At present only French or Spanish train ticket retailers are permitted to sell the complete fare range / AFP/Getty Images

Britons pay 70% more than French and Spanish passengers on the same train

British travellers are paying 70 per cent more than French and Spanish passengers sitting on the same train, one of the rail industry’s leading figures has revealed.

Mark Smith, who founded the Seat Sixty-One website devoted to international rail travel, has accused the operators of the high-speed link between Paris and Barcelona of “discriminatory pricing”.

One-way fares for the five-hour journey start at €59. As with budget airlines, they increase in line with demand. But at present only French or Spanish train ticket retailers are permitted to sell the complete fare range. Agents based anywhere else must charge a minimum of €100.

Mr Smith said: “Many consumers will be overcharged by up to €41, or will simply be simply dissuaded from using these trains by the unnecessarily high prices.”

The move seems especially bizarre given the intense competition from budget airlines. Booking a few weeks ahead it is easy to find air fares for £40 for the 90-minute hop between the French and Catalan capitals - about the same as the lowest train fare for French and Spanish passengers.

Anyone seeking to travel by train from London to Barcelona on a through ticket will pay a minimum of £100 each way, compared with as little as £30 by air.

With the UK rail community divided over whether profiteering or incompetence was to blame, the operator, Renfe-SNCF. blamed a "technical problem". It issued a statement saying “Incorrect tariffs have been offered for journeys between France and Spain,” and said  it hopes to remedy the problem by 29 September. Meanwhile, British travellers can avoid the punitive prices by using a French website,”

"The Paris-Barcelona TGVs need fresh eyes and competitive, dynamic pricing worthy of the 21st century - not desperate Machiavellian tactics worthy of the 16th,” said Mr Smith.