50-mile trip to buy a rail ticket

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The number of railway stations required to sell tickets to all destinations in Britain could be as few as one in 10 after British Rail is split into 25 privatised companies.

Just 249 "core stations" will be required to sell tickets to all destinations. The rest will have to offer tickets only to other stations on the routes operated by the same company, though franchise holders may find it profitable to sell through tickets more widely. Through ticketing - the ability to buy a ticket to anywhere - is currently available at 1,580 of 2,500 stations.

The plans in a consultation document from John Swift, the Rail Regulator, due out next Tuesday, will cause political uproar. Tory backbenchers have consistently sought reassurance that through ticketing will continue, and passenger groups have warned of chaos if it is dropped.

The regulator, who acts as the passengers' ombudsman, suggests that no one should face a journey of more than 50 miles - an hour's travel by car or train - to the nearest core station.

A spokesman for the regulator last night refused to comment on whether travellers would have to travel that far to buy a ticket. He said: "We are going to publish a report addressing the issue of core stations shortly. We cannot say anything more at the present time."

Questions will also be raised over government assurances that other benefits such as discounts for country-wide travel will remain. While cheap travel for the disabled, elderly and young was put into the Railways Act, there is no guarantee of season tickets or off-peak fares.