True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; No 80: So you don't want to be on the broken down train?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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Chris Choi was sitting happily on a Southampton to Cardiff train operated by Regional Railways South Wales and West one day last week when it stopped, as scheduled, at Salisbury. Along with the other 75 passengers, he was asked to get off and board a train on the opposite platform. There had been no mechanical breakdown on Mr Choi's train but the other one, which had originally been a Carmarthen to Waterloo service was suffering from an engine problem.

Not surprisingly, Mr Choi demanded to know why he was being asked to get off a functioning train and get on a broken-down one which then sat at Salisbury for 45 minutes while it was examined by fitters.

After much prevarication, a railway official gave him a complicated explanation. South Wales and West operates only one train a day into Waterloo and therefore it has no maintenance workers or depot there. As the train was malfunctioning, it wanted to send it towards its depot at Cardiff, rather than risk a breakdown at Waterloo.

Mr Choi was not convinced.He suspects the company did not want to risk a breakdown at Waterloo because it would have had to pay more in platform charges to Railtrack than it would elsewhere.

Of course, under British Rail it would not have mattered where the train needed repairing. Now the depots are all owned by different companies who will charge each other.

The Independent on Sunday's 'Great British Rail Disaster' by Christian Wolmar, which includes more than 60 items from this column, has just been published by Ian Allan at pounds 5.99. If you have difficulty obtaining a copy, send 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. (Tel: 01932 855909, ext 235/236.)