It is a huge blot on Prime Minister Tony Blair's copybook that the railway network is still such a mess, Observer William Keegan warned New Labour on Sunday 11 January 2004.

He said Labour had been in government for seven years - yet the railways were still a mess. He pondered whether they would end up being, as some have suggested, this Government's Waterloo.

He said that in recent years he had talked to a lot to railwaymen and women and “it hurts them to have witnessed such crass handling of the system”.

He added: “Of course it is a commonplace that investment had been neglected for many years before. Mrs Thatcher's distaste for the railways dated from the time she was stuck in a snowdrift on a train many years ago.

“But even she did not dare to privatise the railways or pretend that such an important public service should only be run at a profit.”

He went on: “This Government has often behaved as if it were on a knife-edge majority whereas it had a resounding majority from 1997 that could have enabled it to be much bolder in addressing problems such as the railways.

“It is all too characteristic of our New Labour Prime Minister that he apparently commented, during the last attempt to patch up the finances of the railways that ‘you can do anything you like as long as you don't call it renationalisation’.

“In practice the billions are being shelled out, some improvements are being made, but the general scene is still one of - well, shambles.”