The Rail Dispute: Llandudno express defeats strikers . . . and passengers

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FOR THE first time on a strike day, the two-coach express pulled out of Llandudno Junction in North Wales yesterday, passed slowly through the viaduct, and then picked up speed as it approached the sea at Colwyn Bay.

In this part of the British Isles, such trains are geared more to tourism than commuting, but this 7.39 for Crewe is the one most working people set their alarms by in the morning, and might have been expected to fulfil a need.

The fact that when signalmen are not on strike the train normally runs at 7.41 may have been why there was only one passenger from Llandudno to Colwyn Bay. At Colwyn Bay, a small group of children clambered aboard, en route for Rhyl and their first day back at school.

But those on the train - there were 25 when it pulled in to Chester one hour later - were offering an alternative explanation: although officials might have succeeded in adding another strike- breaking stretch of track by using supervisors and managers to run the signal boxes, they had failed to tell their regular users. About 500 people normally travel between Llandudno Junction and Chester between 7am and 9am.

Lucy Sprake, who joined the train at Flint, said she had asked a guard whether the train would be running but he hadn't known and that another passenger had been told no trains were running, and that, in any event, it was not up to the station to inform the public - if passengers wanted information, it was up to them to ask.

Certainly, there appears to have been a negative form of station announcements leading up to yesterday's resumed service in north Wales. According to Helen Shields and Louise Venables, office clerks travelling to Chester, there seems to be an assumption that if stations did not have notices saying there were no trains, the public should assume that the trains would be running.

Those who did make the train certainly benefited in time and money. One passenger said he had been spending pounds 24 on taxis on strike days, compared with the pounds 2.95 return train fare between Prestatyn and Shotton. Heather Evans, a hospital worker in Rhyl, said she had been leaving home 45 minutes earlier on strike days, and reaching work 15 minutes late.

One passenger, travelling from Colwyn Bay to Chester, said she had been catching a bus at 6.30am on strike days and had been finding the journey uncomfortable. She explained this sheepishly: in doing so she provided another possible explanation for the lack of passengers yesterday. Refusing to give her name or her occupation, she admitted feeling guilty about being on the train because she had signed petitions supporting the signalmen and still sympathised with their cause.