Rail disruption: 'The confusion's getting worse. No one knows what's happening'

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The Independent Online

There is no end in sight - to the chaos or the confusion. Last night Railtrack warned that even the maintenance work was running late as the system endured a second weekend of huge disruption.

There is no end in sight - to the chaos or the confusion. Last night Railtrack warned that even the maintenance work was running late as the system endured a second weekend of huge disruption.

Some 20 miles of track are scheduled for repair, most of it today, but the continued flooding has prevented much of the work taking place, making further national shut-downs likely. Some train companies are offering only half the normal number of weekend trains, telling would-be travellers that journeys could take up to 75 minutes longer.

It is something of a miracle that they are giving out any information at all, according to Stewart Francis, the chairman of the Rail Passengers' Council.

The leaders of the railway industry have responded to the crisis by talking harder and faster than ever before - briefing journalists, lobbying politicians and arguing among themselves. Unfortunately, amid the rising flood of words and water, they have failed to do much talking to the passengers.

"No one knows what's going on," said Mr Francis. "We're getting thousands milling around on stations without the information they need. We want information on trains, at stations, in newspapers and on the radio explaining the situation."

The companies have been stung by the disastrous publicity following last month's shut-down of the west coast mainline in Scotland with only two hours' notice. Railtrack's action left thousands stranded. Government ministers were apoplectic - as were the passengers, some of whom had to sleep in a siding overnight. Yet the confusion has continued, made worse by the demands placed on the rail information service.

Sarah Price, a secretary from Bristol, made the mistake of turning up at the city's Temple Meads station for a train to Durham. By the time she reached the ticket office, the train didn't exist. "I did all the right things. I phoned in and they said it was on time. I get here and they tell me: 'Sorry, it was cancelled three minutes ago'."

Things were no better at Cardiff Central. Clive Williams was waiting for his 5.00pm train home to Swansea when we spoke to him at 6.30pm. The screens were blank, there were no announcements and no staff visible - just a crowd of bewildered passengers.

Some train companies are making an effort, notably Virgin. At Crewe station an army of red-coated information staff were on hand.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "The situation is changing fast, but we acknowledge that comp- anies need to do better. This week we plan to put out details of departure and arrival times which passengers can count on."

Additional reporting by Aileen Cruz, Annabel Rutherford, and Amy Levin-Epstein.

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