So you want to see out of the train windows?

True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; Number 63 in our weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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THE TARKA line wends its way through some of the most glorious parts of Devon, between Barnstaple and Exeter. The local council has promoted the railway line as part of a "green tourism" initiative, highlighting the journey beside the Taw river, home of Tarka the otter.

Tourists' enjoyment of the beautiful scenery, however, is likely to be limited: the train windows are usually covered by so much mud that it is difficult to see out of them. And passengers will find that rail privatisation can defeat any efforts to get them properly cleaned.

One passenger, Nick Discombe, approached a ticket collector to ask if anything could be done. No, she said. In the old days of a unified rail system, the trains were cleaned by machines at the British Rail depot near Plymouth once a week. Now, however, the line is run by Regional Railways South Wales and West while the depot is operated by Great Western, one of the first companies to be privatised.

The carriages used on the line, therefore, would have to be shunted all the way to Cardiff, RRSWW's headquarters, for cleaning. This is considered to be uneconomic and is therefore not done. No new arrangement has been made with Great Western and instead, when the windows get so dirty that the countryside vanishes entirely, they are sponged down by workers using pails of water. Mr Discombe, however, says this is a rare event: the trains he used were never cleaned in his two weeks of commuting. He comments: "Green tourism initiatives don't have much chance of success with this sort of folly."

Keep sending examples of folly on the railways caused by privatisation or commercialisation to "Mad", Christian Wolmar, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL.

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