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London power failure enrages mayor

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

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LONDON, England -- The mayor of London says he is enraged by a power failure that left hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded during Thursday's rush-hour.

Ken Livingstone said Friday the outage could have had "horrifying consequences" had it happened during the heat wave earlier in August instead of on a cold, rainy evening.

Electricity was restored to London within an hour of the outage, which was blamed on a failure in the National Grid.

London Underground and mainline rail services were badly affected but by Friday morning, most overground and underground trains were running normally again.

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) on Thursday 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.

"Think how much worse it would have been if it had been a month ago at the height of the heat wave," Livingstone told CNN. (Full story)

"We are being told that it was a "one off" and that it would never happen again, but I want absolute assurance quite frankly."

Livingstone said it is possible the problem could be blamed on "that great wave of privatization that went round the world."

"All the utilities were flogged off, big share options for the boys at the top, but not the investment in modern infrastructure that you need. ... The lack of investment, I think, is bordering on the criminal."

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.

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.

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

British energy regulator Ofgem said the fault lay with National Grid Transco, which runs Britain's power lines. On Friday shares in National Grid were trading about 0.5 percent lower at 0700 GMT on Friday than in the previous session at 392 pence.

"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.

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