Cheap rail fares on the way out

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CHEAP walk-on railway fares are disappearing from the many lines on the national network as some private firms raise ticket prices by double the rate of inflation, according a survey by an industry magazine.

A report by Modern Railways out later this week shows that since railway privatisation capped certain fares in June 1995, some private operators have increased their cheapest tickets by more than 20 per cent. Inflation over the same period was a little more than 9 per cent.

The study, of 17 private rail companies, fingers the much-criticised Virgin Trains, on its west coast service, as the worst culprit. It raised its SuperSaver tickets on average by 21 per cent.

Not much better was Midland Main Line - run by coach giant National Express. Passengers buying its cheapest walk-on fares saw increases, on average, of 16 per cent. The analysis, by ticket and timetable expert Barry Doe, used a "basket" of ticket prices to calculate an average for each operator.

The results were startling. In 1995, passengers travelling from London to Crewe on the then British Rail-run west coast line paid pounds 30 for a SuperSaver return. With Virgin, travellers now pay nearly 22 per cent more for the same ride.

Midland Main Line has put up its cheapest walk-on fare on the London to Leicester service by 17.4 per cent - nearly double the rate of inflation - since 1995.

SuperSaver tickets, which can be used on any day except Fridays and summer Saturdays, are viewed as the key off-peak fare for most passengers.

Mr Doe has pointed out that some SuperSaver fares have increased so much they are more expensive than less-restricted tickets. "Virgin was forced to reduce its Southampton to Thurso SuperSaver ticket when it an 18 per cent rise saw it become more expensive than its supposed dearer Saver fare."

Virgin have made it clear that they view turn-up-and-go tickets as a relic of the past. Richard Branson's managers tried to abolish the SuperSaver fares last year. The company was forced to back down after passenger groups protested. In documents seen by The Independent, Chris Tibbits, managing director of Virgin Trains, admitted it aims to "encourage people to book in advance" and will cut the price of tickets reserved by telephone.

According to Mr Tibbits, "as long as customers book in advance it is likely they will save money." The company does offer very low fares if travellers book before they travel.

increases out of line


Virgin Trains 21 per cent SuperSaver

Midland Main Line 16 per cent SuperSaver

Thameslink 15 per cent Cheap Day

LTS Rail 14 per cent Standard Single Silverlink 13 per cent Standard Single Rises calculated from a basket of fares; inflation over period from June 1995 to January 1998 was 9.27 per cent