Great Railway Fiascos: No 16: `We regret any convenience caused...'

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IN AN ERA of technological advances and bright new uniforms, many railway passengers are still plagued by the age-old problem of surly, uninterested staff.

Toby Gilmore found himself the victim of such out-datedwork ethics when he tried to help two visiting Australians.

The pair had travelled to Somerset from London and needed to rebook their bicycles for the return trip. Despite the noticeboard informing customers that Crewkerne station, Somerset, was open until 6pm, Mr Gilmore and his two friends found it locked when they went to book the cycle places at 5.30pm.

Peering through the window, Mr Gilmore could see a light on in an office. Suddenly a hand appeared and rapidly pulled down the blind. A freephone on the platform connected Mr Gilmore to Southampton station, where an operator suggested, "rattling the doors and shouting loudly".

They followed this advice and the blind was pulled up and the irate station master appeared, pointing into the distance and shouting: "Go away. Shoo. Shoo." Mr Gilmore and friends were taken aback when they heard a voice crackle through the public address: "... and don't be so silly."

WITH THE splintering of the old British Rail network, the array of tickets can be confusing to customers. Often dogged persistence is needed to find the best deal.

Nicholas Taylor's tenacitysaved him pounds 100 on a journey with Virgin Trains, but only because he ignored wrong information. He had been kept waiting for 20 minutes by a ticket-line operator after trying to book the cheapest fare. He was then connected to "a rather churlish and off-hand man who, rather begrudgingly, checked the availability".

Earlier that day the national rail inquiry service had told him the journey would cost pounds 28.50 with his student railcard. But the Virgin operator insisted he would have to pay pounds 140 for the ticket from Wakefield to Bristol. Mr Taylor instead decided to buy the ticket at Wakefield station. It cost him pounds 43.75.

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