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Rail passengers feel the strain; Complaints soar as services plummet.

Complaints about Midland train services have hit an all-time high, with the region's rail watchdog receiving up to 30 complaints a day about plummeting services.

The Midland Rail Users' Consultative Committee received 595 complaints in a 20-day period in November - compared with 482 in the whole of 1992/7.

More than half of the complaints were about Central Trains, while just under a third were about Virgin.

Mr Peter Evans, the executive to the committee, said October was almost as bad, with 585 complaints received in a 22-day period - equal to 22.5 complaints a day.

Mr Evans said the figures reflected the appalling train services suffered by Midland passengers in the last two months.

In November, Central recorded its worst performance since privatisation, with all 12 of its commuter lines failing to hit targets. A train is deemed late if it does not arrive at its destination within three minutes of its timetable arrival.

On two services - the Cross City "misery" and the Aston/Duddeston lines - punctuality plummeted to 37.5 per cent.

Central and Railtrack blamed the delays on bigger and juicier leaves on the tracks, caused by an unusually dry summer, but they were forced to pay five per cent discounts to all monthly ticket-holders.

Mr Evans said punctuality was the root of most complaints received by the RUCC, which was reflected in the figures.

"That's the key to the whole issue. If train operators get that right, chances are they can reduce things like overcrowding, improve the on-train environment, the toilets would be better, and the trolley services could run," he said.

"If companies can crack punctuality problems, then we will start to see a big improvement."

Other complaints were about overcrowding, information at stations, and staff conduct.

"We have started to have a lot more complaints about staff conduct, so obviously they are feeling the strain as well," he said.

A Central Trains spokesman said the number of complaints it had received in November had also escalated to more than 4,500, compared to an average of about 3,000 a month. If these complaints are unresolved they are then referred to the RUCC.

The spokesman said the number of complaints needed to be compared with nine million passenger journeys made on Central services each month.

"What you also have to understand is that Central is the biggest provider of rail services in the Midlands, so the RUCC is bound to receive more complaints about us," he said.

"We are not being complacent about this. The complaints are worrying us but we have to put it in perspective."

The Central Rail Users Consultative Committee in London said the increase in complaints was the result of the decline in rail performance.

Mr David Bertram, CRUCC chairman, said: "The reality is that reliability and punctuality are now no better than when franchising began.

"Passengers need to see fast-action remedies to combat this decline in quality."

Meanwhile, figures out yesterday showed Chiltern Railways had to pay discounts to all season ticket-holders because it had failed to meet the punctuality target of 90 per cent by five per cent.

On the long-haul lines, a train is deemed late if it does not arrive at its destination within ten minutes of the advertised time.

Virgin also gave extensions to annual season ticket holders for the West Coast Mainline last month when punctuality fell to 74.4 per cent in the four weeks to November 14.

The CRUCC said Virgin's West Coast Scottish line, which runs through Nuneaton, was the country's worst service, consistently failing to meet its 90 per cent punctuality target.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 9, 1998
Words:602
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