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SERVICES 
Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
'Appalling year' on West trains
Flood damaged lines
Severe weather added to problems on West rail lines
Rail services in the West of England "effectively collapsed" during the past year, according to a new report.

The Western England Rail Passengers Committee says journeys on First Great Western services were "frequently appalling".

Its annual report, published on Thursday, also says passengers were also affected by cost-cutting on Wales and West services and poor punctuality of Virgin Tains.

It says the legacy of under-investment became clear, but problems were often compounded by sheer bad management by Railtrack and the train operating companies.

Difficult circumstances

The rail system proved too vulnerable in severe weather and there was major disruption when corner cracking was found on rail lines, following the Hatfield tragedy.

The Committee was concerned by Thames Trains problems with vandalism and overcrowding.

New train
New trains are due to go into service

But First Great Western staff are praised for their hard work in difficult circumstances.

And South West Trains is commended for improvments to its service between Waterloo and Exeter.

Christopher Irwin, chairman of the Western England Rail Passengers Committee, said: "This was an appalling year for passengers.

"The legacy of years of under-investment in the region's rail network was revealed all too brutally.

"But problems were often compounded by sheer bad management and ineptitude."

First Great Western is slammed for its declining punctuality - even before Hatfield - and its "unreliable and inadequate" customer information system.

The report also accuses the firm of "slack management" and a "make-do-and-mend" ethos.

Faster journeys

The Committee recently launched an investigation into First Great Western - the first of its kind.

In a statement, First Great Western apologised to customers for a "difficult" year - but said improvements were already being seen.

This month's performance rating, of 87%, was the highest for a year, and 15 more services are now run daily than at the time of the Hatfield incident.

On Wednesday it announced a new timetable, with reduced journey times, extended services, and more trains.

New trains

The company has just announced its new timetable, and it says it will be cutting times, extending services and putting on more trains.

Four locomotives are due to be replaced by high-speed trains - already several months overdue - and more station staff and engineers are being taken on.

There will be two extra services to London - one from Penzance on Saturdays and the other from Plymouth - and an existing service from London to Exeter will be extended to Plymouth.

The new timetable starts on Sunday.


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