Rail passes 'certain to die'

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RAIL passes which allow unlimited travel throughout Britain - used by thousands of holidaymakers and rail buffs - are almost certain to be axed in the run-up to privatisation.

More than 31,000 'Rover' tickets were sold in the past year. But most will be scrapped after the break-up of British Rail because competing rail companies will refuse to co-operate, according to a senior BR source. The tickets are expected to be phased out by the end of 1994, but could go as early as January next year.

BR sources also believe that the demise of the Rover will mean the end of the BritRail pass, a ticket sold outside the UK for use by foreigners.

Further evidence also emerged yesterday that fares will increase and services will be reduced after privatisation. A senior member of BR, who does not want to be named, has revealed that passengers in the future will probably have to pay for using the London Underground on BR journeys that involve crossing the capital. These fares are currently included in the ticket price. This is supported by a confidential discussion document between BR and Department of Transport officials.

Tourism chiefs believe the loss of the two country-wide passes will be a serious blow to the holiday industry. All-line Rail Rover tickets, allowing travel throughout Britain, cost pounds 215 for seven days, standard class. Fourteen days' standard class costs pounds 350. There are also regional Rover tickets.

About 100,000 BritRail passes worth pounds 30m are sold each year. About 60,000 of these are bought by Americans. A one-month standard ticket costs dollars 495 ( pounds 340).

Despite repeated requests from rail pressure groups and the tourist industry, the Government has refused to protect the tickets after privatisation. The Department of Transport argues that because the passes are successful at present, the new franchise companies will want to continue issuing them.

However, a senior BR source said the Rover is 'certain to die' because rival companies will be unable to agree how much to charge and some will not find the scheme profitable enough.

Isobel Coy, of the English Tourist Board, said: 'These passes help bring in big business for the tourist industry.'

Philip Wilks, of the Central Transport Consultative Committee, the industry's consumer watchdog, said: 'The BritRail ticket is sold at a considerable discount. It will almost certainly go.'

A document written in July, headed 'Ticket Retail Arrangements', reveals more evidence that services will suffer under privatisation. It says: 'Network (SouthEast) already have a well-advanced proposal to summation (an accumulation) of fares. For January 1994 it is proposed to introduce some summation of fares for the Network to Network journeys.' Through tickets within the south-east region - where passengers have to change trains - usually cost less than the sum total of the individual fares of the legs of the journey. Under the proposals this discount could be scrapped.

Brian Wilson, Labour's rail spokesman, said: 'An increase such as this, on top of planned fare rises and the cost of privatisation, will mean passengers in the South-east will face enormous increases in fares.'

Meanwhile, the mood among Tory MPs who want the Government to allow BR to be able to bid for the franchises is hardening. Sir Keith Speed, a former transport minister, has written to John MacGregor, the Transport Secretary, outlining his opposition. He reportedly has the backing of 16 Tory MPs. A further 38 are said to be undecided.