Mixed feelings as passenger trains return to site of Potters Bar crash

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The Independent Online

There was no official minute's silence but, as the 12.45pm King's Cross to King's Lynn passed through Potters Bar station yesterday, many private moments of remembrance were clearly being observed.

There was no official minute's silence but, as the 12.45pm King's Cross to King's Lynn passed through Potters Bar station yesterday, many private moments of remembrance were clearly being observed.

This was the first 12.45 service to run through the station since the crash 10 days earlier in which seven people died and 76 were injured, and for many on board there were mixed feelings of sadness, apprehension and a stoic determination to keep on using the railways.

As the train passed unceremoniously through Potters Bar, it was difficult not to recall the astonishingly brutal sight of the rear carriage of the 10 May service wedged at 90 degrees to the track, lying across two platforms from which commuters had run for their lives. In the rear carriage yesterday, coach number 365531, passengers remembered the shock and anger they had felt on hearing of yet another rail crash. But there was no sign of them abandoning rail in favour of road travel.

"It's still a safe form of transport," said Dorothy Olley, 75, from Ely in Cambridgeshire. "You stand more chance of being involved in an accident if you are in a car. I was on a ferry after the Zeebrugge disaster and we saw a bit of the ship sticking out of the water. That was incredibly sad and made me feel peculiar, but you can't let that stop you doing things."

Her husband, Roy, 79, a former credit control manager, had no doubt where the blame lay for the accident. "I don't believe what has been said about sabotage," he said. "I blame the Tories for privatising the railways. It was crazy. They rushed it through without working it out properly because they wanted to break it up before Labour got in. The way private firms operate, even when it comes to safety, is too profit-orientated.

"The result is that things are done on the cheap and this is the consequence."

News of British concern over its railways is reaching tourists even before they land on UK soil. Mike Parrett, 22, a backpacker from Perth, Australia, said: "My English friends had told me what a terrible rail network you have – and I know you've had some big accidents lately – but it isn't that bad. After what people had said, I was expecting much worse. I didn't know this was the same service as the one that crashed, but it wouldn't have stopped me getting on."

At the front end of the rear carriage, two passengers, Angela Bates, 27, a hospital doctor from London, and Jennie Evett, 21, a call centre worker from Swaffham, Cambridgeshire, expressed sympathy for the dead before describing the varying standards in services experienced by passengers in different parts of the country.

"I have to get a train every day from Blackheath into London," said Dr Bates. "I always end up having to stand up, the services are often late or cancelled, the trains are dirty and they stop running before I finish work, so I have to get a taxi home. I'll still use rail because it's better than the car in London, but safety and service must improve."

Ms Evett's experiences were on the other end of the scale. "I use this service to go to London and then switch to another train to see my father in Essex," she said. "It's always reliable and clean and I've never had a problem."

By the time the service arrived in King's Lynn, on time and trouble-free, there seemed to be a consensus among passengers: when the railways work, they can be wonderful. When they fail, they can be fatal.

* Hundreds of mourners yesterday paid tribute to an 80-year-old great-grandmother who was killed by debris from the Potters Bar rail crash. A requiem Mass was held at Our Lady of Assumption Church in the town before a private burial.

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