Rail operator ‘deeply sorry’ after Yorkshire pensioner falls off train and breaks wrist

A pensioner hospitalised after falling from a railway carriage when the staff assistance she pre-arranged failed to appear has been given an apology by a train operator.

Sheila Branch was injured falling off a train
Sheila Branch was injured falling off a train

Grandmother Sheila Branch, 67, from Pickering, who suffers from chronic knee pain when descending stairs, suffered a broken wrist, severely bruised ribs and was knocked unconscious after falling as she tried to disembark without help.

Virgin Trains East Coast, which runs the service from York to Peterborough, has now admitted liability over the fall in May, this year, after Ms Branch took legal action against them. The train operator has apologised for the incident but a compensation figure has yet to be agreed.

Ms Branch, a retired nurse, said: “I started to panic when I realised there was no one there to help me and I was stranded. I knew the next stop was London King’s Cross and I didn’t want to be stuck there. I couldn’t see any other passengers in the carriage to help me so I thought to myself that I had to get off. The next thing I remember was waking with the taste of blood in my mouth and a searing pain down my right side. I’d really banged my head and felt very hazy.”

An image showing the injuries sustained by Sheila Branch

Ms Branch has now called for train operators to put in place safeguards to ensure vulnerable passengers who request assistance are met by staff when they arrive at their destination.

She added: “It’s just not acceptable to abandon passengers. Surely it’s not impossible to have a system where staff at the destination are aware of which carriage you’re in, which seat, what time the train’s arriving and make sure someone is there to meet you.

“This incident has really shaken my confidence. At my age a fall like this can have serious consequences. My memory seems to have been affected by banging my head.”

Ms Branch booked her advanced ticket in January and told staff she would need assistance with stairs and getting off carriages. She re-confirmed when she arrived at York to begin her trip that help would be on hand at Peterborough.

It is understood a member of staff was sent to assist Ms Branch at the station but did not know which part of the train she was on as he had not been provided with the details by his colleagues.

As a result, when the pensioner tried to leave the train there was no-one there to help. Incidents where information about passengers seeking assistance are not provided to staff are a problem across the industry, though Virgin Trains has admitted being at fault for failing to rectify the problem when it occurred.

Ms Branch’s lawyer Sarah Davidson, of Slater and Gordon, said: “Train operators owe all passengers a duty of care – and that’s particularly important for vulnerable, disabled and immobile travellers.

“In this case Virgin Trains East Coast failed to take adequate measures to ensure the journey was safe for Sheila.

“She suffered quite serious injuries but they could have been far worse. We hope this is a wake-up call and the company will take steps to ensure something similar doesn’t happen to another passenger.”

A spokesman for Virgin Trains East Coast said: “We’re deeply sorry about Sheila Branch’s experience which we fully accept should not have happened. We will learn from this unfortunate incident to improve our service for all our customers.”

Virgin Trains East Coast took over the running of the line between London and Edinburgh in March after it spent five years under state control.

The firms’s website provides information about how people can get assistance for their journey if needed.

It says: “We make sure everyone who’d like assistance during their journey gets all the help they need. Whether you book in advance or not, we’re there to help.”