Rail chief ‘apologises unreservedly’ over Christmas travel chaos at King’s Cross and Finsbury Park

Poor planning, equipment failures and communication breakdowns all contributed to late running engineering works that caused chaotic scenes at King’s Cross, Finsbury Park and Paddington stations this Christmas, a report has said.

The results of a Network Rail inquiry, published today, found that physical work near Paddington station was completed on time but safety validation work that should have taken two hours took 10 hours.

When engineering work near King’s Cross overran trains were switched to start and finish at Finsbury Park station.

But “not enough was done” to manage passenger flow at Finsbury Park, which had to close for a time so great was the crush of passengers, the report said.

Work should have been completed to enable King’s Cross and Paddington to open on Saturday, December 27.

But King’s Cross had to stay shut all day and Paddington only opened in the early afternoon.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said today: “A number of things went wrong in these two instances.

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“In addition it is clear that our project back-up plans and the train service plans should have done a much better job in protecting the travelling public from our engineering problems.

“Over Christmas, we undertook the biggest programme of engineering and investment work ever, on train lines across the country.

“Ninety-nine per cent went to plan but in the case of King’s Cross and Paddington we let passengers down.

“I sincerely apologise for the disruption over the festive period and we are determined to learn the lessons so that we can continue to make the improvements the travelling public deserve.”

The work affecting King’s Cross was carried out at Holloway by Network Rail in partnership with engineering company Amey.

Today’s report said there was a succession of equipment failures, which stalled progress, and there was insufficient contingency in the project plan to ensure the work finished in time for services to run on December 27.

There were also delays in putting together a recovery plan with the train companies, the report added.

It said: “Not enough was done in both the planning and the implementation to ensure appropriately managed passenger flow at Finsbury Park, in particular a failure to implement an agreed platform strategy that would have separated alighting and boarding passengers.”

Network Rail said that by 10.30am on December 27 Finsbury Park had become so crowded “that passengers on incoming trains were even unable to alight”.

The station was shut for about 30 minutes with some passengers having to queue outside for as long as two to three hours, the report said.

The work affecting Paddington was carried out at Old Oak Common, in north west London, by signalling framework suppliers Signalling Solutions Ltd (SSL).

The report said completion of the physical work on this project by 3.30am on December 27 should have allowed for a 7am start of train services at Paddington, given that paperwork checks and testing verifications were expected to be completed in one to two hours.

But the checks were not finished until 1.14pm.

Several thousand passengers using Paddington were affected by “cancelled and severely delayed services”.

The report said Network Rail was taking action to ensure there was no repeat of the failings.

The ensuing row eventually led to Mr Carne announcing that he would not take his 2014/15 annual bonus, which could have been as high as £135,000.

In a foreword to today’s report, Mr Carne said: “On December 27 thousands of passengers using King’s Cross and Paddington services, many of whom were travelling home after visiting friends and family over the holiday period, experienced significant disruption.

“They suffered both inconvenience and discomfort and I want to unreservedly apologise to everyone who was affected.”

He continued: “In very complex projects sometimes simple things go wrong and these can snowball in short periods of time to become major issues.

“Our contingency plans should address these issues and protect passengers from our problems as far as possible.

“And our industry service recovery plans should minimise the impact of any disruption once it has occurred.

“On these occasions we simply did not do these things well enough.”

A second review of the December 27 failings is being carried out by rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group.

Mr Carne said one thing that was being looked at was the possibility of moving big engineering projects away from the Christmas period.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “On the basis of this report and the events on the day the industry has a long way to go to restore trust in how it handles these events

“There was no reliable Plan B at King’s Cross, so Finsbury Park was pressed into action.

“At Paddington confusion reigned.

“Overall few staff were around, information was patchy at best and no-one seemed in overall control.

“Passengers and government are pouring billions into the railways - they deserve better than this.”