Rail fares rise by up to three times inflation

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THE PRICE of "standard" rail tickets has risen by up to three times the inflation rate since privatisation, according to a new study.

Passengers turning up at peak times at Euston Station and asking for what used to be called a second-class ticket to Manchester have to pay Virgin Trains pounds 93.50 compared with pounds 50 in 1995. If the passenger wants a first-class ticket it will cost pounds 144 - a rise of more than four times the inflation rate of 27 per cent - although a snack and an alcoholic drink is included in the charge.

Passengers using Great Western services have been hit by the second-largest price rises on "walk-on" fares, according to Barry Doe, an expert on rail tickets. For journeys to Wales and the West from Paddington, First Group charges an average 70 per cent more for both standard and first-class turn-up-and-go tickets.

The next highest price rises are being paid by passengers on the London-Edinburgh route operated by Great North Eastern Railways (GNER). First-class singles are up by 60 per cent - with a complimentary drink - and second class by 48 per cent.

Of the 60 fares highlighted in Mr Doe's analysis, only 12 show rises below inflation. Another 12 have risen by more than 50 per cent - nearly twice the increase in the retail price index over the 10 years. Only C2C, which operates from London Liverpool Street to Essex, has reduced the average price of a standard single - by 5 per cent.

Mr Doe said most passengers did not buy "book-ahead" fares which are considerably cheaper than "walk-on" prices. "People don't always know when their meetings are going to finish and sometimes they don't even know when they are going to start. They need flexibility." Current policy undermined the Government's attempts to persuade people to leave their cars at home, he argued.

While the standard of services provided by GNER and Virgin were higher than at privatisation, that did not apply to First Great Western which was largely still using old-fashioned High Speed Trains, he said.

A spokesman for Virgin said 85 per cent of its passengers were paying less than the price of standard walk-on tickets. Some were booking ahead and taking advantage of return fares from London to Manchester of as little as pounds 24. The cheapest ticket available in 1994 was pounds 26, the spokesman said.

Other customers were buying "Saver" off-peak tickets, available on a "turn-up and go" basis. A Saver return ticket from London to Manchester was pounds 55.

"People are becoming much more astute and making use of all the offers available. Before privatisation, such offers were very limited. People used to be getting a Morris Marina service, now they are getting a BMW service."

A spokesman for First Great Western said its timetable had increased by a third since privatisation and its trains had been refurbished.