The chief executive of the Napa Valley wine train has apologised for his staff's 'insensitive' actions after their decision to eject 11 women spurred a wave of criticism on social media.

Some Twitter and Facebook users saw the Napa Valley wine train incident as a racial issue – a motive also suggested by the women themselves – and the hashtag #laughingwhileblack has been circulating widely.

The 11 women, most of whom are African American, are part of a book club and travelled on the wine train over the weekend. Staff ordered them off the train for making too much noise.

‘The Napa Valley wine train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,’ said wine train chief executive Anthony ‘Tony’ Giaccio. The organisation hired crisis management pr consultant Sam Singer to handle the situation.

‘We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests,’ said Giacco, who said he apologised in person to Lisa Johnson, leader of the book club.

The wine train did not comment specifically on accusations of racism. But, Giacco promised that staff would receive diversity training.

Giacco said in a letter to book club members, ‘We were insensitive when we asked you to depart our train by marching you down the aisle past all the other passengers.

‘While that was the safest route for disembarking, it showed a lack of sensitivity on our part that I did not fully conceive of until you explained the humiliation of the experience.’

He offered the 11 women plus 39 guests a free ride in a privately reserved carriage, ‘where you can enjoy yourselves as loudly as you desire’. One carriage holds 50 people.