J'accuse: tree-lovers to blame for tardy trains

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The Independent Online
Antoine Hurel, the head of Connex - which owns two busy train commuter companies, has a reputation for smooth talking. Despite this image, the normally urbane Frenchman managed to mouth les mal mots yesterday.

In an interview Mr Hurel claimed passengers should stop moaning about trains being delayed by leaves on the line and realise it was their fault. If they wanted punctual services they would have to lose the trees. "Is it so important, this attachment to trees, that we take the risk of delaying every year so many passengers?" he fumed in the London Evening Standard.

Just in case anyone had missed the point, Mr Hurel said: "There are too many trees. We are spending millions of pounds on spreading sand on the tracks just because we are not tackling the problem."

In an outburst designed to turn even Europhiles sceptic, he added that Britain had the worst record in Europe for timekeeping as trains slipped on foliage. "This does not happen in other parts of Europe, only on a few branch lines." There was, he explained, a 10-metre strip alongside the tracks kept clear of trees.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth said his views were "pathetic". Tony Juniper, campaign's director, said: "Connex have failed to run a decent railway and it's a bit rich to blame it on the trees. The one certain thing for the railways is the arrival of autumn every year. They have had more than 150 years to sort the problem of leaves out and they haven't managed it."

Mr Hurel's comments came after passengers throughout southern England experienced long delays because of leafy lines this week. Worringly for him, one of those delayed was the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who was attending a Beckenham by-election walk about.

-- Randeep Ramesh

Transport Correspondent