Complaints about trains break record

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S KEY commuter routes plumbed new levels of ignominy as it was disclosed that complaints had shot to record levels. "Thousands upon thousands of late trains" remained the main grievance, followed by dirt and out-of-service toilets.

Complaints to the Southern England Rail Users' Committee have tripled in as many years to 1,996, it said yesterday.

The committee revealed that complaints on the country's busiest routes had risen by 14 per cent in the 12 months to March 1999.

South West trains (SWT), which operates out of Waterloo, headed the cast of shame with the most - 627 - complaints.

With the two Connex companies - South Central and South Eastern - it was responsible for 77 per cent of grievances in the region.

Yesterday Andy Burns, research manager of the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee, said the disappointing performance of southern services was being mirrored across Britain.

"We are obviously very concerned about these figures," said Mr Burns, adding: "These figures reflect the statistics we are seeing nationally and also show the massive deterioration in performance overall."

The Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee's own research showed 65,000 of SWT's trains were between five and 30 minutes minutes late in 1998-99 - an annual increase of 39 per cent - and 3,825 were more than 30 minutes late.

Connex South Central had 51,679 trains which were between five and 30 minutes late and 1,831 more than 30 minutes late. On Connex South Eastern 55,304 were between five and 30minutes late and 1,872 more than 30 minutes late.

Last week Railtrack was forced to admit that it had failed to achieve its target for reducing annual delays despite making pounds 428m annual pre- tax profits. The operator had only managed a reduction of 2 per cent, well below its 7.5 per cent aim.

Meanwhile, Sir John Egan, chief executive of the BAA airport operator, disclosed that prices on the Heathrow Express might go up, despite failing to reach passenger targets. The most expensive rail line in Britain, it charges passengers pounds 10 to travel the 17 miles from London Paddington to the airport. BAA, which runs the service, said increasing prices at peak times was "an option" even though the service, fully launched in June 1998, was carrying 13,000 passengers a day on average - below the first- year target of 15,000.

Sir John said business travellers had not seen the comparatively high price as a problem and some thought it was too low. He added that there could be a range of prices to attract more leisure passengers on the route.

Sir John also disclosed that Americans were giving the Heathrow Express the cold shoulder.

"Apart from people from New York, Americans don't think trains are for respectable people," he said.

Mr Egan spoke as BAA, which runs seven airports in Britain including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, announced 1998-99 pre-tax profits of pounds 516m - 7.5 per cent up on the 1997-98 figure.