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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 16:31 GMT
Railing against the train companies
Kings Cross station
Passengers at Kings Cross are told of another delay
For many people, the state of the transport system is as big an issue as schools and hospitals.

The government made big promises about improving the railways - but will things ever get better?

BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds spent a day travelling on the East Coast main line to see what the passengers think.

I am on the 1730 GMT GNER service from Leeds to London Kings Cross. It is packed with passengers sitting in the corridors.

This company is not a poor performer. The service is steadily improving, but more than a quarter of trains still arrive late.

The regulars never know what is going to happen. One of them is John Glossop, who is travelling to London for a business meeting.

Some days it could be leaves, some days it could be the snow...of course there is the train crashes too

Passenger
"I've been doing this for the last 15 years, probably once a month. The service is either very good, or awful; there's no in-between with this service.

"If anything goes wrong, it goes wrong very badly. The worse I've had is seven hours late back into Leeds that's when the overhead lines fell down on the train we were on."

Despite that sort of incident, this line doesn't need as much modernisation as Britain's other main line, the West Coast to Glasgow.

But the rail improvements would have cut journey times. Cutbacks announced on Thursday mean that modernisation won't be finished until well in to the next decade.

Fire trackside

One section of the line that really is affected by this announcement is Welwyn, in Hertfordshire, where the line goes over a viaduct.

It goes from four tracks to two, creating a big bottleneck for companies like GNER.

Now the plan is to build a new viaduct alongside the existing one. That was going to happen in 2010 at the earliest. Now passengers have even longer to wait.

We arrive in Grantham, Lincolnshire on time, but on the way to Kings Cross, as so often seems to happen these days, there's a little hitch.

They are just announcing on this train that there is a fire alongside the line just south of here, so we are having to get off and find another train.

Exploding gas cylinders

Another passenger grumbles: "Some days it could be leaves, some days it could be the snow.

"Some days it could the trains themselves or the lines coming down or some days it could be people committing suicide and trains having to be stopped, and of course there is the train crashes too."

On the public address system, another announcement: "The next station is London Kings Cross.

"This delay was caused by the main line being closed through New Southgate.

"Due to large fire in a scrap yard, sending exploding gas cylinders across the track and it spreading to the tracks. Please accept my apologies for the delay and the inconvenience caused to your journey this evening"

So there we are, we are arriving just a little bit late on a different train company than we started out with, because of exploding gas cylinders by the side of the lines.

Just another night on Britain's wonderful railways!

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 ON THIS STORY
David Frost-businessman, Christian Wolmar-journalist
"We clearly do not have an effective rail infrastructure at the moment and therefore business is suffering"

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