Station managers field complaints from front-line: Charles Oulton joined commuters who took up BR's invitation to meet its managers face to face

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The Independent Online
THE MANAGER of British Rail's Ealing Broadway station was talking about unit reliability, officialese for trains arriving on time. Then his counterpart at Paddington started referring to 'welcome hosts', a misnomer for people wearing claret jackets who field complaints from angry passengers. It was a miracle no one got punched on the nose.

And yet it was all supposed to be so constructive. In the latest attempt to improve communications with its fare-paying public, British Rail has been putting on 'meet the manager' days when passengers come face to face with the people who run their trains. Yesterday, it was the turn of Paddington station, and its manager, Tony Walker.

The meeting took place in a marquee on the station concourse fitted with a video screen and posters explaining why trains are often late at Paddington at the moment. From 7.30am to 10.30am, passengers filed into the marquee for a heart-to-heart.

To get the ball rolling, Evan Scott gave his opinion about the state of the railways. 'Absolutely pathetic,' said the computer consultant from Abingdon, voice raised and lip twitching at the injustice of it all. This man catches the train from Didcot each morning and wanted to know why the 4.45 was 'all over the place,' and why the people in claret jackets were 'hanging around last week saying they didn't know what was going on'.

Several of the complaints came from people at Didcot, but that was not the worst station for unit reliability. Something seems to have gone terribly wrong at Twyford. In the space of an hour, this station was subjected to the most horrible abuse.

Michael Neale, the administrator of a charitable trust, said he had been travelling between Twyford and Paddington for 20 years, and had never known things so bad as in the past two to three years. As a result, he had become a scourge of British Rail, writing letters and insisting on meetings with the men responsible. Finally, he had extracted a promise from a director of InterCity on 4 November that a chart giving details of repair work would be put up at Paddington within the following four days. No notice appeared.

But Mr Neale is close to retirement, and will be able to endure the frustrations for a few more years. Not so Habib Rahman, a jute merchant, who is moving to Twyford next month and is concerned about the stories he has heard about the service.

Yesterday, he was hoping British Rail would give him some reassurance. They failed, and Mr Rahman has decided to stop commuting and work from home.