Rail disruption: Network Rail boss says passengers let down

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Media caption"We've let a lot of people down today," admits Network Rail boss Robin Gisby

A senior Network Rail executive has apologised after overrunning Christmas engineering works caused major disruption for passengers in London.

Robin Gisby said passengers had been let down, but defended the decisions that shut down King's Cross and caused long queues at nearby Finsbury Park.

The Office of Rail Regulation is to launch an investigation.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has demanded answers from Network Rail, which runs the UK's railway network.

Passengers are now being advised to avoid using Kings Cross or Finsbury Park if possible and have been told their tickets will be valid on Sunday and Monday.

A reduced service to and from King's Cross is expected to operate on Sunday, but journeys could be retimed and take longer than expected.

Overrunning engineering works have also meant there were no services between London Paddington and Reading.

First Great Western is advising Paddington passengers to use alternative routes with South West Trains and Chiltern Trains and has offered refunds to travellers who choose not to travel on Saturday.

Meanwhile, West Coast Main Line services are not running between London Euston and Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire until 29 December, owing to planned engineering works.

'Badly wrong'

The work between King's Cross and Finsbury Park is part of a £200m Christmas investment programme.

The shut down of King's Cross caused chaotic scenes at Finsbury Park, which passengers had been advised to use in its place.

Finsbury Park station was temporarily closed following police advice, as "significant crowds" gathered on the platforms.

Trains coming into the capital were halted for long periods while waiting for a platform to become free at Finsbury Park.

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Media caption"The queue for a train went on and on and on" reports Daniela Relph

Mr Gisby, Network Rail's managing director for network operations, told BBC News: "We've let a lot of people down today, I'm afraid, and I can only apologise for that.

"I've been out and about and have witnessed just the impact that our engineering work has had on passengers at Paddington and King's Cross."

He said Network Rail had run about 10,000 trains and had tried to run a "reasonable service" on top of the "necessary" engineering works.

"But unfortunately some signalling problems at Paddington have gone badly wrong until early this afternoon, and we had some machinery break down on Christmas Day into Boxing Day, to the north of Kings Cross," he said.

A decision was taken on the afternoon of 26 December to put alternative arrangements in place and make an announcement to passengers, he added:

"I'd much rather do that and make the call, than hope it all came right," he stressed.

He added that Network Rail was doing all it could "not to repeat the dreadful disruption caused today".

'A real person telling us would be nice'

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Media captionThere has been widespread misery for passengers wanting to travel to or from King's Cross, as Emily Unia reports

By Emily Unia, BBC News

The queues at Finsbury Park snaked from the station entrance, along the pavement and round the corner.

People with small children, large suitcases, dogs and bicycles all waited in the cold. A common complaint was the lack of information about what was happening.

A woman trying to travel to Edinburgh said "not all of us are on Twitter - a real person telling us what's going on would be nice."

One angry passenger told me the 80-year-old man next to him had no hat, was getting very cold and needed help. He was put in a taxi by railway officials.

Another couple told me they'd given up and were going back to their daughter's house.

But others were determined to stick it out - taking turns to get hot drinks and food. Some said they simply didn't have the option of delaying their journeys because they had nowhere to sleep tonight.

Passengers described chaotic scenes at Finsbury Park, saying overcrowding meant people were unable to leave the station or board trains.

Sara Nelson, from watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "We know that people accept that maintenance and improvement works have to be done sometime, and that the quieter holiday periods can be the best time.

"However, when the service is already limited, such as on the days following a holiday, for those to then go down, this causes, as you've seen, mass disruption, and it's extremely frustrating for passengers."

A spokesman for the Office of Rail Regulation said: "The immediate priority is for Network Rail to ensure disrupted parts of the railways are back up and running again for passengers as soon as possible.

"Network Rail, working with the rest of the industry, must learn lessons and prevent problems like this happening again."

The rail operator, East Coast Trains, apologised, adding passengers should travel another day if possible.

Image copyright Simon Lamrock
Image caption The engineering work was taking place between King's Cross and Finsbury Park
Image copyright Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Image caption Travellers were locked out of Finsbury Park due to overcrowding
Image copyright Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Image caption Passengers complained of a lack of information about what was happening
Image copyright Sam Collins
Image caption Commuters are being advised to avoid Finsbury Park station altogether if possible

For passengers who do decide to travel, East Coast said it was operating a service every 30 minutes from Finsbury Park - all trains run to Peterborough, then continue either to Leeds, Newcastle or Edinburgh.

Great Northern, which also uses King's Cross, advised passengers not to travel on its services on Saturday until further notice.

'Learn lessons'

Transport Secretary 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.

"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 Kings Cross as well as Paddington."

Lib Dem former junior transport minister Norman Baker said he had worked at Finsbury Park when he was a British Rail employee and added that the station "is totally inadequate to be a terminus for a large number of trains coming into London".

Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said it was "unacceptable disruption, just as people try and get home after Christmas".

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