in the freezing cold. Kiruna was unbelievable. It was at least -30C. You couldn’t do anything,” he said. “We were just walking through Kiruna trying to find hotels.”
Collins said that two French backpackers had become so frustrated that after receiving four or five conflicting messages about whether trains or buses would be running, they attempted to hitchhike to Stockholm on their own, despite temperatures below -30C.
“The two french girls just cracked up crying. They left me their mobile number and sodded off into the darkness, as they didn’t have enough money to rebook their ticket out of Stockholm,” Collins said. “I have no idea what happened to them.”
Scores of Chinese tourists were also left wandering around Kiruna, as no one informed them that SJ had agreed to pick up the bill of any hotel they stayed in in the city.
“They were mostly Chinese, and they were just walking around the town. They were very worried and quite nervous and I don’t blame them — they’re a long way from home.”
There was also a couple from Dubai who risked missing their flight back home, and an Australian backpacker.
On Friday morning, two buses carried an estimated 140 passengers from Kiruna to Luleå, where a train was expected to leave for Stockholm in the evening, arriving early on Saturday morning.
Collins estimated that at least half the passengers were tourists, about half of whom he had seen stranded in the small hours of Friday morning.
Carin Axelsson, a press officer for SJ, said she regretted the problems many passengers had faced.
“We do apologise,” she said. “Up there in Narvik [across the border in Norway] it’s not local people travelling, it’s mainly tourists, and they can’t stay with an aunty, or other relatives, so we try to make sure they are accommodated.”
She admitted that SJ did not have an exact figure for the total number of tourists who had been stranded. She said that a train was now scheduled to leave Narvik on the coast of Norway at 16.15pm, picking up tourists in Kiruna and Gällivare, before moving south.
Collins documented his ordeal in real time over Twitter, starting with when he was first informed that no train was leaving Kiruna.
However, despite his ordeal, Collins told The Local he did not regret his trip to the Ice Hotel, which he described as “Disneyland for rich people”.
“It was great: we got the best Northern lights show for years. It was fantastic.”