It came to light in a recent report released by Transport for London that the company had undertaken several investigations into certain disturbances occurring on a number of their main underground lines. These disturbances have been felt by many commuters and several of my colleagues in the department confirm that the descriptions of events in the report are factual and not hearsay. The concern surrounding this phenomena began when several passengers complained of a large jolt occurring regularly involving the doors of certain tube trains. When travelling at high speed, so the report says, the doors of certain trains seem to bang as if “something has hit the window,” in the words of one interviewee. This I have witnessed myself, especially on the swifter parts of the Victoria Line; the doors seem to suddenly jolt creating a large bang, often shrugged off by passengers as being something to do with the air pressure of the vast train passing through the small tunnel.
But the report also deals with a more detailed and disturbing set of scenarios, known under the collective title of Piccadilly Line “Corpse Rain” Phenomena. It involves a certain stretch of track on the Piccadilly Line, heading between Holborn and Russell Square and often experienced late at night. The report details one late commuter on November 14th 2011, a young woman travelling home to Holloway from an evening out in the centre of town. The report suggests that an extreme form of hallucinatory experience occurred involving “faces at the windows” of the train. The initial findings of the report suggested that the young woman had been intoxicated, though went further to suggest that she had been slipped certain drugs resulting in a brief but fruitless police investigation into the various bars in which she had been drinking around Frith Street that night. Her detailed account of the visions she experienced on the train suggest that she had witnessed the presence of “a number of corpses piled up” and, for a brief moment, believed herself to have been witness to some sort of terrorist incident or at least the aftermath of some attack. The woman was later found near the end of the Piccadilly Line at Oakwood, collapsed and in need of medical attention.
Transport for London investigated no further at the time, believing the police report that the woman had been drugged in a Soho bar. It was only in 2014 when, alongside the previous investigation of claims dating back some forty years, that TFL began investigations of their own. Archive reports revealed that a number of incidents had been reported, said to have mostly taken place between Holborn and Russell Square, and almost all of which involved visions seen by passengers of bodies at the windows and loud noises heard upon the windows, with one witness in 1982 even going so far as describe hearing the sound of screaming “not unlike a group of people trapped in a burning building.” But it was in TFL’s other investigations conducted in 2015 that the “Corpse Rain” phenomena was given credence and treated as potentially policy affecting information.
Two more witnesses of the effect came forward before TFL put together a small investigations team, including a previous chief engineer, Andrew Farthing, a researcher in London history, Professor Eleanor Smith of the British Museum, and, most unusually, a parapsychologist from the University of Lincoln, Dr. David Buchannan. Farthing and Buchannan, it was decided, were to take several trips on the line, eventually organising a back-and-forth pattern very early on in the morning one Sunday in November 2015. Alongside this, Smith was assigned to archive duties in search of some explanation of the phenomena in the history of the area. Smith’s research proved vital as the report details. It is clear, as Smith suggests, that the recent spurt of developments in the Soho and Oxford Street area has disturbed much of the original foundations of the district, even extending far into Bloomsbury due to their sheer scale. This redevelopment, she writes, has been considered crass by many local historians and even several council town planners. Though Smith does not go into detail regarding what exactly it is that has been disturbed, she does further detail some specifics to be mentioned later.
Farthing and Buchannan were equally fruitful in their research, making several detailed reports of their findings from their late night trips on the Piccadilly Line. Buchannan in particular made several audio recordings of the journeys while Farthing drove the empty train back-and-forth. On their first attempt, Buchannan notes of an increased prevalence in the banging sound that “seems to pull at the doors when the train reaches a certain speed.” This is a phenomena that happens on many tube trains though no one at TFL has ever accounted for it or felt the need to; the compression of air built up from the speed being a logical and believable enough reasoning as a cause for the general public to be satisfied. But, as the report goes on, Buchannan’s details become more sporadic and more unusual.
Buchannan notes on his 2015 trip that the lights gradually began to fail, first accounting for it by suggesting that Farthing’s abrupt driving of the train was unusual for its circuitry. But, as the notes develop, the lights seem to go out entirely in the carriage that Buchannan is in. On the penultimate run on the train, the report suggests that Buchannan begins to hallucinate himself, firstly writing that he hears bangs and noises “as if a great quantity of fruit or some heavy organic matter was being emptied onto the floor of the carriageway.” This noise was then further accompanied by the sounds of moaning which, with Buchannan’s knowledge of earlier reports, confirmed indeed the presence of a sound like the cries emanating from a burning building. The parapsychologist is less detailed about the very final run of the tube before the experiment is stopped – halted, as the report suggests, due to Buchannan’s discomfort, stopping Farthing at Russell Square station and fleeing to the nearest exit before Farthing, so the report writes, has to calm the researcher down.
All the report suggests is that Buchannan seems to see “an array of falling bodies, firstly outside and then inside the carriage.” Though Buchannan has no visual documentation of this, the audio taken of this moment accounts for his detailing of these events, at least in terms of his reaction to them. He later added further detail regarding the sound that the bodies made when falling being the same sound heard by one of the passengers of “organic matter falling in great quantity onto the floor of the carriage” and also his horror at the feeling of “being buried under a huge number of human corpses.” The audio has picked up this sound as well as the so-called cries though, since the recording was picked up by the London Evening Standard late last year, TFL has since suggested it to be an elaborate practical joke “put together by staff in the poorest of taste.” Farthing and Buchannan have since concluded their investigations and are no longer on the TFL payroll.
The report on the Piccadilly Line “Corpse Rain” Phenomena concludes with some of Smith’s most interesting finds in the archives. The first thing, she suggests, is to note that at almost the precise location of the line between the two stations, a bomb fell during World War Two upon Fisher Street; almost right on top of Holborn Station. Documents suggest that a large number of people were killed by this one particular high-explosive device, sometime between 1940 and 1941, because parts of the station were used as a shelter during this particular raid. The other element that Smith finalises is the other line that connects with the Piccadilly Line. However, she is not referring to a tube line but, in fact, to a so-called “ley-line” that cuts this part of the tunnel not far from where the bomb is supposed to have struck. It is suggested in the final comments of the report by the current chief engineer of the line that the evidence presented within it is, at best, anecdotal and overdramatic, even fanciful, and recommends suppression of all further reports and complaints regarding anything “with reference to the falling or appearance of corpses on the Piccadilly Line.”