True stories from the Great Railway Disaster: No 28: So, you want to take the ghost train?;

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
KENNETH HOPE-JONES has long been a regular traveller between Redhill and London, via East Croydon, and relies heavily on his Network SouthCentral pocket timetable, which has recently been reissued.

On one journey, while he was waiting at East Croydon, a train for Redhill and Tonbridge was shown on the monitor screen. It was even announced on the loudspeaker, and duly arrived, right on time.

When Mr Hope-Jones referred to his timetable, the service did not seem to exist, and yet there was the train, appearing, not surprisingly, to be almost completely empty.

Not believing his good luck, Mr Hope-Jones approached a nearby guard and asked about the mysterious train.

"Ah," the guard replied. "That's not one of our trains, so we don't put it on our timetables. It's another rail company that runs the train."

He went on to say that it had been only recently that the station had begun even to announce the service - "We used to just slip it out quietly like, without letting on it was going to stop at Redhill."

A now perplexed Mr Hope-Jones inquired about the frequency of the trains, and was even more astonished to discover that it was a "regular service".

He is not the only one to be confused by these trains. Soon after the service was introduced, in May, a local councillor, Godfrey Horne, was astonished to see passengers barred from joining the train at East Croydon.

The apparent reason was that there was a doubt between Network SouthCentral, which runs most of the services through East Croydon, and South Eastern railways, which controls the new service, over whether they would accept each other's tickets. This has now been sorted out, but far be it for one company to advertise the other's services!

n We have had many requests for a collection of these columns in book form. We are currently examining the possibility, in conjunction with a publisher.