Passengers using one of the worst rail services in the country have forced a climbdown from their train operator over delays.

Just three days after commuters set up their own website petition, First Great Western has bowed to customer pressure on High-Speed Trains (HSTs) on the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester.

None of the stations in west Oxfordshire have long enough platforms for the eight-coach trains. For the past two decades, HSTs have always stopped with standard class coaches on the platforms at Charlbury and Kingham.

But from the start of its new timetable this week, FGW decreed that the front end of a train, normally first class on trains heading into Oxford and London, would be on the platform. However, the majority of commuters have standard class tickets and at Charlbury's four-coach platform they were forced into long queues to enter the doors of the only standard coach on the platform.

Trains were heavily delayed as a result and complaints piled in to a Charlbury website.

On Thursday, FGW instructed drivers to resume the previous practice of stopping four standard class coaches on the platform.

Passengers at the station early yesterday were relieved, but still listed a catalogue of complaints about London-bound commuter services, where fares will rise by 4.8 per cent next month. They say trains are regularly late, sometimes don't even turn up, and information is often unavailable.

Anne Edwards, from Burford, commutes up to five days a week to her marketing job in London. She said: "It is virtually impossible to arrive in London on time. If you have an important meeting you cannot take a chance and so go for an earlier train.

"It is a real nightmare now. You simply can't be confident you are going to be on time."

John Land, from Charlbury, a neurology consultant at a hospital in London, pays £9,000 a year for his first class season ticket.

He said: "The service is miserable. The anger of the customers is palpable. Sometimes it is so bad I just have to stay overnight in London to make sure I'm on time for surgery.

"It used to be the worst service in the country and is now officially just one from the bottom. Often there is no correct information and, under the new timetable, trains are taking even longer.

"Add on to that they are virtually always late, and sometime don't even turn up, and you have a lamentable service."

FGW's spokesman Adrian Ruck agreed that performance needed improving.

"It is not good, it is not where we want it to be" he said.

"But there are problems outside our control, like breakdowns on the line where services are delayed because sections are only single track and there is no way round the jam."

Mr Ruck added that they had "tweaked" the boarding system. First class passengers were not comfortable with people squeezing by them as people boarded the train and standard fare passengers were also uncomfortable about having few doors to get in by."

MANY stations in Britain have platforms shorter than trains that use them.

In the days when trains had manual slam' doors, this was not a problem. Passengers were warned by the guard where to get off safely.

British Rail policy was that standard class coaches would be the ones on the platform, due to the greater number of passengers than in first class. Changes in safety rules since the 1980s saw newer trains banned from short platforms, unless they were fitted with selective locks, ensuring only the doors of coaches on the platform could open.

However, this change had no bearing on the decision to stop the front end of a train on short platforms, irrespective of which class of coaches this involved, which appears to have been taken by FGW's management, before Thursday's u-turn.

UNDER-PRESSURE train operator First Great Western is still one of the least punctual in the country, according to new figures.

FGW, which has faced a barrage of criticism from Oxfordshire passengers over its new timetable this week, was the last but one in a punctuality league of the 20 main rail operators released today. Only 83 per cent of its trains ran on time between July and September, little better than the 82.3 per cent figure for last year.

Sister firms First Scotrail, First Capital Connect and TransPennine Express all scored above 90 per cent. Chiltern Railways was the third best performer, with 94.5 per cent of services on time.