'We don't care about spin doctors. We just want a reliable service'

Spin on the line » Focus on the 'who said what' row irritates passengers on the eve of new, embarrassing rail performance figures
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The Independent Online

Passengers commuting to work near Stephen Byers's homes in London and Newcastle had one thing in common last week. They all said that the Transport Secretary should focus less on office politics and more on the business of making Britain's trains run on time.

Mr Byers last week was seen taking the ministerial car to work from his Rosslyn Hill mansion flat in north London but travellers at his local Tube station, Belsize Park, were impatient for improvements, in spite of the promised billions of pounds of investment from the public-private partnership.

Liam Boyle, 29, who works in publishing in Chancery Lane, said: "I think the service is rubbish. You have to wait 10 minutes for a Tube – and when it arrives it's dirty." IT manager David Spooner, 25 agreed: "The Tube system is in a pretty diabolical state."

Tales of delayed trains and frustration were also told at Newcastle Central Station, to which Mr Byers commutes by train every week for meetings in his North Tyneside constituency. He shares a roomy Edwardian home with his partner, a solicitor, in Fernham, a well-to-do Newcastle suburb.

Barry Dixon, 24, from Sunderland was still on the platform when he should have been 20 minutes down the line to Birmingham. He was already resigned to missing his hoped-for connection to Coventry, his ultimate destination.

Katharine Leadbeater was bound for Durham City, the next stop along the line, but the delay was just as frustrating. "If there has to be a fuss it should be about the state of the rail system, rather than whether Jo Moore sent an email or whether Martin Sixsmith resigned or not."

Barry Dixon's father, Bill, 59, a bus driver, said: "What we really want to know is when we are going to get the rail service we deserve. When Labour started in government the railways had long been starved of cash. I hope we'll now see this starting to happen – and less about rows at the Department of Transport."

Frenchman Ben Lalmy, who has lived in Glasgow for 27 years, said: "The railways are in a mess but Mr Byers hasn't been long enough in the job to change things. I think he should be given a chance to put things right."

Susan Hindhaugh from Morpeth, Northumberland, who was waiting with her young children for the Edinburgh train, said: "All the controversy about spin doctors and whether Mr Byers told the truth in a television programme doesn't mean anything to me. I just want to know there's a reliable service."

Meanwhile, the service on the Tube was so bad that Georgia Wyatt-Wyllsmore, 23, a potter, said that she would never return to live in London from Cornwall, where she had moved. "I certainly wouldn't ever come to live here again. It was my first trip on the Tube for years yesterday – I thought it was a total nightmare!"

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