Network Rail manager quits in wake of Elizbeth Line chaos

Network Rail manager quits in wake of Elizbeth Line chaos: Boss on £330K-a-year steps down after thousands of passengers – including Rachel Riley and James Blunt – were stuck for more than three hours on cold, dark trains

A Network Rail boss has resigned after the Elizabeth Line was left in disarray with thousands of passengers, including celebrities James Blunt and Rachel Riley, stranded on cold, dark trains for hours. 

Michelle Handforth, managing director for the Wales and Western region including Paddington, stepped down on Friday, the train company said.

The chief, who earned a salary of £330,000, joined the company in August 2020 and commuted from Aberdeen. She will continue to work on ‘specific projects’ until her successor is appointed. 

The shock announcement comes just weeks after passengers were left stranded on the Elizabeth Line, Greater Western Railway and Heathrow Express on December 7.

Some angry passengers were stuck for three hours with no access of toilets or information from operators, leading some to become ‘agitated’ and start ‘kicking down doors’.

Michelle Handforth, managing director for the Wales and Western region including Paddington, stepped down on Friday

Passengers walk along the tracks after being let off the Elizabeth line train on December 7

People climb down onto the tracks near Paddington after being stranded on a train on December 7

Those on the trains had to wait until police started evacuating carriages, with some passengers resorting to forcing the doors open and ‘self evacuating’ before emergency services had arrived. 

READ HERE: Sadiq Khan’s Elizabeth Line IS one of Britain’s ‘worst’ rail services (and it only opened last year): Stricken route saw biggest rise in cancellations across the country, with 4,700 trains scrapped this summer alone

Dramatic footage from the night showed passengers carrying heavy suitcases across freezing railway tracks in the pitch black dark as they eventually disembarked and headed towards Paddington. 

Two people were injured during the chaos while some missed their flights home for Christmas from Heathrow.  Other passengers were also hit with a overcharge fare by TfL because they had exceeded its ‘maximum journey time’ while stuck on the train.

There were even reports of sexual touching, with a police officer telling a passenger: ‘Unfortunately we have had a few incidents.

‘We’ve had one arrest of sexual touching and things like that. So things have taken longer than possibly what they should have done because someone decided that they wanted to touch someone up.’

The delays were blamed on rail system faults and damaged rails that had caused problems with trains heading in and out of Paddington. 

Countdown’s Rachel Riley was among those stuck on the tube line, posting a selfie of her and other passengers smiling on board captioned: ‘Nearly four hours after we got on, we’re getting off the Elizabeth line, woohoo!’

Countdown’s Rachel Riley was one of those stuck on board the train from 6pm on December 7

The power failure meant the lights went off inside trains while the heating also could not work

Passengers start making the long walk back in the cold to Paddington on December 7

Ms Handforth earned a salary of £330,000, joined the company in August 2020 and commuted from Aberdeen

Among those trapped was singer James Blunt, who said: ‘Been stuck somewhere outside Paddington for close to 4 hours now. Out of peanuts and wine.’

While the Elizabeth line, which uses the mainline rail infrastructure west of Paddington, only opened in May 2022, it has repeatedly been hit by faults, with four damaged rails discovered in eight days last month.

In a letter to Network Rail staff, Ms Handforth, according to Sky: ‘It’s been a real privilege to work with you all through the highs and lows of the past couple of years, and while this decision is a real wrench to me, I believe it is the right one for me, my family and the business.

‘It has been such an honour to lead this region since joining the business in August 2020. Over that time we have faced an incredible range of challenges, but your support, friendship and good humour has been consistent throughout.

‘I am extremely proud of the achievements we have made together and while times feel tough right now, I know that a bright future for Wales and Western lies ahead.’

Andrew Haines, chief executive Network Rail, told MailOnline: ‘I would like to thank Michelle for her hard work and support over these past three and a half years.’ 

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