Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Have Been Threatened, Accosted by Drunks, I've Called in Vain for Help on the Train ... Bring Back the Guard

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Have Been Threatened, Accosted by Drunks, I've Called in Vain for Help on the Train ... Bring Back the Guard

Article excerpt

Byline: JEANETTE WINTERSON

I TRAVEL by train at least twice a week, often late at night. I count myself lucky that my mobile phone has been stolen only once - by a man so drunk that he was sick all over it as soon as he snatched it.

But I have been physically threatened twice, and on each occasion I knocked loudly on the drive r ' s door and demanded help. The help was not forthcoming, but even yobs realise that trains have drivers, and they didn't stay to find out what might happen.

When I hear this week that crime on the railways has risen by 30 per cent in the past seven years, and that sexual assaults on women have risen by around 50 per cent, I am not surprised. No frequent traveller will be surprised.

Since my own brushes with unpleasant fellow travellers, I make a point of travelling in the front carriage late at night because when there is no guard, which is most of the time, at least the driver might respond to my bloodcurdling screams.

The front carriage is first class. This has a curious effect on passengers without tickets, who make a point of joining me, as long as it is after 10 o'clock at night, which seems to be the national curfew hour for railway employees.

Sometimes my travelling companions are just kids having a laugh, but at other times they are very drunk and pretty scary.

THE only reason I insist on travelling in the first-class zoo on the way home is precisely because it is the only place I can be sure of being near to a railway official. In standard class I would have to rely on other passengers for help, and Britain is no longer a nation of Good Samaritans.

So I travel, more in hope than certainty, with my expensive ticket that no one else bothers to buy, because we all know that there are no guards on late trains. Occasionally a revenue inspector gets on, throws out the other members of the first-class zoo, wishes me a pleasant journey and disappears at the next station. As soon as he gets off, and he always gets off because he is not a guard, the zoo population numbers strengthened-beer cans out, and if it is really bad, I take my prized first-class ticket and stand in the corridor.

When I hear that passenger safety is the main concern of those who run the trains, I am very surprised indeed.

Revenue is the main concern of the railways. My own impression is that passenger safety is now considered to be the responsibility of the passenger: heaven help her.

It is a fact that there are too few guards on trains. The introduction of electronic ticket barriers was designed to make sure that passengers buy tickets when there are no guards to check them. Barriers do not help passengers; they make our journey more stressful as we struggle to leave enough time to queue for a ticket, and they are flashpoints of anger. …

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