From next year new rules will be imposed which could prevent thousands of passengers from breaking their journeys unless they pay extra.
The move was immediately condemned by the Labour Party, which said the cost of journeys for thousands of travellers could double. Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, likened it to the row earlier this year over "through-ticketing", when the rail regulator proposed drastic cuts in the number of stations at which through tickets could be purchased. Brian Mawhinney, then the secretary of state for transport, was forced to intervene.
At present, passengers can travel "by any reasonable route" between destinations in the UK. That will change after privatisation, with operators restricting travel to "permitted" routes.
According to Labour, the need to broker a fare structure that is acceptable to the 25 private operators has led to a huge bureaucratic exercise. Labour said the work, being conducted by British Rail and the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising, involved examining 11 million possible journeys between 2,500 stations. Even restricting the review to 400 principal stations means considering more than 160,000 possible routes.
The resulting rule-book, which covered eight volumes as a hand-written draft, will make up a 1,000-page A4 document. BR said it would be made public shortly after consultation with groups representing rail users. The regulations will come into effect some time in 1996.
At present, return journeys with any ticket except Apex include free stop-overs at big English cities en route. BR always took the view that, since it was one organisation, imposing tight restrictions was pointless. But the 25 new operating companies will each demand a share of the revenue for journeys involving their services.
From next year, passengers who make stops at "unpermitted" stations face demands for two additional single fares: from the station of origin to their stop-over, and from the stop-over to the destination.
One journey mentioned by the Opposition as involving a likely change involves a London-to-Glasgow passenger breaking his or her journey in Sheffield - a station not directly en route. This could be done for pounds 72 under the old Saver fare, but could cost as much as pounds 156.50 under the new regime.
A BR spokesman confirmed that the work was being prepared but said it was "too early to draw conclusions". However, he added that the post-privatisation fare structure "could hardly be more flexible than the present one". He said: "With different companies trying to agree a share in the ticket sales revenue, you clearly have to decide what is acceptable. If people travel by a route not permitted, there obviously will be an excess cost."
Mr Meacher said: "The Government has already tried to cut by three-quarters the number of stations where passengers could buy tickets. This was only prevented by a campaign of public opposition led by Labour. But the absurd structure of privatisation has now produced another time-bomb for rail passengers."
n For the third weekend running, rail travellers have faced severe delays. Services from London's Euston station to Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham were delayed for up to three hours on Friday night because of signal failures.
There were further delays yesterday, with services out of Liverpool Lime Street stopped for three hours.
Two weeks ago, services on the West Coast main line in Hertfordshire were held up for two days when a farmer's muckspreader covered the track with five tons of manure. And last weekend a fire halted the Paddington- to-Swansea train near Maidenhead. It led to one death, when an escaping passenger jumped into the path of an InterCity train travelling in the opposite direction.
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