A single buckled rail blighted the journeys of hundreds of thousands of commuters and caused millions of pounds in financial damage to the wider economy.
Network Rail has apologised after the morning rush hour to and from London Waterloo was written off by overrunning engineering works.
At one stage on Monday morning, the near-shutdown of South Western Railway led the train operator to warn passengers not to travel.
Contamination spread to other areas, as a freight train was unable to proceed and blocked a line normally used by Southern trains.
Those who did attempt to board trains on the lines linking London Waterloo with Wimbledon, Portsmouth, Winchester, Southampton, Dorset and Devon found their journeys extremely protracted.
Anyone who made it to work in London was told before their journey home: “As trains and train crew are in the wrong locations for their next duty, services will remain severely disrupted for the rest of today.”
Nicola Rudiak, a dental surgeon from Hampshire, was taking her son to a hospital appointment in London. They arrived two hours late, and on the way home faced a long wait a train from Waterloo to Southampton Parkway – which normally has three fast trains an hour.
She told The Independent: “We thought, ‘Oh, it’ll all be sorted by now,’ but still chaos. Two hours to wait now.
“Obviously engineering works have to be done, but to overrun on to a Monday morning is not acceptable,”
The chaos at what is normally Britain’s busiest rail station rippled beyond the South Western Railway network, with a freight train blocking the line to Sutton because it was unable to join the Wessex line. Southern Rail commuters faced widespread disruption because of this issue and other overrunning engineering projects.
Andy Hurdle tweeted: “Within minutes of shelling out £101.30 this morning for a weekly from Horsham to Victoria, I was filling-in an online form to get £5.20 back due to 30 [minutes] + delay.’
“This is the new normal.”
Network Rail accepted responsibility for the fiasco at the start of the working week, saying: “We know the service hasn’t been good enough and we are sorry for that.”
A track replacement project near Surbiton was due to finish at 4.30am, with the lines handed back to South Western Railway in good time for the morning rush hour.
But Network Rail said that shortly after 4am it became clear the work near Surbiton was going to overrun significantly, because of a twisted rail.
“We are investigating what caused that work to overrun,” said a Network Rail spokesperson.
Even though the problem was limited to one specific location, when track replacement work takes place all signalling in the area has to be re-tested. This delayed almost every traveller until after the normal morning peak.
The infrastructure operator, which is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, is investing £2bn to improve the lines to and from London Waterloo. The spokesperson said: “There are many reasons for the poor service passengers are experiencing, not least that this is one of the most congested parts of the UK’s railway.
“Almost a quarter of a billion journeys a year are running over an ageing infrastructure that was never designed with so many people in mind.
“Working with South Western Railway we are absolutely committed to improving the service for passengers.”
Network Rail claims: “The number of times our infrastructure fails is falling.”
It has assured passengers: “Services will be back to normal tomorrow.”
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