Hunt for last BR train departing narrows down to choice of three

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Even as the final British Rail passenger trains left their platforms last night, BR's infamous timetables - the bane of every traveller - were causing problems for their customers. After almost 50 years of public ownership, groups of excited enthusiasts were left wondering which of three trains really was "the last train departing".

The final BR passenger train to reach its destination should be the 9.30 overnight sleeper service from London Euston, which is due to arrive at 10.25 this morning in Fort William.

However, as any BR passenger knows, leaving one station is no guarantee of swift arrival at the next.

Then there was the 23.55 sleeper from Edinburgh to Euston via Glasgow, which was staking its claim as the very last BR train.

Most of those wanting to celebrate the end of BR by travelling on the "final" trains plumped for two ScotRail expresses travelling in opposite directions between Glasgow and Edinburgh, which left just before midnight last night, loaded with trainspotters.

Perhaps final celebrations should have waited until bleary-eyed passengers disembark from the sleeper service. But both the Glasgow and Edinburgh trains were due to arrive early this morning to the sound of music and popping champagne corks as yet another unloved public company with an image problem steps aside for the private sector.

The confusion over the last train failed to affect celebrations at Waverley station in Edinburgh this morning. Passengers from Glasgow were met by John Bowden, 64, the only rail employee who started his working life before nationalisation.

The event sees the end of the 25th train company, the last to enter private ownership. It is unlikely that British Rail, one of the most ridiculed companies in the land, will be missed.

Free whisky was drunk on the ScotRail expresses as documents were prepared, handing the company over to National Express, a firm better known for buses and coaches.

Despite a frantic 14 months, during which the entire passenger network has been sold off, the private sector may not retain control for long if Labour wins the general election, according to Keith Bill, national secretary of the pressure group Save Our Railways. He predicts the majority share of Railtrack and most of the 25 rail train franchises will be back in public ownership within seven years if the opposition takes power.

"Both Labour and Liberal Democrats have reiterated in the last 48 hours that they will take back Railtrack even though Labour will make it clear that they cannot afford to do this in the first five years of a Labour government," Mr Bill said.

"But bringing back Railtrack into the public sector remains Labour's long-term objective."