Rail regulator heads for clash over ticket cuts

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The Independent Online
The rail regulator, John Swift, was yesterday heading for a full-scale clash with ministers over his suggestion that the number of stations selling tickets could be reduced from 1,300 to 294.

Despite assurances earlier this week from the Transport Secretary, Brian Mawhinney, and the Prime Minister that ticket purchase facilities would be widely available throughout the BR network, Mr Swift went ahead and published his controversial consultation paper. He said the Government only had power to issue "formal guidance", not to direct him and that he was an independent regulator.

At a stormy press conference yesterday, Mr Swift tried to play down the importance of the suggestion to reduce the number of ticket-selling stations: "I want to allay any fear that the travelling public may have that the regulator is committed to a plan under which through-tickets will be available through, and only through, 294 stations."

He argues that 294 is a minimum and that the train operators would find it commercially viable to sell tickets at more stations. However, he said the suggestion for a limited number of core stations is actually a response to a similar plan being drawn upby the Association of Train Operating Companies, which links the 25 train operators, all controlled by BR but due to be franchised starting at the end of 1995.

Mr Swift said it would be "speculation" to try to assess how many stations might retain a ticket-selling capability. The list of 294 was drawn up using a set of criteria to ensure that key towns and cities, airports and "recognised commercial centres" would have a core station. The list includes Didcot, Mr Swift's station, but omits Peterborough, Dr Mawhinney's constituency.

Mr Swift said: "I am seeking to produce a better value-for-money network." He stressed that the core stations plan was one of only three put forward in the paper. The other two are to retain the 1,300 stations at least for the time being or to have a two-tier system with an additional stations being able to sell a limited range of tickets.

The scheme came under widespread attack. Lennox Na-pier, chairman of Crucc, the rail passengers' watchdog, said lack of ticket availability was not in passengers' interests and would "discourage some people from using the railways altogether". Brian Wilson, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said: "This shows that rail privatisation is out of control.''

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