True stories from the Great Railway Disaster: No 31: So you want the cheapest ticket to Birmingham?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme;
WERNER ULLAH needed to travel to Birmingham for a morning meeting and rang British Rail enquiries to be told that the fare would be pounds 54 for a return, as no cheap tickets were available for arrivals before 11am. However, he remembered that he had once travelled to Birmingham using the Chiltern Line from Marylebone, rather than InterCity services from Euston.

He rang British Rail again but it said it could only issue tickets for InterCity services and eventually he had to go to Marylebone to find out the full details. There he discovered that Chiltern was doing a special pounds 19 return deal, any time, any day, and was told that there was a train which would get him there in time for his meeting, even though the journey takes a bit longer since it has more stops than InterCity.

Mr Ullah duly saved himself pounds 35 by travelling via Marylebone, but asks: "What can be the justification for such a price differential, even taking into account the speed of either service? The Tories seem keen to turn us all into a nation of train fare spotters."

He says that it was only because he had previously travelled on Chiltern that he knew about the service to Birmingham: "British Rail neither tells people about it or allows you to book through them."

Meanwhile, another reader, an ex-railwayman, says that the same Chiltern Line has recently rented offices in Aylesbury. Of course, BR used to operate just from its own premises in stations ; but now that stations are owned by Railtrack, which is due to be privatised soon and which charges rent, some train operators will inevitably find it is cheaper to take on other office accommodation.