Rail boss concedes limit on ticket queues

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The managing director of a soon-to-be privatised railway company has told a commuter that it is all right to board a train without a ticket, if they would have to queue for more than 15 minutes to buy one.

Peter Field, managing director of South West Trains, has decreed that it is "unreasonable" to expect people to queue for 15 minutes for a ticket, in a letter obtained by Labour MP Brian Wilson.

South West Trains took the decision to allow Lord Sterling, chairman of P&O and a government adviser, exemption from a penalty fare last month, after he complained that he had boarded a train without a ticket because the queues at Waterloo station were too long.

In order to clamp down on fare-dodging, British Rail has long insisted passengers must have a ticket before boarding, rather than paying on the train.

Lord Sterling, intercepted when travelling first class to Haslemere, telephoned Mr Field the next day, who cancelled the penalty fare and ordered all computer records be deleted to avoid "embarrassment" to a VIP passenger.

Now Mr Field has told a commuter who protested about the treatment of Lord Sterling: "The onus is on us to provide care of purchase of a ticket, which we failed to do for Lord Sterling. It is unreasonable in my view to have to queue for 15 minutes for a ticket."

Mr Wilson said the letter threw the rules on fare-dodging into confusion. He said: "Anyone can now say they didn't wait for a ticket because they thought it would take 15 minutes. The next question is whether this amazing get-out clause applies only to South West Trains or to the whole railway network."

He added: "If the new Sterling Doctrine is to be widely applied, somebody had better start defining what a 15-minute queue looks like. If you see a New Zealand flag on a backpack in front of you, does that count as 10 minutes?"