Under-fire rail operator Southeastern has hit out at the state of track maintenance by Network Rail following severe rush-hour disruptions.

Commuters in London were left furious after more than 20 trains were cancelled or delayed by the company on Thursday morning (January 28).

The operator, which was named one of the worst companies for passenger satisfaction on Wednesday, said it could only run a service on a track that was "fit for purpose".

Southeastern is set to face a grilling from MPs in Parliament today, led by Conservative Bob Neill.

Concerns about punctuality, overcrowding and inadequate compensation will be raised by the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, who regularly uses the service.

Thursday's disruption left some passengers facing a two-hour wait and was caused by a faulty piece of equipment damaging a conductor rail, leaving the line without power, at Kemsing, near Sevenoaks, Network Rail said.

Southeastern said it was planning to challenge Network Rail over its maintenance procedure.

A Southeastern spokesman said: "We do apologise for the disruption, but it is out of our control - we can only run our services if the track is fit for purpose.

"Around 70 per cent of all delays are down to infrastructure problems and we are challenging Network Rail to ensure that its asset maintenance programme is fit for purpose."

When asked if it was being suggested that Network Rail's programme is currently inadequate, the spokesman said: "Passengers are going to have to draw their own conclusions."

Trains between Ashford International and the capital were held back for around an hour and a half, leading to knock-on delays throughout the morning.

Mr Neill, whose constituents are especially affected by the delays, tweeted on Wednesday: "Why is it SE trains are incapable of running two consecutive trains on time? I'm raising their woeful record in Parliament tomorrow."

The problem comes a day after research found Southeastern to be one of the worst-ranked train operators for passenger satisfaction.

A Transport Focus survey revealed that only 75 per cent of passengers considered themselves satisfied with their services Network Rail apologised for the disruption and said some passengers would be entitled to compensation.

A Network Rail spokesman said: "This morning a crucial piece of equipment working to maintain track at Kemsing broke down suddenly and damaged the conductor rail which supplies power to trains.

"We managed to get the equipment clear of the line and repair the damage to the railway by 7am; however disruption continued for some time.

"We apologise to passengers who were disrupted this morning and would urge passengers to use the delay repay scheme to claim compensation.

"We know how unwelcome disruption is to passengers and are investigating how we can guard against this type of machine failing in future."