SHOCKING new figures have revealed the rising level of violence on the region's trains, as tempers boil over at the crumbling state of Britain's rail network.

Figures obtained by The Northern Echo show that GNER staff are facing more violent attacks than any other train operator.

Last night, bosses for the company, which runs services on the East Coast Main Line, pledged to do everything within their power to clampdown on passenger rage.

The company has seen both physical and verbal assaults on staff rocket from 76 incidents in 1999-2000 to 157 in the 12 months up to September this year.

Bosses have blamed the rise on drunken yobs. But passenger groups say the underlying cause is the increased frustration at the appalling state of the railways - and they have called for CCTV cameras to be installed on trains to protect staff and passengers.

The GNER figures coincide with a Health and Safety (HSE) report which shows that assaults on rail staff nationally have risen to record levels.

In the 12 months to March 2001 - the latest figures available - 295 staff were physically attacked, up 22 per cent on the previous period.

Other train operators in the region have noticed increased assaults. Virgin, which operates cross country services between Newcastle, the Midlands and the West Country, said it had recorded 25 assaults on staff in the last month alone.

Ernie Preston, secretary of the North-East Rail Passengers Committee, said: "There is a connection between worsening services and an increased number of assaults.

"Passengers have become increasingly frustrated at the abysmal performance, but despite that there is no justification for violence."

Mr Preston urged the use of CCTV, particularly on late-night trains.

Phil Bustard, a spokesman for GNER, said the company was looking at all options to protect its staff, including CCTV.