Apology after chaos on railway

Published: Sunday 28th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Network Rail said it was “deeply sorry” after thousands of passengers’ travel plans were plunged into chaos thanks to over-running engineering works.

Police had to be brought in to control re-routed crowds as trains in and out of two of London’s busiest rail hubs were cancelled.

Passengers branded the debacle a “disgrace” while Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin demanded answers from rail bosses.

And the railway watchdog, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), has promised an investigation into the disruption.

As pressure mounted on Network Rail, Robin Gisby, managing director of network operations, apologised for the mayhem.

He said: “I’m deeply sorry for the delays, upset and upheaval caused today to passengers impacted by our overrunning improvement work outside King’s Cross.

“We’ve had an army of 11,000 engineers out over Christmas Day and Boxing Day at 2,000 locations nationwide. Over 90% have been completed and handed back to-time but I realise this is no consolation for the thousands affected today.”

He added he expected King’s Cross to be brought back to normal operation this morning.

He said Network Rail would pay compensation to train operators, but would not be drawn on whether affected customers will be in line for pay-outs.

His comments came after a day where thousands of travellers were hit by delays and cancellations, or crammed into “dangerously overcrowded” carriages.

Paddington, one of west London’s busiest stations, was closed for much of the day as trains were cancelled or delayed.

While King’s Cross’ normally busy concourse was almost deserted as trains were scrapped or redirected to Finsbury Park, a far smaller station in north London.

But Finsbury Park was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of passengers and also temporarily closed, leaving passengers queuing in the freezing cold for around two hours.

Police had to be brought in to deal with the crowds, which stretched some 300 metres along the side of the station along Seven Sisters Road.

Metal barriers were also erected to avoid people getting crushed.

George Hallam, a semi-retired economics lecturer from Lewisham, was among the crowds waiting to get on a train at Finsbury Park.

He said: “Any civil engineering contractor would have realised probably weeks ago that they were going to overrun and they must have realised they would be fined.

“They could have solved that by putting on more resources, more people, more machines – but if the cost of that is more than the fine then they would choose to pay the fine.”

He added: “There are a lot of vulnerable people here. My mother-in-law is 94, we managed to get her into a taxi some time ago. But the train companies ought to be arranging coaches, not taxis.”

Passengers travelling with East Coast, First Hull Trains, Grand Central and Great Northern were warned to expect major delays on many services.

Great Western trains were also hit as Paddington was closed for much of the day because of over-running works and signal problems.

Lindesay Irvine, 45, a journalist, said he has been stuck on a “dangerously overcrowded” train after two train-loads of people, one from Bristol and one from Cornwall, were merged into one.

Mr Irvine, who is travelling to London after spending Christmas with family in Bristol, said: “It is dangerously overcrowded. In health and safety terms this must be well against the law.

“There is not an inch of room. At the last station people tried to get on but couldn’t. One person has been taken ill on the train.

“There is no room, no information and no apology. It is unacceptable. The engineering works have over-run from Christmas but they have had plenty of time to prepare.

“My Christmas in Bristol was close to perfect. And now thanks to Great Western I’ve been left very angry at the end of my Christmas break.”

Fellow passenger Lynda Pollard, 62, said: “It is packed. You have got to fight your way through to the bathroom. It is so crowded you can barely move. Why have they not laid coaches on?

“The overcrowding is horrendous. There is no way of getting any food or water. It is dreadful.”

Announcing an investigation into the debacle, ORR said in a statement: “Network Rail, working with the rest of the industry, must learn lessons and prevent problems like this happening again.

“ORR is investigating overrunning works.

“We will also be reviewing the standard of passenger information during disruptions – with a focus on whether passengers have been adequately informed to make alternative arrangements to their journeys or claim compensation.”

Mr McLoughlin said: “The situation on the railways this weekend has been totally unacceptable.

“Passengers must be able to trust that vital engineering works on the rail network will be completed on time. Passengers deserve no less.

“I will be asking Network Rail to set out what went wrong and how they can learn lessons, but its priority must be to get services running into King’s Cross as well as Paddington.”

Network Rail said its engineers had “been working tirelessly to complete the track replacement work” but not all the planned works had been completed in time.

It said tickets will be valid until Monday and pledged to get to the bottom of why the engineering work was delayed.

Network Rail said the engineering work near King’s Cross was part of a £200 million Christmas investment programme, with most services expected to return to normal on January 5.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “There will be thousands of passengers who have been left angry and frustrated by today’s events. We have heard and seen passengers standing for hours on trains, locked outside stations and left to find out what to do by themselves.

“Passengers booked tickets and made travel plans based on the promises made by the industry. That trust has been broken today.”

He called for a review into the disruption, adding: “In the meantime every single passenger affected should claim compensation. Send a clear message to the industry and make sure your voice is heard.”

Published: Sunday 28th December 2014 by The News Editor

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