No 57: so you want your shopping back?
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A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the privatisation programme

DR JOHN Pitman is, by his own admission, a slightly absentminded chap who has, during the past 15 years of commuting between Petersfield and Waterloo, occasionally left "books, bags and papers" on the train. He says: "without fail, BR always rang Havant,the next manned station down the line, and the missing items were put on the next Waterloo train for me to collect at Petersfield - usually within the hour."

Not any longer: Stagecoach has taken over the line. Last week, Dr Pitman left a bag of shopping on the train. He quickly contacted railway staff who promptly phoned Havant. Dr Pitman then asked the station porter at Petersfield whether it could be put on the next train up. He was told : "Oh no, sir, we are not allowed to take responsibility for lost baggage. It might get damaged and you might sue us. You will have to go to Havant."

Dr Pitman sped to Havant only to be told that the chargehand had locked the bag of food safely away for the night, and none of the station staff had the key. "Sorry, sir," they said, "you will have to come back in the morning."

Asked why they could not put the bag on the train, staff said: "We could not guarantee that it would get to Petersfield undamaged and we can't take responsibility for unaccompanied baggage."

Dr Pitman said he would phone the chargehand in the morning to complain. "Can't do that sir," they said. "We no longer have a public telephone"

Asked whether this had anything to do with the recent privatisation of the line, he received a positively Urquhartian response: "I cannot possibly comment on that, sir . . . "