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Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 13:46 GMT
'Sort it out' Darling tells rail bosses
Virgin tilting train
The trains were built to travel 140mph
The UK's rail industry must do better and start making quicker progress, Alistair Darling has warned its bosses.

At a conference in central London attended by Britain's railway chiefs, the transport secretary criticised poor levels of service - although he acknowledged there had been some improvements.

If the toilet's overflowing, no excuses - fix it.

Alistair Darling
Mr Darling's comments came as Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) boss Richard Bowker said the industry had the "fight of its life" on its hands if was to raise standards in the coming months.

Mr Darling told the conference: "The public needs to see tangible improvements in service."

He went on: "Reliability remains well below levels achieved before Hatfield [in October 2000].

"And as the causes of delays are fairly evenly split between infrastructure and operators, everyone must do much better - and do better this year."

Communication?

Mr Darling went on to give rail operators a lesson in basic customer service.

"If the train is dirty, then clean it," he said.

"If the toilet's overflowing, no excuses - fix it.

"If you know a train is going to be late, tell your customers and explain why and what you've done about it."

This was essential to the service on the railways and not luxuries, he argued.

"Passengers should be treated as valued customers, not left to feel like victims.

Nostalgic for rail?

"One of the selling points of the private sector is often said to be its customer service ethos.

"Let's be blunt. Some of you are good at this. Others are not. It's worth spending time getting it right."

Investment in rail must be matched by results, the transport secretary argued and nostalgia alone would not persuade taxpayers that their cash should be put into the system.

Mr Bowker said that services had to be improved - and soon.

"The scale of our task over the next 12 to 18 months is enormous - we do face the fight of our lives."

"We cannot hold out a begging bowl and expect it to be filled."

It was necessary to make a "compelling case" for investment by demonstrating that every pound put in delivered value.

Weary commuters who were tired of the "daily uncertainty" were less interested in hearing of progress than experiencing it when they used the trains.

"They want to see the improved and reliable railway they have been promised so many times but have yet to see delivered."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"Plans to carry passengers at 140mph have been derailed"
Peter Robinson, West Coast Rail 250
"The West Coast route is already 20 years behind the rest of the network"

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