A slow struggle on the worst line in Britain: The Kent Coast line has been criticised for its poor service. John Arlidge speaks to some passengers

RACHEL, nine, had been looking forward to a trip to Margate amusement park. Her grandmother, Grace Crow, 65, had promised to take her on the train.

For 15 years Mrs Crow had used the Kent Coast line, condemned as the worst in Britain yesterday, to commute to work but since her retirement five years ago she had rarely used it 'because it is such a struggle'. It was no different this week.

'We got to Bexley station and there should have been an 8.10 train to Chatham where we were going to change to go to Margate,' Mrs Crow said. 'The first train was late and only went to Gravesend. We had to change at Gravesend to go to Chatham. From Chatham we had to get a train to Faversham and another to Margate. It was four trains instead of two and it took three hours, twice as long as I had expected.'

Delays meant the return journey took more than two hours. 'It was a real disaster,' she said. Her complaints were echoed by commuters. Louise Dunn, 27, a nurse at St Thomas's Hospital, who travels to Waterloo East, arrives late two or three times a week. 'It puts everybody out when I am late for a shift. It's very inconvenient. Other nurses have to stay later to cover for me.' In the evenings and at weekends Ms Dunn drives to work, often halving her journey time.

Some commuters, however, say the service has improved recently. Bashir Afghan, 52, a stockbroker at Hoare Govett, has travelled to Cannon Street for the past 20 years. 'When I first started it was so bad some trains never ran. For months and months one train to Blackfriars was cancelled and eventually they they took it off altogether.

'The carriages haven't changed - they're old, dirty and crowded. But the service has been getting better in the last four or five years. There have been fewer cancellations. Perhaps they are putting on more trains.'

James Kelly, 19, a student from Dartford, said passengers accepted the poor service because they had never had anything better. 'You just get used to the conditions. It's no use complaining. If the complaints procedure is anything like the transport service, it just won't get anywhere.'

Some have not complained, however, because they enjoy the service. Christine James, 36, a BT international operator, is being made redundant in August. 'I was reminiscing the other day. I've liked the trains. I've used the service for 13 years. It's so good.'

(Photograph omitted)

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