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The Independent Online
Rail companies were told to "get their act together" yesterday after a passenger watchdog revealed that complaints about travel on the newly privatised railways were at an all-time high. The Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee criticised a lack of investment which had resulted in poor punctuality and fears of a further decline in services because of privatisation.

According to the CRUCC's annual report, 11,640 complaints were made by travellers during 1995-96. Of those, most complained about punctuality, refunds, station information and confusing or inefficient fares and marketing policies. Gripes about the poor condition of trains rose by 78 per cent, complaints about overcrowding by 48 per cent, complaints about information by 42 per cent, and criticisms of poor punctuality by one-third. David Bertram, the CRUCC's chairman, said the companies had not addressed the problem of a lack of investment, particularly on the West Coast Main Line, the scene of last week's fatal train crash near Watford Junction.

John Bowis, the Transport minister, responded to the figures saying: "In the period the report covers, the vast majority of services were still run by British Rail. That situation is now changing fast. As more and more of the passenger train companies pass into private hands I expect the quality of service to continue to improve."