A Kiwi comedian has found viral fame after a four-hour train turned into an all-night detour and Twitter was along for the ride.
On Monday night, London-based comic and podcaster, James Nokise had been taking the train to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. It’s a trip the two-time Edinburgh comedy festival performer had taken many times before.
Only this time it took 11 hours, 60 portions of chips and one unorthodox rail-replacement service: taxis booked for 300 delayed passengers.
He already knew it would not be a simple trip. Boarding the 4.40 service out of London’s Kings Cross Station, he noticed an email explaining the train, on which he was standing, had been cancelled. But without updates or confirmation, the train kept rolling along. Even the train crew seemed surprised by the update. At Preston, the train conductor confirmed the “rumours were true” and the bewildered passengers were unloaded onto the waiting platform.
After two hours waiting, passengers were told there were no more trains “north”. From Preston Station that discounted half the country. So, alternative transport was arranged.
It arrived in the form of taxis - lots of taxis, said Nokise.
“And if that sounds slow and ridiculous, it was.”
The Kiwi found himself in the back of a shared Black Cab with three strangers, whom he described as the “cast of a 70s British play”.
That was at 10.30pm, already a quarter hour after he was due inEdinburgh.
Already they were off to a great start, after the cab driver said he was under strict instructions to deliver the four passengers to “Edinburgh Station”- of which there were several. The driver refused to depart until he had confirmation from the taxi company as to which station was intended. Still 300km away at this point, the passengers didn’t care which.
“He said he would drop us there and only there, as though we were trying to trick him.”
Eventually, after loading up on snacks at a service station the “Cab Team” were off. By past midnight they hadn’t even got to the Scottish Borders.
In an attempt to stave off sleep, Nokise took to live-tweeting the trip.
“I’m tweeting mainly to both stay awake, and also because I’m worried I went insane somewhere after Stafford and this is a delusion,” he wrote somewhere on the M6, south of Kirkby Stephen.
After a couple of “incidents” and close calls, they pulled into a service station, at 5 minutes to 1am.
Here the passengers treated the cab driver to “2 red bulls to be safe” and Nokise introduced the passengers to New Zealand car confectionery.
“In the grand Kiwi tradition, I’ve bought a bag of jube-like lollies for the cab,” he wrote.
Sadly after a couple of wrong turns and roading diversions, this was not the only trip down memory lane for the Kiwi expat.
“The A70 is less of a UK highway, and more a NZ highway in that it’s narrow, dark, full of turns and occasionally just dips,” he wrote.
Eventually Nokise and his cab companions made it to Waverly Station at 3.20am - under the steely gaze of the Walter Scott monument. He was shocked that the cab driver was expected to drive back to Preston that morning, and didn’t have any provisions from the train or taxi company.
“Says he’s fine, and maybe he is,” wrote Nokise.
“Made sure he knew the quick way out of town via a servo.”
The comedian told the Herald his socials have been “a bit of a mess” since the trip, with the epic odyssey attracting hundreds of thousands of comments.
Of course Nokise’s story was one of hundreds from affected passengers.
Among the other parties caught up in the great Preston taxi scramble was a class of 50 high school students from Greenfaulds in central Scotland.
Teachers tried to contact the train line operator Avanti West Coast, but they were “effectively stuck” as they couldn’t send their children unaccompanied in cabs. Eventually they were able to source a coach.
“If we had not, we would have 50 young children abandoned on the streets of Preston once the station closes,” said the teachers.
Using online estimates, one commentator predicted the bill for 75 cabs would top $40,000.
A spokesperson for train operator Avanti apologised to affected passengers for the overnight chaos.
”The closure of the west coast mainline for over three hours due to a track defect had a significant impact on our services, with trains and train crew unable to work our planned timetable, resulting in cancellations of services north of Preston.
“While alternative transport and overnight accommodation was sourced for most of those impacted, we fully understand the frustrations of those customers whose journeys were affected, and we are extremely sorry for this.”