Major disruption at King’s Cross hits return of rail services

The ramp-up of rail services in England and Wales was marred by major disruption at one of Britain’s busiest stations.

Network Rail admitted “we have not met the standards passengers deserve” after all lines serving London King’s Cross services were closed during the morning rush hour.

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Rail timetables were increased to around 90% of pre-coronavirus pandemic levels on Monday, with additional and longer trains on many routes.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Today is really about telling commuters that ‘you can travel with confidence’, that we are going to be putting on more trains to increase capacity.

“But also what we’re doing is ensuring that those trains are safe to travel in by increasing hygiene (and) cleaning in stations and on trains.”

A GWR train on the railway
A GWR train on the railway

Department for Transport (DfT) figures show demand for rail travel was around 30% of pre-pandemic levels last week.

The RDG said anecdotal evidence suggests there was a slight increase in passenger numbers on Monday but no trains were reported as being close to their reduced capacity.

Transport for London said 700,000 passengers used the London Underground – which is separate from the rail network – on Monday from the start of service until 10am.

This was 15% higher than during the same period on the first working day of last week, but still 68% lower than the equivalent day in 2019.

Mainline rail timetables were slashed in March as the virus led to a reduction in available railway workers and demand for travel, but were gradually increased to around 80% before being ramped up on Monday.

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Southeastern is providing an extra 900 carriages on its weekday services, restoring services to 98% of normal levels.

LNER added 10 extra Anglo-Scottish services to its daily timetables.

ScotRail increased services last month ahead of lessons resuming at Scottish schools.

Signalling was restored for lines serving King’s Cross at around 8.30am on Monday, but delays and cancellations are expected to continue until 5pm.

⚠️#LNERUpdate Due to a fault with the signalling system at #KingsCross all lines are blocked.

For further information regarding your journey, please visit here:

— London North Eastern Railway (@LNER) September 7, 2020

Among the services affected are LNER trains between London and Edinburgh.

Network Rail believes the fault was related to weekend engineering work.

It comes just days after services between King’s Cross and Peterborough were suspended due to a fault with overhead power lines in Bedfordshire.

Network Rail route director Paul Rutter said: “I am very sorry that recently we have not met the standards passengers deserve on the southern end of the East Coast Main Line.”

He added: “We will learn from these experiences and do better in the future.”

Rail punctuality has generally improved during the pandemic with 83% of stops at stations made within a minute of the schedule in July, compared with 66% in July 2019.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said the industry must “focus on maintaining good performance”.

He warned: “Disruption and any crowding from this will be especially unwelcome and has the potential to damage trust in the railway.”