'I'm just glad they are taking safety seriously at last'

Travellers kept waiting at mainline stations opted for stoicism rather than tantrums and blamed past governments for the delays
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The Independent Online

Delayed. Delayed. Delayed. And delayed again. At Euston Station in London yesterday the arrival and departure board made tediously depressing reading for the hundreds of passengers crowding the concourse, waiting for trains.

Delayed. Delayed. Delayed. And delayed again. At Euston Station in London yesterday the arrival and departure board made tediously depressing reading for the hundreds of passengers crowding the concourse, waiting for trains.

It was miserable enough, but not as bad as some had predicted. After delays of up to five hours on services on Friday and Saturday, a collective groan of relief rang through Euston when boarding for yesterday's 13.05 to Lancaster was announced, just 20 minutes behind the scheduled departure time.

The groaners knew they were lucky. Other Euston services were delayed for up to an hour. And across a country crippled by thousands of delays as Railtrack worked on miles of track after the Hatfield derailment, in the hardest hit areas - Bristol, South Wales and stations on the East Coast Mainline - people faced waits twice as long.

Among those leaving Euston for Lancaster was Jackie Edmonston, 49, of Barrow-in-Furness, who came down from Lancaster on Friday, arriving three hours behind schedule. "It's not great is it," she said grimly, "to have let the railways get to this state. I'm just hoping it might not be so bad on the way home."

She and her friend Linda Harris, 47, had spent the weekend in London seeing a couple of West End shows. If they could have cancelled the trip they would have. But the weekend was booked and paid for.

Ms Harris blamed privatisation and an attitude of "profit before safety" for the deaths on the railways and the state of the track. Ms Edmonston said: "Now it just has to be done. To be honest, I don't care how long it takes as long as we get home safely".

The fatal crashes at Southall in west London in 1997, last year outside Paddington and 12 days ago at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, are rattling nerves. Ms Edmonston says she felt unusually anxious on the way down. "Because the train was going so slow you were aware of every curve and bump," she said.

But stoicism is the great British way. You only had to be at Euston to know that. There were no bursts of temper, or altercations with staff, just patience and a surprising willingness to go with the pain.

"We support this 100 per cent," said Jane Harris, 54, of Grinshill, Shropshire. "They can disrupt us for six months, or a year, and pull up the entire track if they like, as long as they make the railways safe. At the moment the state of the railways is just an embarrassment to Britain. You just can't sell Britain as a tourist destination with this."

Ms Harris, who describes herself as "middle class and from the country", says she has never seen so many people like herself "so brassed off" with the "disgraceful" state of Britain. But she blames the Tories, not Labour. The previous government, she says, spent 18 years putting no money into public services, from transport to housing. She also blames the rail chaos on the Tories for privatising the railways and fragmenting services.

Ms Harris was down in London for a "girls' weekend" - West End shows and shopping - with a relative, Andrea Heath, 38. They, too, could not cancel their long-planned trip. "I'm just glad that they are at last taking safety seriously," Ms Heath said. "It's just sad that it took further loss of life after Paddington [in which 31 people died]."

Sue Harrison, 40, sitting nearby on the stone floor of the concourse, waiting for the Manchester train, was equally pragmatic. "My husband is a safety consultant and he says we just have to put up with this."

At King's Cross, passengers for the 11am to Edinburgh had been less calm. "It's just a nightmare," said one young woman, still waiting at 11.50am. "It's ridiculous that things get this bad before they act." Her friend rolled her eyes, and recited a litany of recent horrors on tubes, roads and rail that have convinced her Britain's infrastructure is about to collapse.

"And they try to persuade you to use public transport," she said before joining the stampede for the Edinburgh train as the gate was finally opened. The rumour was that the system of advance reservations had been abandoned. No one was taking any chances of being left standing.

Waterloo Station in south London was peculiarly quiet. Services were reduced, while passengers for most suburban destinations were only able to take trains to Clapham Junction before being transferred to a bus. On the longer services to Portsmouth and Southampton, there were delays of up to 30 minutes. "We had been expecting to be stressed," said one rail passenger assistant. "But people have been ever so nice".

Tourists had been easy to placate. "If they were looking to visit Hampton Court we just told them to go to Windsor Castle today and Hampton Court tomorrow," the assistant said. Commuters, of course, are not such a pushover.