True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

No 61: so you want seats in your coach?
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EVERY day at 7.27 a sad little train sets off from Blackpool North on its way to Manchester Piccadilly. Of its complement of five coaches, it has the generous provision of two brake vans, one at each end. This is because at Blackpool every night the coaches need to be shunted and the van is needed.

Now this would not normally matter, because half of each brake van is available for passenger use. Unfortunately, this is not so with the 7.27 because one has no seats and a little notice saying it is not in use.

This is a problem for commuters such as David Layland, who get on the train further down the line and find there is only standing room. Mr Layland decided to try to find out why a coach without seats has been used every day since early January. After some difficulty in finding the right person to talk to, he was told brusquely by Regional Railways North West that there were no other coaches available.

The reason for the lack of spare coaches is that they are now all owned by three privatised rolling-stock companies and operators such as Regional Railways North West have to lease any extra stock from them. The charges are very high, because the rolling-stock companies have a monopoly between them, and operators have sold off or scrapped their surplus stock. Recently, another operator, Regional Railways South Wales and West took to leasing eight 40-year-old coaches from a museum because it was cheaper.

n The Independent on Sunday's Great British Rail Disaster by Christian Wolmar, which includes the first 60 items from this column, is to be published in May by Ian Allan at pounds 5 99. Independent on Sunday readers can obtain advance copies for pounds 4 99 by sending a cheque or postal order, or a Visa/Access authorisation, to The Great British Railway Disaster, Ian Allan Ltd, Coombelands House, Coombelands Lane, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 1HY. Cheques will not be cashed until the books are dispatched.

Examples of railway folly should be sent in envelopes marked "Mad" to:

Christian Wolmar, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL.