Elizabeth line passengers face month of cancelled trains amid work to tackle Paddington-Reading track failures

Passengers on the Elizabeth line face a month of cancelled early-morning and late-night trains as work gets underway to tackle chronic track failures between Paddington and Reading.

Network Rail is to “accelerate” a near £140m improvement plan after more than 3,000 passengers were stranded on Elizabeth line, Heathrow Express and GWR trains for several hours at night last December when overhead wires fell and power to the tracks was cut.

From Sunday, there will be no Elizabeth line trains west of Paddington before 7.40am, and services will terminate at the mainline station – meaning no through running to and from central London.

In addition, a number of the stations between Paddington and Maidenhead will be reduced to only two trains an hour. There will also be fewer services from around 10pm.

GWR trains are also likely to be affected, though the impact is expected to be more limited.

Between Monday and Thursday until March 28 there will be a reduced Elizabeth line service from Paddington from 9.30pm, with four trains an hour to Heathrow airport and two to Reading.

Network Rail said it would take 18 months before performance on the Great Western Main Line returned to “good” levels.

During the first month of work, only two of the four tracks in and out of Paddington will be open.

Network Rail will try to co-ordinate later work with about 70 days of track closures that are planned over the next five years to connect the Great Western Main Line to the HS2 station at Old Oak Common.

It has identified more than 1,000 actions needed on the 53-mile stretch of track between Didcot Parkway in Oxfordshire and Paddington.

Marcus Jones, Network Rail’s route director, admitted that the Government-owned company has been “letting people down”.

He said the aim was to “stabilise” services and “stop things going wrong” over the next six months, with an ambition for maintenance and infrastructure renewals to be “back on track” after 18 months, at which point good performance will be “business as usual”.

Mr Jones said: “We haven’t been performing well enough and we are sorry for that. We’re letting people down and it’s awful to be in a position where we’re doing that.”

Passengers were trapped on trains for hours in December (Emma Bentley)
Passengers were trapped on trains for hours in December (Emma Bentley)

Transport for London said it had seen a 22 per cent increase in the number of formal passenger complaints about the Elizabeth line in the last year, from about from 32 to 40 a week.

About 4.5m journeys take place on the line each week, making it the single busiest railway in the UK.

Over the last three four-week periods it has failed to hit punctuality and reliability targets.

Since November 12, the “public performance measure” has been 81.4 per cent, 87.3 per cent and 88.8 per cent. The target is 91.7 per cent.

TfL said that “key actions” resulting from the December 7 incident included reducing the amount of track left without power, placing a “greater immediate focus” on stranded trains, ensuring more staff are available to assist with swifter evacuation and having better plans to get passengers home.

Mayor Sadiq Khan, who met Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines yesterday, said the recent performance of the Elizabeth lien had been “below the high standards set”.

He said: “I have been absolutely clear with Network Rail, [train operator] MTR and TfL that the issues we have seen over the last six months are not acceptable. I am pleased that they have brought forward a comprehensive plan to resolve the problems on the line, and I will continue to hold them to account.”

A spokesperson for GWR said: “We share our passengers’ concerns, and the team at Network Rail understands the impact on our customers when the infrastructure doesn’t perform as it should, and the need to improve.

“In the past year two-thirds of delays to our customers in the Thames Valley relate to problems with the track, signalling or overhead lines.

“The steps outlined by the new regional Network Rail team should be welcomed. We look forward to working with them to understand the delivery plan in more detail and help minimise the impact of the work on customers.”