The moments that followed the explosions on trains 204, 216 and 311 have been described in uncompromising detail by survivors of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. They are stories of everyday commuters thrown into something resembling the frontline of a war zone.
Altogether, four explosive devices were set off around the capital on 7 July, 2005 – three were detonated on cramped, rush-hour London Underground carriages around Aldgate, Edgware Road and Russell Square. Fifty-two people were killed and hundreds injured.
Testimonials were given to the 2011 inquest by teachers, doctors and bankers. Martine Wright, a marketing manager, lost both of her legs in the explosion between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. Many other passengers received life-changing injuries; they owe their lives to fellow passengers who stopped to care for them.
Each year, survivors return to these sites to remember. The families of those who were lost do the same – staff too.
A decade has passed since footage of bloodied passengers being led from Underground stations was broadcast by the world’s media. Those images are fading for some but within London Underground (LU), they remain vivid.
In the weeks after the bombings, stories came out about heroic station staff and brave first responders. BTP officers and rail employees were honoured for their courage, many had put their own lives at risk, heading into the darkness of the tunnels to try and rescue passengers.
LU’s Richard Jones was responsible for managing the power system on the railway in 2005. The explosions damaged a high-voltage feeder cable on one of the lines. Unaware of the situation that was unfolding, the failure was dealt with as any normal cable fault would; the network was reconfigured and power restored.
Says Richard, ‘As more and more reports came into the control room, it became clear that it was more than just a power failure that we were dealing with.’
Richard is now head of command and control at LU. When incidents like this occur, he is the man responsible for coordinating the response.
In the aftermath of 7/7, London Underground re-wrote its response procedures for major incidents, creating a system that was more aligned with those used by the emergency services. It was designed to give staff clarity on what to do, and what not to do, when faced with a major incident. Since the attacks, LU has also forged closer relationships with the emergency services, helping them to better understand the challenges of a railway environment.
Says Richard, ‘We have, I would say, a far more aligned set of processes than what we had back then, that we regularly test.’
A BBC drama due to air on 5 July will tell the story of Julie Nicolson, a vicar in Bristol who lost her daughter, Jenny, in the blast at Edgware Road – she was just 24. The programme looks at the crisis of faith Julie experienced in the aftermath. It’s a story that could be repeated 52 times.
The 7/7 attacks, and the days that followed it, demonstrated the stubborn, polite resilience of the British public. Martine, for example, went on to compete for Great Britain in sitting volleyball at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
For rail staff as well, everything continued as normal. Within a month, LU was operating a normal service across all lines. Although there was post-incident support for staff, it’s an experience that most will never forget.
Railway staff are trained to handle fatalities on the line, but nothing could have prepared them for 7/7. In 2007, a number of Tube staff at King’s Cross were given a creative outlet to make sense of what had happened through the King’s Cross Rising art project – a collection of published poems and short stories written by frontline staff.
One of the stories, penned by King’s Cross writer-in-residence John Simmons, dealt with the subject of 7/7 directly, reflecting on the memorial and outpouring of grief that followed.
He wrote, ‘…the deeper stories burrow away, down in the lives of those most affected, those bearing the personal flowers of grief. But we all have paths to this story. We are all part of its texture. King’s Cross, as ever, is the hub where people and lives intersect.’
It continued, ’No blast of bombs, no tremor or terror, can change the constant flow of common humanity.’
A lot has changed since 2005, both in terms of procedures and technology. Just a few years after 7/7, LU completed the installation of a new network-wide radio system – Connect – to address the communication issues highlighted by 7/7. Additional investment has also been made in staff training. Ten years on, the attacks still frame the debate around security and safety on the Tube.
‘It’s very much to the fore,’ says Richard.
‘It is 10 years ago, but it’s still quite fresh in a lot of people’s minds, and actually there are members of staff still working for the Underground that were directly involved on the day, and you can imagine it was something that was extremely memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
‘It’s something that’s stayed with the organisation even today.’