Train driver who 'caused wire damage' that led to Elizabeth line chaos was 'drafted in due to strike', union claims

8 December 2023, 14:23 | Updated: 12 December 2023, 10:28

Passengers were stuck on the Elizabeth line four nearly five hours yesterday
Passengers were stuck on the Elizabeth line four nearly five hours yesterday. Picture: Aslef/social media
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A train driver who 'caused' overhead wire damage that led to last night's chaos on the Elizabeth Line was 'drafted in due to a strike', a union has claimed.

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An operations investigations manager was paid £500 by Great Western Railway (GWR) for a short driving shift in order to keep services running during a strike, according to Aslef.

Up to 1000 passengers were left in the dark for four hours as Elizabeth Line, Great Western Railway and Heathrow Express services going to and from the west London station were disrupted.

The problem stemmed from damage to the electrical cables above the lines in Ladbroke Grove.

There was already a reduced service operating between 7am and 7pm due to a strike, with disruption expected to continue until at least 6pm this evening, and could last into the weekend.

Aslef, the union for train drivers, said it is a "problem" that managers "haven't driven a train for a long time", affecting their "competence".

"We saw the result yesterday. Significant damage to the railway infrastructure, passengers put at risk, and serious disruption to the rail network," a spokesperson for Aslef told MailOnline.

"But, I suppose, as an operations investigations manager, he is uniquely qualified to investigate his own actions and what went wrong."

Read More: Elizabeth Line passenger groped on train during four-hour blackout as police arrest suspect

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GWR has defended the driver, insisting he was "fully qualified with competence up to date".

"The only people who can drive trains are competent drivers with route knowledge and competence maintained," a spokesperson said.

"As yet, there is absolutely no evidence the OHLE (overhead electric equipment) fault was due to a train."

They added that "damage to and data from the GWR train indicates it was not even the first to come into contact with the fallen wires".

"The fact that the wires wrapped around the GWR train (including the front of the train) is an indication the wires were down before the train reached it," they added.

A Network Rail spokesperson said, “We’re sorry for passengers who were stranded last week due to the overhead power cable issue on Thursday. The whole industry response wasn’t good enough and we will learn from this.

“The investigation into this incident is still ongoing. Based on what we know, there is no evidence the driver was at fault for the incident.”

Even the boss of Network Rail, which runs the railway network, was stranded. Some commuters were stuck for as long as four hours in plummeting temperatures.

Some passengers had to force their way out of the train doors and get onto the tracks, reportedly "smashing" out.

Network Rail boss Andrew Haines, who was on the 6.30pm service from Paddington to Cardiff, had to take charge on his train to plead with people not to smash their way out.

He urged them to wait for the train to be brought back to Paddington - assuming they could find the crew given the strikes.