Just how much Railtrack needs to do to get Britain's rail network up to scratch can be gauged by studying how, er, kinetic one's train carriage is. To test ride quality, take something from the chief steward's range of hot and cold beverages - ideally a cup of tea because it scalds and stains if you spill it - and stand it on the table. Then observe. Degrees of resulting spillage should give a rough indication of those sections of track in most need of repair.
I tested the theory on several journeys with the following results.
Paddington to Cardiff
Study launched on Great Western service from London Paddington to Cardiff. Arrive at Paddington wallet-less. Search of pockets turns up a handful of coins. Prepare for some super-advanced fare dodging.
Scramble up carriage to the buffet car for tea. Train gets frisky underfoot through Southall as I return to seat.
Reading. Leaving station when guard pounces. Launch first class charm campaign and convince him to sell me a ticket using the credit card number from a Sainsbury's receipt. Gas bill used for proof of address and a copy of NCE as evidence of professional trustworthiness. Signing the sales voucher and - jolt - I scrawl.
Brushes with authority very thirst inducing. More tea at Didcot Parkway. Five minutes out of the station, though, and combination of bumping, rocking and twisting all but stymie any efforts to drink it. Decant tea onto shirt.
Quarter of an hour past Swindon, back at full speed but major tea spillage caused by sudden lurch.
Severn Tunnel starts smooth and speedy. Tea proves a powerful diuretic and am forced to head for the loo. Am in mid-flow when, approaching the Welsh end of the tunnel, the train starts bucking like a beast. Disastrously, I lose control.
Kings Cross to Peterborough
Scheduled GNER train is cancelled. Wangle seat in first class carriage - tea out of china cups! Top-up at Stevenage.
Half way from Stevenage to Peterborough fast moving train shakes itself like a wet dog. Tea leaps from cup and sluices across notes being jotted by a fellow 'customer'. Fortunately, plenty of napkins to hand to mop up mess and smudge notes.
London Waterloo to Tunbridge Wells
Antiquated crowded and steamy Connex South Eastern train.
Armed with refreshments from one of the fleece-you-while-you-wait take- away huts but, mindful of earlier spillages, dare not prise the lid off my tightly sealed cuppa. Train trundles smoothly over rails upgraded for Channel Tunnel trains but at Petts Wood starts staggering about, confirming my wisdom in leaving the tea tightly contained.
London to Edinburgh
Barely out of London on the East Coast Main Line with cappuccino before me when my GNER carriage starts twitching and jerking. Nothing too stability threatening and then... 15 minutes into the journey my cup, still semi full, topples over. The table is drenched. Dash to the loo for tissue paper.
Experience undermines confidence and I daren't venture to the buffet for replenishments. Research comes to a premature close.
St Albans to Kings Cross
Regulars on the Thameslink commuter train between Kings Cross and St Albans say it's not worth even thinking about tea. Only the uninitiated queue at the kiosk.
The roller-coastering journey starts with tortuous squealing from the wheels as carriages slowly negotiate tight bends from Kings Cross to Kentish Town. Just before Mill Hill and through Radlett station there are low spots in the track which set the carriages bouncing. People abandon books and newspapers, unable to focus. However, for sheer punishment, sections just before Cricklewood, just after Elstree & Borehamwood and just before Radlett station can't be beat.
St Pancras to Nottingham
Here's service! Complementary tea on the Midland Main Line service from St Pancras to Nottingham. However, cups are half-sized and only two-thirds full. The steward hands me a sheaf of napkins, a barometer for a line's spillage potential.
Sudden right hand corner 20 minutes into the journey makes a good attempt at capsizing the cup. Countless further assaults from beneath the wheels, but none sufficient to overtop my cup.
Paddington to Plymouth
Board Great Western train at Paddington equipped with a picnic. In the Vale of Pewsey and towards Westbury the route is contending for a marathon there's so much jogging. Attempts at slurping tea - all craning neck and protruding lips - result in significant quantities going up nose.
Roughly 25 minutes later, the train has slowed and limps, hobbles and sways. We're at half speed on the section into Taunton, and slower still from Newton Abbott to Totnes. From Totnes onward the train lists at five to ten degrees and crawls along at no more than 20mph.
Euston to Rugby
The notorious West Coast Main Line! Gangs of orange-clad workmen at work immediately outside station. As the Virgin train lollops past them I rebound towards the buffet car.
Buffet woman cocoons a Kit Kat and some super-heated Typhoo in napkins. Loads of them. The tea comes with a warning for care while adding milk and sugar.
Exit from a tunnel five minutes past Watford Junction sets the train snaking like an angry adder, while fast turns soon after have my cup of tea gliding gracefully towards the table edge. There are further excitements at the Bletchley depot where boxing-style duck and weave routine is played out. No spillages yet.
All the way from Milton Keynes to Rugby my tea is shaken and stirred. Despite the route's formidable reputation, though, the tea goes where intended: down the neck and not the shirt.