Anger over day of rail chaos

A First Capital Connect train coming towards King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher.

A First Capital Connect train coming towards King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Commuters faced an entire day of disruption on the King's Lynn to London railway line after engineering works near to the capital over-ran, causing a knock-on effect for Norfolk passengers.

Network Rail said it had been commissioning new signalling on the route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park over the bank holiday but had encountered issues with the signalling system.

That meant the work that should have been completed on Monday was not finished in time, meaning the 6.51am, 7.25am, 7.55am, 8.27am, 8.59am and 9.59am First Capital Connect (FCC) services from King's Lynn to London King's Cross all had to be cancelled.

A reduced timetable was put in place to provide some services along the route, which passes through Watlington, Downham Market, Ely and Cambridge.

Network Rail said it hoped a full service would be resumed today – but commuters were still not happy at the delays, which carried on into the evening rush hour.

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Andy Tyler, secretary of the Fen Line Users' Association, which represents passengers in the area, said: 'I know there is a great amount of frustration with what has occurred. It has badly affected those people who were going back to work after the bank holiday.'

Mr Tyler was due to travel by train to Cambridge yesterday afternoon.

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By that stage the reduced timetable was up and running, meaning most passengers travelling at non-peak times were experiencing about 20mins delay.

However, as early as 3pm, FCC was warning on its website that peak-time evening services would be 'extremely busy' and strongly advised customers to travel at less busy times.

Mr Tyler added that communication between FCC and its passengers had improved recently, with statements on its website and Twitter account keeping commuters updated about timetable changes and the causes of the disruption.

However, he said: 'As far as passengers are concerned, they are not concerned about the whos or wherefores, They just want to see a timetable provided.'

Phil Verster, Network Rail route managing director, said: 'We apologise to passengers for the significant disruption caused to their journey.

'Network Rail encountered issues during work being carried out to the signal on the route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park this weekend.'

He added that he hoped a full service would be running by today.

Jackie Townsend, FCC operations director, said the company was sorry for the delays and said customers were kept updated with travel advice through the internet, Twitter and other avenues.

FCC tickets were also being accepted by other rail companies, as well as on the London Underground and London bus network to get passengers to their destinations.

Marion Tuck, 73, travelled from her home town of Ely to Downham Market at about lunchtime.

'There was not too much delay,' she said. 'Some people were grumbling about the disruption but you can't help it if there are engineering works.'

Nyle Tinworth, 30, from Watlington, said: 'I was 20mins late getting to King's Lynn. It wasn't too bad but the delays are a bit of a pain for people who have to get to work.'

Hackney carriage driver Tareq Salah-Eldin, 58, said his colleagues had been taking people to places like Peterborough, Cambridge and Ely because there were no trains they could catch.

'It is not a nice thing to happen to people,' he said. 'Customers won't be happy as it means they miss connecting trains, flights or are late for work.'

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss raised the issue as a matter of priority with Network Rail yesterday, as she sought clarification about the extent of the problem and the measures in place to resolve it.

'Everyone appreciates that engineering work needs to take place,' she said. 'However, residents rely on this rail service and any unexpected delays and cancellations cause considerable inconvenience.'

Mr Tyler added: 'We would look in the future for there to be closer liaison between FCC and Network Rail to try and have contingency plans in place.'

He added that the disruptions would be frustrating for passengers facing a rise in the cost of their train fares. Commuters have been told they face a 4.1pc hike, with the cost of an off-peak day return between London and King's Lynn likely to rise by £1, from £33.50.

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