Great Railway Fiascos No5: Service is a joke, but the guard isn't

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The Independent Online
UNDER OTHER circumstances, the train conductor's wisecracks might have brought a wry smile to the faces of his passengers. But in the carriage, where temperatures exceeded 35C, the Virgin Trains official was greeted with stupefaction.

A holiday in Durham for Joan Broadway, 63, turned into misery when she boarded the overheated Virgin train on 31 July. She was in a state of "near-collapse" when she got off in Oxford after a "nightmare five hours".

"The sun was blazing and there was no curtains to draw against it. None of the windows could be opened. There was no corridor to which to escape. An elderly man sitting next to me began to gasp audibly every few minutes," she said.

For two-and-a-half hours there were no staff to be seen. Then the Virgin official walked into the carriage. The man started to crack jokes and encourage people to "cheer up".

"The response from the passengers as he made these rather offensive jokes and camp gestures, indicating clothes sticking to bottoms, was predictably nil. We felt they were aware of the situation and had sent him as a stand- up comedian," added Mrs Broadway.

An hour later, an announcement on the public address said the air-conditioning would be restored "in a few minutes". Nothing happened. Then, two attendants began to hand out free cold drinks. Mrs Broadway has asked for a full refund.

Virgin said that staff were trained to deal with "difficult situations". A spokesman said: "They would have done the best given the circumstances." Faulty air-conditioning was due to the company's ageing rolling stock but Virgin was spending pounds 2bn to replace all its trains in three years.

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