Thousands of commuters were subjected to a hellish ordeal that was compared to a wartime evacuation after passengers were stranded on dark, cold trains in London for several hours.
Commuters, including singer James Blunt and Countdown’s Rachel Riley, were left on packed trains after damage to overhead electric cables caused severe delays to Elizabeth line, Great Western Railway and Heathrow Express trains.
Footage and images shared on social media showed passengers sat in pitch black train carriages and lugging heavy suitcases along tracks after disembarking a train.
Two people were injured during the blackout and a man was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault by the British Transport Police (BTP).
London TravelWatch, a public transport watchdog, called for a full investigation into the “nightmare journeys” that passengers endured as they were left with a “lack of communication and slow response time”
Mikey Worrall, who was one of those stranded on an Elizabeth line train on Thursday night and said it was “the most surreal evening” of his life and criticised London Mayor Sadiq Khan for the problems.
He described the train as lurching to a stop and then a long, multiple-hour wait in semi-darkness as the driver drip-fed what little information they had through to passengers.
Eventually, the battery backup running the train’s heating and light services ran out, and passengers were left in darkness for another hour and a half until they were evacuated.
Mr Worrall said: “We saw a couple of workers come past, and they were trying to keep everyone calm. Suddenly, we saw a stream of people coming down the track, and at that point, it was clear that we would be getting off.
“It was really eerie walking down the railway line in amongst this big crowd of people. It felt like a wartime thing.”
As to why the line broke down, Mr Worrall said: “Every day, it’s a different excuse.
“It seems to me they opened this whole thing without actually being fit for purpose. If they knew there were infrastructure issues that they needed to work on, why didn’t they work on those before? They opened the line and it doesn’t work.
“It (goes down) multiple times a week, and it’s incredibly frustrating.”
He added: “The mayor of London needs to sort it out.”
Billy Stephens, 26, who works as an editor and motion designer, told The Independent, the whole situation was “a bit ridiculous” and that protocols in emergency situations needed to be improved.
The 26-year-old was stuck for around three hours on an Elizabeth Line service, but that despite the delays people on his carriage were “generally good natured”.
He said: “There was the occasional muttering under the breath and some audible complaints but mostly people were quite chatty and there were others cracking jokes. There was none of the aggravation that was on other carriages.”
Jacek Broniszewski, who was stuck on the Elizabeth Line for three hours, said on X that the whole situation was “quite the mess”.
“Stuck on an #ElizabethLine train for 3 hours, we were promised “buses and taxis”. All seemed like official protocol. After finally being let out, turned out there was no transport provided and we were stranded alone. Quite the mess.”
Anna van Praagh said on X: “The worst thing about the chaos on #elizabethline last night? The driver said they could have evacuated us hours before but no one in management was picking up the phone and it was against protocol not to have their permission. @TfL who was in charge?
Mr Blunt took a more light-hearted approach to the chaos and said: “Been stuck somewhere outside Paddington for close to 4 hours now. Out of peanuts and wine”, while Riley wrote: “Nearly 4 hours after we got on, we’re getting off the Elizabeth line, woohoo!”
Engineers worked through the night to get two of the four lines serving Paddington open for electric trains, but commuters on Friday morning still faces delays of up to 90 minutes.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are so sorry for the difficult journeys passengers endured on our railway last night and we will be investigating how and why it happened.
“The knock-on effects from last night mean operators will not be able to run a full service from Paddington today and passengers should check before they travel.
“Repairs are ongoing and we hope to have the railway fully open by the weekend.”
A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We were called at 7.38pm yesterday (8 December) to reports of a large number of passengers delayed on trains between Paddington and Ladbroke Grove, west London.
“We sent a number of resources to the scene including an ambulance crew, a paramedic in a fast response car, an incident response officer and members of our Hazardous Area Response Team.
“We treated two patients for minor injuries and discharged them at the scene.”
A spokesperson for the BTP said: “While responding to the incident at Paddington station on 7 December officers on scene were made aware of reports of a sexual assault. The assault was reported to have taken place on the Elizabeth Line at around 8.30pm. A man was arrested and later released.
“Anyone with information is asked to contact the British Transport Police on 61016 or 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 612 of 07/12/23.”
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