Rail travellers are victims of fare 'lottery'

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The Independent Online

Passengers are forced to pay huge variations in rail fares per mile depending on where they live, and much more than travellers in comparable continental countries, according to research to be published today.

Passengers are forced to pay huge variations in rail fares per mile depending on where they live, and much more than travellers in comparable continental countries, according to research to be published today.

The rail-fare lottery means that some standard fares on long-distance routes can be up to three times higher than others for similar distances.

Those using Virgin services on the west coast main line invariably pay considerably more than passengers on the east coast route run by Great North Eastern Railways (GNER).

And despite their relative cheapness, GNER fares are up to three times higher than they could be if the French and Belgian fare structures were adopted, the study for the RMT rail union finds.

The standard fare per mile between London and Peterborough on GNER, a distance of 77 miles, is 35p; passengers on the 82-mile trip between the capital and Rugby on Virgin Trains will pay 96p a mile.

The standard fare per mile on GNER's services between London and York - a distance of 188 miles - is 38p, but on Virgin's west coast service between London and Manchester, the same distance, passengers will pay 99p a mile.

The researchers calculate that while a standard single between London and Edinburgh would cost £97, on equivalent routes in Belgium it would be £47 and in France £36. The comparative fares from the capital to York are £70 on GNER, £22.68 if the Belgians were in charge and £22.25 in France.

East coast fares, however, are about to increase substantially. GNER agreed to pay the Government £1.3bn over the next 10 years as part of its successful battle to retain the company's franchise. It also promised more than £100m in new investment on trains and stations.

It is generally accepted that the increased payments to the Exchequer are bound to mean increased fares.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union, argued that a move to renationalise the railways would iron out the disparities and cost taxpayers' less.

"The only sane policy for the railways is that they should be brought back into public ownership to stop the incredible waste of money that the privately run services entail," he said.

He pointed out that the Labour pressure group Catalyst had estimated that the Government could save £4.5bn over the next parliament by renationalising the railways.

"Failure to do this will result in even higher fares and cuts in services," Mr Crow said. "A publicly owned railway would have a national fare structure like in France and Belgium. That would be much fairer to the travelling public."

A spokesman for Virgin said there had been a 30 per cent increase in the number of passengers using west coast services between London and Manchester since more frequent services using the new Pendolino trains were introduced last September. "Passengers have obviously made their own judgement about the service and compared fares with those available on airlines and the cost and inconvenience of using their cars," the spokesman said.

He said that only a minority of passengers paid the full standard fares on the routes. Most booked ahead and paid considerably less.

Industry sources said that while the RMT was focusing on the comparison with fares in France and Belgium, they had neglected to take into account the relatively low wage increases paid to railway workers in those countries. Higher wages in this country meant higher fares, the sources said.

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