Lost property offices'not returning items'

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Railway lost property offices are failing to return clearly identified items, a survey said.

Railway lost property offices are failing to return clearly identified items, a survey said.

Researchers handed "lost" coats to staff at eight main line stations, pretending they had found them abandoned on trains.

Each coat had a wallet or purse in a pocket containing £10 in cash and details of how to contact the owner.

But four stations made no effort to reach the owners, who were all researchers from the Consumers' Association.

London's Paddington and King's Cross, Glasgow Central and Birmingham New Street stations failed the test.

Only four lost property offices - at Cardiff, Edinburgh Waverley, Crewe and London Victoria - bothered to check the pockets and contact the owner, though one of the coats was returned without the £10.

Helen Parker, editor of Consumers' Association's magazine Which?, said: "We put the system to a small test. What emerges is that hunting property left on a train can be a wild goose chase.

"There is no central lost property number. You have to figure our which company out of Railtrack and 25 train operators might have it."

She said: "It is crucial that rail staff take the initiative. One ray of hope was that a member of staff at Crewe who was travelling south personally returned a coat to its owner in London."

The Which? researchers also had difficulties trying to find lost property offices, with one at Paddington station being directed to three different platforms by staff.

Charges for retrieving lost items also varied widely, with valuable items such as a laptop computer costing up to £20 to get back.

A spokesman for Railtrack, which is responsible for most of the main line stations visited in the test, said: "We are very concerned. The research has revealed obvious failures, which we intend fully to investigate. We will be getting in touch with Which? to get full details."

Association of Train Operating Companies spokesman Jay Merritt said the lost property system was currently under review.

A code of practice drawn up after rail privatisation said that every effort should be made to return lost property.

"We have been aware that the system was not perfect and we have been reviewing it. We can make it work better," he said.

"We need to improve communication between lost property offices and tighten up the procedures that need to be gone through."

Charges did vary between different train companies but only within the limits of the agreed code of practice, so that no company could charge more than the agreed maximum amounts, Mr Merrit said.

Items were categorised according to their value and the number of days they went unclaimed, so that a pair of spectacles left for a month, for example, could not cost more than £2 to retrieve, he said, adding that the maximum possible charge for retrieving a laptop computer was £20.