Rail line hoists fares before privatisation

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

Great Western Railways, one of the first rail lines being privatised, put up fares by almost 3 per cent on 24 September without any public announcement.

The rise, the second this year, means many fares for passengers on GWR, which runs the InterCity services out of Paddington, will have risen by just under 5 per cent this year.

The standard single from London to Bath, which went up by 50p in January, goes up a further pounds 1 to pounds 27.50, while the first-class fare from London to Penzance, which went up from pounds 76.50 to pounds 78 in January, rose to pounds 80. Most Supersavers, the cheapest fares for leisure travellers, went up by 50p or pounds 1, and only Saver fares have not been increased. It was only when an angry reader rang the Independent that the rises came to light.

Knowles Mitchell, GWR's PR manager, said that the fares increase "was a result of our commercial judgement" and was not connected with the imminent privatisation of the line.

Mr Mitchell at first denied this was the second rise this year for GWR's first-class passengers, but then accepted there had been an increase of 1.9 per cent earlier this year. He said GWR had not issued a press release because it was under no obligation to do so: "We have fulfilled our statutory duty by telling the local rail-users' committee. But we are a commercial company, and we have no obligation to tell anyone else. The supermarkets don't shout from the rooftops when they put up the price of Coca-Cola."

GWR is in the first batch of three lines to be franchised out. Final bids from the four tenderers are due in by the end of this month.

Barry Doe, a railway consultant who specialises in timetabling, said: "This is a very steep increase on what is already one of the most expensive lines, per mile, on the railway."