About time too! Train fare system to be simplified

Ruth Doherty

Completely frustrated and befuddled by the complicated train fare system in this country? Well, there may be some good news on the way.

A bid to simplify the confusing array of fares offered to rail travellers is due to be announced by the government tomorrow.

It's all part of an attempt to save £1 billion year and simplify the system for passengers - in the biggest revolution of the rail network since nationalisation.

There will be a greater emphasis on simple, flexible 'airline-style' ticketing, where passengers pay more when a train is full and less when it is empty.

Currently, radically different fares are often charged for trains only a few minutes apart.

Ticketing rules date back to the 1970s. These in effect allow peak hour travel to be up to two and a half times more expensive than those just outside the rush hour.

As a result, there are some trains which are bursting at the seams while others have empty seats - often within minutes of each other.

Critics argue that thee reality of the move means there could be many more years of high-cost rail tickets, but ministers say that without the changes passengers would face both worsening services and higher fares.

Network Rail is set to oversee the project, but it will be split into 10 regions with autonomy of their day-today running, with Anglia, Wessex, Wales and Scotland up for trials.

The changes will follow the 'value for money' report of Sir Roy McNulty, former head of the Civil Aviation Authority, who presents his verdict tomorrow.

Sir Roy is expected to be fiercely critical of the current complex ticketing arrangements, which he says fails to manage demand properly.

He is expected to point out it costs 40 per cent more to operate the UK rail network than systems in place in Germany, Holland and France.

He is also likely to criticise travel perks enjoyed by up to 500,000 former BR staff and their families.

The government is already committed to annual fare rises of RPI inflation plus three per cent for the next three years.

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