Rail regulator's progress checked by a stone

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The Independent Online
IT IS a railway line that local groups fought to re-open. But last week, the railways' fat controller could have been forgiven for wishing it had never been built.

John Swift QC, the rail regulator and passenger's champion, survived what he described as a "murderous assault" by stone-lobbing youths as he travelled in the driver's cab of a Lancashire train.

Mr Swift, whose nerve is not in doubt in City circles, was "badly shaken" after vandals between Darwen and Blackburn stoned the front windows of the driver's cab of the North Western Train service.

The attack took place last Friday - when Mr Swift was taking train to Clitheroe for a meeting with local rail campaigners. Three years ago, they had successfully lobbied to get the Ribble Valley service reinstated.

According to Mr Swift: "We were tootling along and I was admiring the scenery and suddenly there were two shattering crashes ... It was an alarming and all too frequent indication of how the security if the railways and the people travelling on them must continue to be of prime concern."

Tough on crime and tougher on those who commit offences, Mr Swift was quick to attack - verbally - the vandals. "It brought home to me how important it is to retain morale in the people we ask to run these trains in the face of murderous attempts by youngsters who should know better."

Mr Swift does not shirk a fight. Since the election of a Labour government he has roughed up the rail industry - considered by many of privatisation's critics to have been given an easy ride by the previous Conservative administration.

He has attacked Railtrack for "wholly unacceptable" spending on maintenance, fined train companies for the poor service provided by the telephone enquiry bureau and highlighted the mis- selling of train tickets.