The intercity train that collided with an overhead power cable, sparking chaos for thousands of passengers in west London, was being driven by a manager who was replacing a striking driver, it was revealed on Friday.
Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said the Great Western Railways train was being driven by a manager who was allegedly being paid £500 to “break the strike”.
Aslef published the first picture of the broken power cable beside the Cardiff-bound train. Thousands of passengers suffered “nightmare journeys” last night and many on four Elizabeth line trains had to be led down the track to safety at about 11pm.
Great Western Railways said that its trains could only be driven by “competent drivers”, including instructors who teach drivers. Anyone taking charge of a train in such circumstances also has to have “route knowledge”.
It is not known whether the incident, which caused seven trains to become stranded near Ladbroke Grove at about 6.30pm on Thursday, could have been averted had a full-time driver been in the GWR cab.
On Friday evening as investigations continued GWR said there was "no evidence" any train had caused the wires to come down.
A GWR spokesman said: "We don’t know what has happened yet. However, there is no evidence that any train, let alone a GWR one, causedthe wires to come down.
"On the contrary, the damage to and data from the GWR train indicates it was not even the first to come into contact with the fallen wires.
"Even 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."
But Aslef's assistant general secretary Simon Weller told LBC radio that the wrong pantograph - the device that delivers electricity to the train - may have been raised or "changed in motion", though he admitted there were "conflicting stories" about what had happened.
Aslef also criticised GWR for seeking to keep trains running during its rolling campaign of industrial action, which has seen drivers at different train firms walk out on different days over the last week in support of the union’s bid for a better pay offer.A spokesperson for Aslef said: “Some train companies – such as Southeastern – choose, quite sensibly, not to run any services when Aslef calls a strike.
“More than 96 per cent of the train drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales choose to belong to Aslef and will not cross a picket line. That’s why many companies take the practical decision to suspend all services on strike days.
“Others, such as GWR, try to ‘break the strike’, as the company puts it, by offering managers £500 for a shift. Many refuse. But some take the silver."
Network Rail was under fire on Friday for the collapse of the overhead power cables.
One source told the Standard the problem appeared to date back to the electrification of the line having been done “on the cheap” when the Heathrow Express started running 25 years ago.
There were no Elizabeth line services in the first half of Friday as repairs continued.
A TfL spokesperson, 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. Network Rail are continuing to urgently to repair the power lines and we’d encourage all customers to check before they travel while they do this.”