Passengers feel unsafe at stations, say MPs

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The Independent Online

The deplorable state of some of Britain's 2,507 railway stations is savagely criticised today in a report by a cross-party committee of MPs. Stations are often threatening places, with poorly lit, graffiti-covered passages and platforms, vandalised facilities and no staff, said Edward Leigh, Tory chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

The MPs found one- third of the stations, many built in Victorian times, had no waiting-rooms and 15 per cent no lavatories. Few train operating companies (TOCs) had joined national schemes to reduce crime and improve personal safety at stations in spite of findings that this would increase passenger numbers by up to 11 per cent. "Passenger needs at stations have taken second place for the Strategic Rail Authority and the rail industry," Mr Leigh said. "A large number of Britain's railway stations are a poor advertisement for our country."

The condition of stations varies widely, from graffiti-strewn ones such as Market Rasen, in Mr Leigh's constituency of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, to bucolic stops such as Pewsey, Wiltshire, where the passengers can read Horse and Hound and Country Life, laid out on a polished table in the waiting-room.

The presence of staff, good lighting and CCTV surveillance at stations were the three most important factors reassuring passengers about their personal safety, but few train operating companies had joined the secure station scheme or the Home Office's safer parking scheme.

The Department of Transport is analysing figures to identify the 100 station car-parks with the highest crime levels. It plans to negotiate improvements by the TOCs and Network Rail to meet the standards of the safer parking award scheme.

Network Rail, which took over from the abolished Strategic Rail Authority, owns most stations and is responsible for most maintenance, but the legacy of the chaotic privatisation of the railways was also to blame, said the MPs. "The original franchises awarded on privatisation of the railways failed to put sufficient emphasis on improving station facilities."

The report calls for the Government to establish a league table, with points awarded to the stations according to their quality, and secret checks by consumer survey teams. The National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog, had published a damning report on the stations, saying the SRA had planned to spend £225m on 980 stations, but slashed the programme to only £25m at 68 stations to match funding from the Department of Transport.

Many stations in England and Wales are more than 100 years old and 15 per cent are listed. But they have been allowed to deteriorate. On average, 90,000 passengers a day use each of the 28 largest stations but just 100 a day use each of the 1,200 smallest, unstaffed ones. And 2,490 stations are leased to 22 train operating companies, making the question of who to blame more confusing.