LAST month, Sebastian Loew travelled from Lille to Paris on the new TGV line. 'According to the timetable, the journey should have taken one hour. But because there was work on the line, it was going to take between five and 10 minutes more. When I went to buy my ticket, I was told that because of this possible delay the fare was reduced by 10 per cent. In the event we were only three minutes late. Obviously BR has a long way to go before it can hope to give a similar quality of service.'

Mr Loew points out that SNCF is a state-owned monopoly. He adds that RATP, the public authority which runs Paris's bus and Metro system, not only offers a better, cheaper service than anything in London, but it also has a sense of humour. 'On 1 April, travellers were puzzled to find that two stations had had their names changed: Madeleine had become 'Marcel Proust' and Parmentier was 'Pomme de Terre' for the day]'