What began as an electrical problem in the Paris suburb of Seine-et-Marne at 17h45 turned into an incident affecting nearly 50,000 people.
International train lines running to Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany ran late by around one hour, with one Eurostar train delayed for three hours.
It was commuter trains between Paris and its suburbs that were the most affected, where no trains were running for several hours. Thousands were left stranded at Paris’s Gare du Nord station until after midnight with no way to get home.
While the technical problem was fixed at around 18h40, some passengers exasperated by the lack of trains and information took to the rail tracks. The RATP, which runs the commuter train lines, was forced to cut electricity and stop all train traffic for security reasons.
“It was a snowball effect. Once people went onto the rails, it blocked all further traffic,” the spokesperson for the SNCF railway company, Antoine Debièvre told the AFP news agency.
On one commuter line, passengers were promised a bus once they reached a stop in the outerlying suburbs. However, when they arrived, the buses were not there and many were forced to pay for a taxi home.
"After waiting for hours in the dark between two stops, they promised that there would be buses... but then nothing," one commuter told the AFP news agency. "They must be joking. How am I supposed to pay for a taxi? I don't have any money."
By Thursday, train travel was up and running normally.
Paris’s railway system serves around 3 million passengers on 7,500 trains everyday, representing 40 per cent of the country’s railway traffic.