Call for 'heads to roll' at Network Rail

PASSENGERS demand action after another day of misery on the railways, claiming Easter weekend engineering work had overrun.

Anthony Bond

CALLS have been made for “heads to roll” at Network Rail after the East Anglian mainline to London was crippled by problems on the first working day after the Easter break.

The scenes - reminiscent of those after the Christmas holidays when engineering works overran - saw thousands of fuming rail passengers unable to get to work yesterday.

Services linking East Anglia to Liverpool Street were severely disrupted with cancellations and changes to trains running in both directions.

Network Rail, which operates the Britain's rail network, said engineering work being carried out at Shenfield over the Easter weekend had been completed in time and insisted fresh signalling problems in the same area were to blame for the delays.

But rail operator National Express East Anglia angrily hit back at the claim and said the problems were “directly related” to the Easter weekend work.

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The company said it was now seeking an urgent meeting with the Office of Rail Regulation to see what action could be taken against Network Rail.

Andrew Chivers, managing director of National Express East Anglia, said: “After the New Year overruns, Network Rail gave us assurances that our customers would not face problems following the Easter engineering work.

“We robustly challenged Network Rail about its engineering work plans prior to Easter and we were assured everything that needed to be done had been done.

“Once again we have been let down and yesterday morning's inconvenience for our customers has been unacceptable.”

Mr Chivers added that National Express East Anglia had a number of buses available as a contingency for any overrunning works but it was only told about the problems in the early hours of yesterday morning, making it difficult to put alternative arrangements in place.

Derek Monnery, chairman of the Essex Rail Users Federation, said yesterday's cancellations and delays meant a loss of a day's earnings for many people.

“We feel this is incompetence on a grand scale and heads should roll within Network Rail management for failing to control the works so that it was completed on time.

“Network Rail managers do not seem to care a damn about guaranteeing rail services which are essential for businesses in London.

“These managers should be replaced by responsible people who can control the works so that whatever happens a train service can be run on the next working day. In our view, the chairman of Network Rail should resign - if he will not do so, he should be sacked.”

Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo also backed calls for resignations at Network Rail and said he would be writing to Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly to express his concern.

“It is absolutely scandalous after the appalling performance over the New Year,” he said.

“Everyone in Network Rail must have been on notice of the importance of doing this in time because this is a key commuter route into London with large numbers of people doing very important jobs.

“Someone must be answerable for the fact that this work was not done in an efficient and timely way and that person should pay for it.”

Passengers caught up in yesterday's delays were left seething - again.

Shirley Hurst, 59, from Ipswich, said: “It is ridiculous. They keep putting the rail fares up but the services don't seem to be getting any better.”

Jack Hedley works at Canary Wharf and left Colchester for Stratford at 5.43am but at 8am he was still at Chelmsford station and decided to head back to Colchester.

“People were resigned to it given the New Year experience but it is unbelievable that they can mess up again. The train was packed but everyone was pretty calm and the staff were helpful.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said the engineering work in Shenfield was completed on time, but engineers later encountered problems with signaling in the area.

“We apologise to our customers for this disruption which affected journeys,” the spokesperson said.

“We restored services as soon as possible following an early morning problem with the signaling system.”

A spokesman for the Office of Rail Regulation said: “It is too early in the run of events to say what has happened and we need to understand from Network Rail what went wrong and what degree of disruption was caused to passengers.”

The rail regulator is proposing to fine Network Rail £14million for the Christmas overrun.

Customers who wish to seek compensation for yesterday's problems should contact National Express East Anglia Customer Services Centre on 0845 600 7245 or at nxea.customerservices@nationalexpress.com.

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