The boss of Network Rail has apologised to passengers after fresh delays at the UK’s busiest railway station despite the completion of long-running engineering works.
Its chief executive, Mark Carne, said London Waterloo had fully reopened “a little bit later than planned” following a signalling problem that closed platforms during the early morning rush hour on Tuesday.
Speaking from Waterloo via a video message, Carne said the “amazing” project to increase capacity by 30% would make a “huge difference” in the long run. But passengers voiced their anger at the new delays, with some asking how Carne had managed to get to Waterloo to deliver his message.
Rail users reported services being delayed or cancelled altogether, as nearly a month’s worth of disruption caused by the transport hub’s £800m overhaul continued into Tuesday.
Stations including Queenstown Road, Earlsfield and Norbiton were closed and early morning services on some routes were cancelled.
Network Rail said Waterloo was now fully reopened after one of the “largest and most complex” upgrades in the station’s history.
A statement said: “However, due to safety-critical work to test the signalling taking slightly longer than planned early this morning, we are expecting disruption to the morning rush hour. Network Rail apologises to passengers for any delays to their journey and asks them to check before they travel this morning.”
A 1,000-strong team of engineers and trackside staff have been working 24 hours a day for the past three and a half weeks to complete the work.
The work was part of the £800m Waterloo and South West upgrade intended to boost capacity at the station by 30% by December 2018, providing space for another 45,000 passengers at morning and evening peaks.
Becky Lumlock, route managing director at Network Rail, said: “The work we have completed in three and a half weeks this August will benefit passengers for decades to come. The longer platforms will create space for longer trains, making journeys more comfortable for passengers, particularly at the busiest times of day.
“Over the next 16 months we’ll turn our attention to the final stages of the redevelopment of the former international terminal. We’ll be working behind the scenes so that we can, by the end of next year, permanently bring the five extra platforms back into use for what will become a modern, high-frequency commuter terminal fit for the 21st century.
“I’d like to personally thank passengers for their patience over the last few weeks, and apologise for disruption to their journeys this morning. I’d also like to pay tribute to our 1,000 strong army of engineers and track workers who have delivered such an enormous project.”
Network Rail listed 180,000 hours worked, 1,389 yards (1,270m) of track laid, 252 yards (230m) of pre-cast concrete installed, 175 yards (160m) of new platform built and seven miles (11.3km) of cable laid over the past three and a half weeks.
Andy Mellors, managing director for South Western Railway, said: “I’d like to thank our passengers for their patience over the past few weeks. It’s clearly been a challenging time but these improvement works will help us deliver the increased capacity needed for the future.
“As well as Network Rail’s orange army who completed the works, I’d also like to thank South Western Railway colleagues and those working for other industry partners for their hard work over many weeks in preparing for this incredibly complex infrastructure upgrade, as well as providing assistance to our passengers during the works.”
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said the financial beneficiaries of the upgrade would be the new operators of the South Western franchise – a consortium of the First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR.
The union is seeking assurances about the role of guards as the company embarks on a programme of new and refurbished trains.
The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “RMT’s engineering members have worked flat out against the clock in an effort to hit punishing schedules to deliver the wholesale remodelling of Waterloo on time. It was always going to be a massive challenge and the men and women who have battled against the odds at the sharp end deserve nothing but praise.
“The financial beneficiaries of all this effort and public investment are the new Chinese owners of South Western Trains, who will be able to cream off even fatter profits from longer and more frequent services without stumping up a penny piece for the new infrastructure costs.
“That makes it even more scandalous that First MTR don’t even have the decency to promise the travelling public a safety-critical guard on their new trains. This company are benefiting big time from the British taxpayer and they should be forced to give a guarantee on safety and access and that means honouring the long-standing agreement with RMT to retain the guard on South Western Trains.”