Rail fares 'to rise by 10 per cent': BR warns Government about cost of preparing network for privatisation

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RAIL TRAVELLERS face fare increases of up to 10 per cent next year to meet the costs of preparing British Rail for privatisation.

Limited availability of through- tickets and curbs on switching tickets between competing operators are also threatened.

British Rail confirmed yesterday that it has warned the Government that splitting the network into 25 'shadow' franchises prior to bids from the private sector would cost the equivalent of a 5 to 10 per cent fare increase.

Working papers drawn up by BR for the Department of Transport and leaked to the Observer also paint a grim picture of ticketing services once BR's monopoly is ended. The sale of through-tickets covering different regions could be restricted to as few as 400 of Britain's 2,400 stations.

With the object of inducing two or more operators to compete on popular routes, the documents suggest passengers should face restrictions on transferring tickets between firms. That would limit their freedom to, for example, begin a return trip with one firm but switch to another for the homeward journey.

Brian Wilson, a Labour transport spokesman, said: 'These documents begin to spell out the ghastly detail of rail privatisation. It is a monstrous scheme, which offers nothing to the travelling public except high fares and inconvenience which would drive people away from the railways in droves.' The plan to limit sales of through-tickets was in direct contradiction of ministerial assurances to Parliament, he said.

A BR spokesman said yesterday: 'These are discussion documents between ourselves and the department. But there are additional costs and these have to be met, obviously, from some source.' He said the discussions could result in a larger than normal increase in January, when fares normally rise, or increases in both January and May, when the 'shadow' franchises begin operation.

In spite of BR admitting that the increases might not make commercial sense, intense pressure to curb public spending dictates that travellers are likely to bear the costs. If private sector operators show little interest in running services - few have so far - much of the money would be wasted.

In a letter to John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, yesterday, Mr Wilson said work on the shadow franchises should be suspended until the Railways Bill had completed its parliamentary stages.

Mr MacGregor is already under severe pressure to drop a central plank of his programme. Sixteen Tory backbenchers have already warned the whips that they would vote against the Government if it tried to reverse a Lords amendment and bar BR from bidding to offer services.

The Central Transport Consultative Committee, a passenger watchdog, will meanwhile report soaring complaints about BR in its 1992-93 annual report tomorrow. It is expected to blame inadequate investment in the network, while warning that privatisation is unlikely to produce a cheaper service.