COMMUTERS returning to work after the Christmas break suffered travel misery yesterday as rail services were hit by delays and cancellations.
First Great Western lines between Reading and London Paddington ground to a halt in the morning due to over-running engineering work in the Maidenhead area.
The disruption continued until 11am, with passengers advised not to travel unless journeys were essential – but for many the warning came too late.
Tickets valid for travel on the First Great Western network yesterday are being accepted for travel today.
The network had already been hit by major disruption over the festive period with passengers urged not to travel in parts of south west England due to problems caused by heavy rain.
Services had been cancelled due to flooding and landslips.
At Swindon station, passengers told of their frustration at being hit by another round of chaos.
Beth Webb, 24, of Cricklade, was travelling back to work in London after Christmas and got caught up in the chaos after boarding her 7am train. She is angry that no one was told of the delays until the train was moving.
“The communication was terrible,” she said. “We should have been told at Swindon station. We stopped at Didcot and were told we would have to change, and then hopefully get a train to Reading. “We were then put on a train at Reading to Waterloo. I was sitting on my suitcase in the aisle. It was chaos.”
Tom Shearer and his partner Jessica Ost, of Clapham Junction, were stranded with their luggage on their way from Bath to visit his parents in Cambridge. Tom, an accountant, and Jessica, an NHS manager, had been trying to travel via Reading when their service terminated in the town at 10am.
Tom, 25, said: “The train was originally taking us to Reading but it stopped at Swindon.
“The platforms were packed with people in the same position. We’re going to write a letter asking for a refund. We have had to rent a car, which will cost us £100 so it’s not ideal.”
Ian McGuinness, 39, was delayed on his way to work in London after a connecting service was cancelled. The office manager, of East London, had also had to contend with a crowded train on the first leg of his route from Cheltenham. “We got put on a small train with only two carriages, it was an absolute nightmare with people even standing in the guard’s carriage,” he said. “It was exactly the same last year. Lauren Joell, of Bermuda, encountered a scramble at Reading train station at services heading in the direction of Swindon were cancelled or switched to different platforms.
The 37-year-old writer said: “Other than a little sprint at the last second it wasn’t too bad and I got to Swindon 10 minutes early. I think some of the other passengers missed the train though.”
Passengers turned to Twitter to vent their fury about the chaos, with @acaseofmatt writing: “You're the worst train operator I have ever travelled with, every journey I have taken has been cancelled/oversold/delayed.”
Services returned to normal at 11am, with Network Rail only working on relief lines which did not affect scheduled services.
A spokeswoman for First Great Western apologised for the disruption.
“Network Rail are doing work on the track and signals over Christmas between Paddington and Slough,” she said. “They discovered a major electrical fault between Hayes and West Drayton in West London. That meant no trains ran between Paddington and Slough before 11am.”
She said First Great Western had done all it could to make commuters aware of the problem, including going on the radio and posting announcements on its website and on Twitter.