Sir: Your report on the Virgin train that "ran out of puff" (4 January) is indeed farcical, but is not without precedent.
One day in January last year I boarded a Regional Railways North East train at Durham, bound for Newcastle upon Tyne, normally just twenty minutes up the main line. Two hours later I arrived in Newcastle, cold, enraged, and very late for work. The train had run out of diesel about two hundred yards after leaving the only stop on the Durham-Newcastle route, at Chester- le-Street.
The train, unable to reverse the trifling distance to Chester-le-Street to allow passengers to disembark, sat blocking the main London-Edinburgh line for nearly ninety minutes. Passengers were prevented by
train crew (rightly, I daresay) from dismounting and walking back along the line to the platform, on grounds of safety. It occurred to me as I stood shivering in the corridor - for there had been no seats available as a result of the usual overcrowding, and the heating had been switched off - that if Regional Railways staff were so incompetent as to let their locomotive run out of fuel, what was to stop them routinely neglecting other basic aspects of running a train service, such as rolling-stock maintenance and safety procedures?
At last a spare locomotive was sent to tow us up to Newcastle Central. It did not come as a huge surprise that the coupling gear on the front of our train was damaged to the point of uselessness, and that therefore the towing engine would have to go first to Durham and return to push us to Newcastle from the rear. This added an extra half-hour to our journey time.
Dr DOMINIC WATT