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Rush hour power cut hits London

Passengers wait beneath blank departure boards at Victoria Station.
Passengers wait beneath blank departure boards at Victoria Station.

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Power Outage

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands of passengers were trapped on the London Underground and thousands of others took to the streets as a power outage struck the city during evening rush hour Thursday.

Electricity was restored to London within an hour of the outage, which was blamed on a failure in the National Grid. But the city's transport services were badly affected.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone estimated that 250,000 people were caught in the London Underground when the outage hit at about 6:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m. ET) as commuters were heading home from work.

Another quarter of a million people were affected when parts of the mainline rail system came to a halt, he said.

"There's no indication of any terrorist involvement, but it is an absolutely horrendous position because it has caught the rush hour," said Livingstone, who called the failure of the power grid a "disgrace."

Thousands of people took to rain-soaked streets as dusk approached and pubs were packed with stranded commuters in scenes reminiscent of the blackout that hit North America earlier this month.

A spokesman for London Underground said 60 percent of the metro system had been affected, including most services in central London.

Network Rail spokesman Kevin Groves said above-ground rail services had been "badly" affected and the situation was "unprecedented" as far as he knew.

He said a stretch of rail 20 to 30 miles south of London had been affected.

"We have back-up generators but they can't be used in a power failure of this magnitude. You practically need a power station," Groves told the UK Press Association.

A spokesman for British Transport Police said the power cut had affected all major railway stations in south London, including Victoria, London Bridge and Waterloo.

Some stations were in darkness while others had emergency lighting. Euston Station was evacuated because of overcrowding.

Commuters wait outside a closed Underground station.
Commuters wait outside a closed Underground station.

By 9:30 p.m., British Transport Police spokesman Simon Lubin told CNN the Underground and rail systems were getting back to normal. He said there were no reports of casualties.

After the power went out, London Underground staff took passengers off trains stuck in tunnels.

"Stations and trains are being evacuated. ... Staff will go down to the train and take (passengers) down the tunnel bit by bit and make sure they get onto the platform and leave the station safely," an Underground spokeswoman told PA.

Many Underground stations were closed, and half the traffic lights in the south of the city were dark.

"When the power went out, it caused complete chaos in the whole of central London," a spokesman for the Automobile Association said.

National Grid failure

French-owned electricity network operator EDF Energy said power was out for about 40 minutes before it returned at about 7 p.m.

EDF spokesman Gareth Wynn said the problem originated in two high-voltage lines belonging to the National Grid that help supply an area of south London, The Associated Press reported.

British energy regulator Ofgem said the fault lay with National Grid Transco, which runs Britain's power lines.

"There was a fault on a transformer system. There was loss of power for 34 minutes, but London Electricity has re-energized the system and it's back on," Reuters quoted an Ofgem spokesman as saying.

National Grid said the outage was "not even vaguely on the scale of what happened in the U.S."

National Grid's U.S. business Niagara Mohawk was among those hardest hit by the blackouts that struck the east coast of North America earlier this month.

Thursday's outages appeared to be confined to south London and Kent, a county southeast of the city.

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