Rail chief defuses routes row

CHRISTIAN WOLMAR

Rail passengers will keep the right to travel by any reasonable route between two stations after privatisation, the franchising director, Roger Salmon, said last night.

Mr Salmon intervened when it was revealed that a manual being prepared for private train operators would specify that only one route between any two stations could be used. The routeing guide has been made necessary because 25 private train operators are taking over from British Rail and they will need it to help to apportion revenue between them.

However, in a statement last night, Mr Salmon accepted that the draft contained many gaps which would be filled during the consultation period. He said: "Where a route is currently accepted by local ticket inspectors, that will either be in the draft routeing guide or will be added to it before it is published."

Mr Salmon's statement is an attempt to nip the row in the bud before it becomes a controversy like the plan suggested earlier this year to limit sales of non-local rail tickets to only 400 stations which was dropped amid fierce opposition.

There are seven ways in which a passenger between Bournemouth and Crewe could travel but under the scheme they would have to take the direct train which only operates three times a day, or pay much higher fares.

Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, who raised the issue, said Mr Salmon's apparent climbdown was "a victory for rail passengers".

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