Power fault strands dozens of locomotives and delays 40,000 commuters

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The Independent Online

Forty thousand commuters suffered delays of nearly three hours yesterday after a power failure stranded dozens of locomotives in sidings.

The power fault knocked out signals and points for 12 miles along tracks south of Bedford used by Thameslink and Midland Mainline trains. Thameslink stores most of its 66 locomotives in Bedford overnight and the 5.30am failure meant they were unable to join the rest of the network, leaving the company running only a couple of the 18 trains an hour it normally operates. A Thameslink spokesman said the cancellations affected commuters travelling south from Bedford and north from Brighton to London King's Cross.

"We could not get anything south until 10.30am when the signals and points were restored so we completely missed the morning peak," he said. "There were a handful of trains running, but so few you could say that the service effectively did not exist."

Some passengers were taken by bus to Flitwick, south of the affected stretch of line, where a limited service was running to London Moorgate. Others caught WAGN or Silverlink services that used different tracks. Services from Bedford and Brighton were severely disrupted until mid- afternoon, although they were running normally in time for the evening rush-hour.

Railtrack is investigating the cause of the power failure and the Thameslink spokesman said its performance figures would not be affected if the problem was Railtrack's fault.

"There was nothing wrong with our trains," he said. "We just could not run them. At the moment, we don't know if it was a problem with Railtrack's equipment or a problem with the National Grid."

The disruption also affected staff at the London Transport Users Committee, including its assistant director Bryan Davey. He caught a Midland Mainline train that was two hours late, and he said the few services running were "absolutely packed". Midland Mainline, which runs services from Sheffield to London St Pancras, said its first four trains of the day were delayed for up to three hours and services were not back to normal until late afternoon.

Railtrack said some trains ran while the power was down because staff manually operated signals and points.