True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; No 56: so you need to know who the guard works for?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
ANDREW Bennett frequently travels from Darlington to Exeter on InterCity Cross Country trains and likes to treat himself to a bit of luxury by paying the pounds 5 supplement to travel first class.

But a couple of weeks ago the "senior conductor" asked him to pay a pounds 6 supplement for first class. Asked why the price had gone up from pounds 5, the guard said that this was the amount charged on Inter City East Coast and that he was an East Coast employee, rather than a Cross Country one.

Mr Bennett challenged this, pointing out that he was on a Cross Country route, in a Cross Country train, on Railtrack lines and that the journey therefore had nothing to do with East Coast. Mr Bennett, pounds 1 richer as a result of his understandable obstinacy, was later told by a Cross Country "senior conductor" that he had "done well to get away with pounds 5 from an East Coast man". In recent weeks, the Cross Country man explained, he had encountered stroppiness from neighbouring passengers when he had charged the usual pounds 5 supplement as others nearby had been charged pounds 6.

This seemed to happen to all passengers who boarded the train between Newcastle and Doncaster, which is East Coast country and the train is under the charge of an East Coast conductor.

Mr Bennett comments: "pounds 1 is a small and probably insignificant difference but my experience does raise the issue of which parts of the new service "belong" to whom, and who takes precedence in levying charges.

A spokesman for InterCity East Coast said: "This is an error. Our conductors should charge the Cross Country fare on their trains. We will instruct our staff accordingly."