Network Rail boss for train line where passengers were stranded quits

17 December 2023, 15:31 | Updated: 17 December 2023, 19:50

Michelle Handforth has stepped down
Michelle Handforth has stepped down. Picture: Network Rail/Social media

By Kit Heren

A senior Network Rail executive who was in charge of a railway line where passengers were trapped for hours in the dark in west London has quit.

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Michelle Handforth ran the Wales and Western region for Network Rail, which includes Paddington Station, for the state-owned railway infrastructure company.

An electrical problem on a railway line going west from Paddington on the evening of December 7 meant that commuters had to smash their way off trains and walk on the tracks, as services ground to a halt for hours.

The Elizabeth Line, Great Western Railway and Heathrow Express trains were all affected. Ms Handforth had already quit before the incident took place.

Two people were injured and one person was said to have been sexually assaulted during the blackout.

Read more: 'Who was in charge?' Fury at Elizabeth Line chaos that saw thousands stranded before 'smashing out of carriages'

Read more: Network Rail chief admits 'service has gone backwards' after 'painful experience' being stuck on west London train

Several other railway faults had affected lines in the area in the preceding weeks.

Ms Handforth, who was said to have been on an annual salary of £330,000, had been in her job for three and a half years.

Before joining Network Rail, she was chief executive of the port of Aberdeen.

Ms Handforth still lived in the northern Scottish port, and commuted to work, the BBC reported. Aberdeen is about 530 miles from Paddington and about 500 miles from Bristol, another city in the Wales and Western region.

The disruption of December 7 affected celebrities Rachel Riley and James Blun, as well as Andrew Haines, Network Rail's chief executive.

Reflecting on his experience on the train, Mr Haines said that "customer service has gone backwards".

Passengers were eventually sent home in taxis after being evacuated from the trains. But one eyewitness told LBC that disabled people were "appallingly" looked after.

A Network Rail spokesperson said at the time: "We are so sorry for the difficult journeys passengers endured on our railway... and we will be investigating how and why it happened."

Transport for London said: "We’re sorry that the damage caused to Network Rail’s overhead power lines by another rail operator’s train has caused significant disruption to our Elizabeth line customers as well as all train operators out of London Paddington. We worked to get customers off of stranded trains as quickly as possible and to provide any support needed."

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