True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; No 25: so you want to board the train?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
REGULAR users of the Gospel Oak to Barking line in north London know it to be one of the most notoriously late, slow and unreliable routes in London. Elizabeth Blunt discovered the line's new initiative to meet train time schedules when trying to travel home from Gospel Oak train station. The plan seems to be to not stop at intermediate stations along the route.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, she was waiting to catch the 16.51, which pulled into the station 10 minutes late. The many waiting passengers eagerly converged into its carriages. The train sat there for a further for 11 minutes, and then the guard told passengers who were not intending to travel to Barking that they must leave the train. His explanation was that as the train was now running 20 minutes late, to catch up lost time it would be running through all intermediate stations without stopping.

Mrs Blunt and her fellow passengers were not pleased: "The anger of the trainload of people left behind on the platform must have been nothing compared with the bewildered rage of passengers at intermediate stations as they watched their long-awaited train trundle straight past them."

To Mrs Blunt, the initiative seems clear. The North London Line has realised that if you don't carry passengers, then you don't have to waste time stopping at stations to let them off. She thinks it is a classic example of the often-desperate measures adopted by several of the new train companies in a bid to cut down lateness to meet Passenger's Charter targets. The targets are based only on arrival times at the final destination and therefore cutting out intermediate stops enables them to be met. With privatisation in the offing, managements are desperate to ensure that they meet the targets.