GNER managed to buck the national trend last year by reducing the number of

cancelled trains, it was revealed today.

Research carried out by the Liberal Democrats revealed the York-based train operator cancelled 457 services in the first nine months of 2001.

This compared with 505 cancelled services in the same period in 2000.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Secretary Don Foster said this represented a reduction in cancellations of ten per cent - the fifth-best record in the country.

GNER was one of only six companies which did not see an increase in cancellations, he said.

However, Mr Foster said that Arriva Trains Northern - which is facing strike action this month and next - had one of the worst records of the 26 rail companies.

In the first nine months, a staggering 16,289 trains were cancelled - compared with 6,953 in 2000.

This was the largest number of cancellations in the UK and represents an increase of 134 per cent - well above the national average of 45 per cent, and the fourth biggest percentage hike overall.

Mr Foster said: "There's only one thing worse than a delayed train. It's a train that doesn't turn up at all.

"Transport Secretary Stephen Byers must now outline a clear timetable, with targets, to ensure that cancellations on the railways in 2002 will be less

than they were in 2001. These can't simply be talked away by Labour as the aftermath of Hatfield."

The figures were revealed after another difficult day for the beleaguered Mr Byers. Last night, he was forced to stake the Labour Government's reputation on a pledge to improve services for fed-up passengers.

Mr Byers said: "In three years time, or whenever the next General Election is called, if we have not got a railway system which has got better punctuality, which is more reliable, which is safe, which is more clean and more comfortable, then we will be held to account and that's how it should be. I am confident and I'm more than happy, as Secretary of State for Transport, to be judged on whether I have delivered on that passengers' agenda."

The comments were prompted by Europe Minister Peter Hain, who said in a magazine interview that Britain had "the worst railways in Europe".

Updated: 11:04 Friday, January 11, 2002