True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; No 69: so you want to go back the quick way?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
Tony Parr, who lives in London, has relatives in Preston and friends in Leeds, and he likes to visit both at weekends. Several times he has bought a saver return ticket from London to Preston on the West Coast main line, and then travelled to Leeds with another saver return. He then goes directly on the East Coast main line from Leeds to London, saving himself the dog-leg journey back via Preston.

However, Mr Parr tried to return this way a couple of weeks ago, just after the East Coast main line had been taken over by a private operator. When he presented his tickets, he was told that they were not valid because "that's a BR ticket, and we were privatised on Sunday".

Not only was Mr Parr made to pay pounds 37.10, with a receipt given on BR stationery, he was ordered to hand over the return sections of both his tickets, thereby denying the chance of a rebate. He was told they were the property of the privatised rail company.

Mr Parr was also denied the opportunity to pay merely the pounds 7 difference between the pounds 45 Leeds/London and the pounds 38 Preston/London fares.

Mr Parr was later told by a woman at the travel enquiry bureau at King's Cross that the saver tickets could have been used for the journey before privatisation but could no longer be used in this way. A BR spokesman, however, added to the confusion, saying Mr Parr had been lucky to get away with it in the past. "We withdrew the facility for these type of journeys six years ago," he said grumpily. "They were being undertaken by trainspotters and the like."

The Independent on Sunday's Great British Rail Disaster by Christian Wolmar, which includes 60 items from this column, is to be published in late May by Ian Allan at pounds 5 99. Independent on Sunday readers can obtain copies of the book for pounds 4 99 by sending 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. Cheques will not be cashed until the books are despatched just after publication.

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