TRIBUTES HAVE been paid both from within the rail industry and further afield to the response of Northern staff at Manchester Victoria in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist bomb on 22 May, which killed 22 people and injured a further 116.
The 22-year-old attacker detonated the homemade bomb in the Manchester Arena foyer, which links the Arena to Victoria station and the nearby car park, as crowds were leaving a performance by American singer Ariana Grande just after 22.30. On hearing the explosion all the Northern staff at the station, around 15 people including station and revenue protection staff as well as traincrew who were nearing the end of their shift, ran immediately to the foyer and as the first people to arrive on site began to give support and comfort to the injured in what were very distressing circumstances. Those with first aid training provided additional support, with several using their uniforms to make emergency bandages and tourniquets. When police arrived on the scene their requests to vacate the foyer in case a secondary device had been planted were rejected by all the Northern staff, who refused to leave the injured people they were caring for.
The station itself was immediately closed and remained closed until the start of services on 30 May, as it was treated as a crime scene. By the morning of 23 May Northern had put in place a full range of support and counselling services for those involved at Victoria station with Liam Sumpter, regional director at Northern, telling Modern Railways ‘They are a strong team who are getting through the aftermath together. We will provide them with support for as long as it is needed and we understand that each of our colleagues will need to take time to come to terms with the events of 22 May.’
As soon as the news was received managers from Northern either made their way to Victoria to support the staff on site or began planning an emergency service for the following day. Between midnight and 06.00 a plan was put in place to carry passengers to as near to Victoria as possible, with many services terminating at Salford Crescent, Salford Central or Rochdale and a number of others being diverted to Manchester Oxford Road. Plans were also put in place to create a temporary traincrew depot for 400 staff displaced from Victoria at Manchester Piccadilly, where a similar number are already based.
Fears the bomb may have caused significant damage to the station itself proved unfounded, with a thorough assessment by Network Rail confirming the vast majority of the damage had been contained to the foyer itself, with only minor damage being sustained to a couple of panels within the station. A deep clean of the station was carried out before it reopened, with all entrances available for use except the access to the arena itself. As well as expressing his fullest admiration for the response of staff, Mr Sumpter also thanked colleagues at Network Rail, TransPennine Express and the British Transport Police for their ‘excellent support and assistance’ both in the immediate aftermath of the event and in ensuring as many passengers as possible were able to be carried through the difficult week that followed. Mr Sumpter told Modern Railways: ‘It is almost impossible to prepare for an incident like this, with the loss of a major station; how would you look after a large number of staff who witness something horrific? How would you relocate an entire depot for a prolonged period? But my advice to other operators is to test their contingencies as much as possible. In the meantime, we will continue to give our staff the fullest support and we can only express our appreciation for the support they gave in the immediate aftermath of such a horrific event.’
Messages of support for the railway staff and BTP officers involved in the aftermath of the bombing were received from the Secretary of State for Transport and a range of other bodies.