Network Rail said it was “deeply sorry” for the disruption and the Office of Rail Regulation has promised an investigation into the debacle.
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Police had to be brought in to control re-routed crowds as trains in and out of two of London’s busiest rail hubs were cancelled on Saturday.
Passengers branded the situation a “disgrace” while Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin demanded answers from rail bosses.
Robin Gisby, managing director of Network Rail network operations, said: “I’m deeply sorry for the delays, upset and upheaval caused to passengers impacted by our overrunning improvement work outside King’s Cross.
“We’ve had an army of 11,000 engineers out over Christmas Day and Boxing Day at 2,000 locations nationwide. Over 90 per cent have been completed but I realise this is no consolation for the thousands affected today.”
He said Network Rail would pay compensation to train operators, but would not be drawn on whether affected customers will be in line for payouts.
His comments came after thousands of travellers were hit by delays and cancellations, or crammed into “dangerously overcrowded” carriages.
Paddington, one of west London’s busiest stations, was closed for much of the day as trains were cancelled or delayed.
The normally busy concourse at King’s Cross – departure station for East Coast services to Scotland – was almost deserted as trains were scrapped or redirected to Finsbury Park, a far smaller station in north London.
It was overwhelmed by the number of passengers and also temporarily closed, leaving passengers queuing in the freezing cold for about two hours.
Police had to be brought in to deal with the crowds, which stretched some 300 metres outside the station. Metal barriers were erected to avoid people getting crushed.
George Hallam, from Lewisham, was waiting for a train at Finsbury Park.
He said: “Any civil engineering contractor would have realised, probably weeks ago, that they were going to overrun and they must have realised they would be fined. They could have solved that by putting on more resources, more people, more machines – but if the cost of that is more than the fine then they would choose to pay the fine.”
Passengers travelling with East Coast, First Hull Trains, Grand Central and Great Northern were warned to expect major delays on many services.
Great Western trains were also hit as Paddington was closed for much of the day.
The engineering work was part of a £200 million Christmas investment programme.
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