More than 50 commuters were waiting to catch the 22.17 service from Ashford International in Kent to Maidstone East station when they approached station staff to ask what was causing the delay.
A member of staff for Southeastern – recently voted the worst train company in the UK in a poll by consumer magazine Which? – said that although a driver was on board the train could not leave without the guard.
When asked what the guard was doing, commuters were told “he’s having his nosh” and could not start his shift until he was finished eating.
They were told that the guard was on his one-hour dinner break and that he was in the middle of polishing off a chicken salad sandwich and a bag of crisps.
One passenger, Colin Bird, 43, said: “Everyone just stood around with their mouths open.”It was perhaps the most ridiculous excuse anyone had ever heard for a train running late.”
Mr Bird, an advertising worker from Maidstone, Kent, said: “You would have thought the guard could have just eaten his chicken sandwich on board the train rather than sitting tucked away in an office somewhere.
“The train services were bad enough on that day and everyone just wanted to get home – but this guy had to take an hour off to eat his dinner.”
Another commuter Claire Bennett, 40, said she paid £4,800 for an annual train ticket and that the train only left at around 11.10pm – just under an hour after it was due to depart at 22.17.
She said: “I’ve heard all types of excused from Southeastern, but this was a first.
“None of the passengers had eaten their dinner either – I was seething.”
She said that once on the train – which takes 30 minutes to get from Ashford to Maidstone – nobody came round to check their tickets, meaning the guard was ‘redundant’.
A Southeastern spokesman said this week that it ‘had a duty’ to follow official health and safety guidelines.
She said train crew staff were ‘required to take mandatory breaks’, adding: “We understand the frustration when services are delayed and we’re sorry the journey took longer than usual.”