A rail workers’ union has called on the government to stop train operators ‘restricting’ cheap tickets over Christmas to boost revenue.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), which represents 31,000 workers, urged Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly to intervene after claiming that travellers were facing more expensive fares over the festive season because cheaper seats were snapped up weeks ago.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said rail firms were not restricting cheap tickets, insisting more were available this year.
The organisation accused the union of ‘talking through its hat’.
But the TSSA called on rail firms to publish how many cheaper seats were available.
General secretary Gerry Doherty said: ‘The rail companies are always claiming that cheaper tickets are available if only you book ahead. But many people trying to book online are finding these so called deals are a mirage.
‘The truth is no one knows how many cheaper seats are being sold because the rail companies will not tell us. They say it is confidential information. But all our information is that they amount to less than 10% of sales on the busiest routes.If that is indeed the case, passengers should be told.
No-one knows how many cheaper seats are being sold
Gerry DohertyTSSA General Secretary
‘With the latest round of increases, same day rail travel is now the preserve of the middle classes. A walk-on return fare between London and Manchester will be £230 in the New Year. Ordinary people simply cannot afford these sort of prices. Equally, they should not be misled into paying them by overblown claims about discounted fares.’
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) later accused the union of ‘chasing headlines’ and of potentially ‘misleading’ passengers.
A spokesman said: ‘The railways are busy during the Christmas getaway and people do book ahead to buy the very cheapest priced seats, but there are still plenty of cheaper priced tickets available for Christmas travel.
‘We completely refute the TSSA’s suggestion that train operators are restricting the sale of cheaper tickets. Indeed, the opposite is true. To make travel easier for passengers, and to ensure value, walk-on train tickets are available throughout the holiday period.’
The Atoc spokesman added: ‘Long-distance train operators (CrossCountry, East Midlands Trains, First Great Western, National Express East Coast, One and Virgin Trains) have all lifted peak-time restrictions on the use of saver tickets from the evening of 21st December and all day until 31st December inclusive.
‘This effectively means that the highest standard-class rail fare throughout this period will cost no more than about one third of a full open return fare. A number of operators are also lifting restrictions on cheap day tickets and the network awaybreak will be valid for seven days instead of five.
‘Around 85% of journeys on the network are made on discounted tickets which cost a lot less than the full open fare.
‘We have regularly promoted the fact that more than one million cheap advance purchase seats are available per week on long distance operators alone. On top of that, there are limitless amounts of cheaper walk-on fares such as the saver and cheap day returns.’
Atoc said a return saver fare from London to Manchester of £59.50 was widely available over the Christmas break.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘We limit price increases for saver fares. These are “walk up and go” tickets and they do not have to be booked in advance. The London to Manchester saver return currently costs £59.50.
‘Eighty percent of rail passengers travel using tickets that are regulated by us or discounted by train operators.’
Network Rail (NR) announced that the planned closure of the West Coast Main Line around Rugby station in West Midlands would be extended an extra day.
It means that this section of the line will be closed on December 31 as well as from December 27-30, with normal services being restored for the morning of January 1.
NR said it was ‘extremely sorry’ for the short notice of this extra day’s work but believed it was necessary to deliver ‘the longer-term benefits that the Rugby scheme, and other projects on the route, will bring – faster and more frequent services’.
Customer watchdog body Passenger Focus said it was ‘bitterly disappointed’ with the news about the West Coast extra day of closure, particularly as more than 6,000 tickets had already been sold for New Year’s Eve.
Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘This is unbelievable. Thousands of passengers have booked or planned New Year travel in good faith. We feel very let down and want reassurances that the huge amount of engineering work planned for next year will not run into similar problems.
‘Any passenger with a booked seat travelling through Rugby on New Year’s Eve should be offered their money back and a goodwill gesture, a price reduction to reflect the fact they are going on a bus trip or the offer of a first class ticket on an alternative train company.’
He went on: ‘We are encouraging Virgin (Trains) to make every effort to contact those who have booked a ticket and try to make people aware via posters, internet and stations that this is going to happen.
‘In reality there will still be people that turn up on the day expecting to travel without delay.’
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