We have learnt to expect that trains will be punctual. After years of pre-conditioning, most of us have developed an unshakable faith in railway time-tables. Ships may be delayed by storms; air flights may be cancelled because of bad weather; but trains must be on time. Only an exceptionally heavy snow fall might temporarily dislocate railway services. It is all too easy to blame the railway authorities when something does go wrong. The truth is that when mistakes
occur, they are more likely to be ours than theirs.
After consulting my railway time-table, I noted with satisfaction that there was an express train to Westhaven. It went direct from my local station and the journey lasted a mere hour and seventeen minutes. When I boarded the train, I could not help noticing that a great many local people got on as well. At the time, this did not strike me as odd. I reflected that there must be a great many people besides myself who wished to take advantage of this excellent service. Neither was I surprised when the train stopped at Widley, a tiny station a few miles along the line. Even a mighty express train can be held up by signals. But when the train dawdled at station after station, I began to wonder. It suddenly dawned on me that this express was not roaring down the line at ninety miles an hour, but barely chugging along at thirty. One hour and seventeen minutes passed and we had not even covered half the distance. I asked a passenger if this was the Westhaven Express, but he had not even heard of it. I determined to lodge a complaint as soon as we arrived. Two hours later, I was talking angrily to the station-master at Westhaven. When he denied the train's existence, I borrowed his copy of the time-table. There was a note of triumph in my voice when I told him that it was there in black and white. Glancing at it briefly, he told me to look again. A tiny asterisk conducted me to a footnote at the bottom of the page. It said: 'This service has been suspended.'