True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme; No 72: so you want to travel as a group?
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Rail privatisation was supposed to open new vistas for passengers, making the whole experience of rail travel easier and simpler. But it seems that some of the bureaucracy which British Rail dispensed with over the years is returning.

Some years ago, BR shut its group travel unit and allowed local ticket offices to offer discounts to groups turning up without notice. Now, however, South West Trains, the first company to be privatised, has reverted to the policy of not allowing group discounts unless given prior notice.

An internal memo leaked to this column reveals that from 26 May "no group tickets are to be sold without authorisation from the group office" HQ at Southampton. Tickets must be booked a week in advance for groups of 10 to 50 people and four weeks in advance for bookings of more than 50 people. The new owner, Stagecoach, says the changes are "necessary in order to manage more efficiently South West Trains' capacity and maximise the revenue potential from group travel". "Ah, and what about the benefits for the passenger promised by privatisation?" asked the disgruntled SWT employee who sent in this information.

The Transport Secretary replies, page 18

"The Independent on Sunday's Great British Rail Disaster" by Christian Wolmar, which includes 60 items from this column, is published this week by Ian Allan at pounds 5.99. If you have difficulty obtaining a copy, send a cheque or postal order, or a Visa/Access authorisation, to: The Great British Railway Disaster, Ian Allan Ltd, Coombelands House, Coombelands Lane, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 1HY.