`The only thing that worked on air-conditioned stock was the supplement you paid for it'

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The Independent Travel
`Rail service," says a new report from a thoroughly reliable source, "continues to slide into oblivion, as the newly privatised railways simply dispense with those few passenger trains they inherited."

You may be relieved to learn that the country thus described is not Britain, but Brazil. The source is the new Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable, published today at pounds 8.40. Its stoic air of resignation about life for the train traveller in Latin America makes Britain's rail system seem a picture of perfection.

The last edition reported that, in Ecuador, "all ENFE railcars have broken down and nothing is actually running at all." Evidence in the new timetable suggests this started a trend: "The organisation contracted to run passenger services on Bolivian Railways," reports the Editor, "has apparently ceased to operate any passenger trains."

Further north, "FNM in Mexico, in the throes of privatisation, still manages to provide some sort of service, although timekeeping is erratic. All diners are officially off, and sleepers run only at weekends, and then only on two trains... A recent traveller assured us that the only thing that worked on air-conditioned stock was the supplement you paid to travel in it."

At least the compilers have helpful contacts in Latin America. If this year should find you travelling to Lebanon, please spare a thought for the loneliness of the Thomas Cook team in Peterborough:

"Lebanon has been a difficult nut for us to crack for a long time now, as no-one there really wants to talk to us."

"Please don't take all those silly Spanish coins home with you."

When the cabin steward on my Airtours day trip to Seville made this announcement, I cynically suspected (a) Anglo-chauvinism, and/or (b) a ploy to boost the profits of Britain's second-largest tour operator. But the appeal for loose change was in fact intended to amplify the funds of the Variety Club of Great Britain. And if you need any more persuasion to give to a good cause, take note that the peseta in your pocket may be worthless.

The treasury in Madrid has announced that older designs of coins are no longer legal tender in Spain. Old versions of the one-, five- and 25- peseta coins will not be accepted by shopkeepers. So instead of saving your spare change for the next trip to Spain, you may as well give the money to Airtours -which has special arrangements for converting old pesetas into new pounds for the Variety Club.

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