MP accuses rail company of ripping off Preston passengers

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AN MP has accused Virgin Trains of “ripping off” rail users in Lancashire.

Mark Menzies claims the company is “milking” passengers between Preston and London by charging more than three times as much as those from Lancaster travelling on the same trains. “I find it abhorrent,” said the Fylde MP who has pledged to raise the matter in Parliament. “It is a very poorly thought-out pricing policy and it must stop now.”

A ticket on the 7.58am Euston service from Preston last Thursday cost £145, while travellers from Lancaster – 20 miles further north – were charged only £46.60.

Virgin said peak time prices reflected the high number of business travellers catching trains at Preston, adding that lower fares were available outside peak times.

Mr Menzies’ protest follows the case of a passenger from his constituency who was threatened with arrest after buying a cheaper ticket from Lancaster and boarding the train at Preston.

The businessman, a regular rail traveller to the capital, was ordered by the conductor to pay the full fare on the spot or risk prosecution.

It has now emerged that some rail users have been getting on at Preston, travelling north to Lancaster and then boarding trains to London at the cheaper fares.

Another passenger claimed he bought a ticket from London to Lancaster and, when he tried to get off early at Preston, he was told he must continue his journey through to Lancaster and then get a train back to Preston. Otherwise he would be committing fraud.

Single fares to London on Thursday last week cost £46.60 from Lancaster on the 7.38am service, but £145 from Preston on the same train departing at 7.58am. Returning on the 4.30pm service from Euston, the cheapest ticket to Preston cost £82, but only £42.50 for passengers continuing on to Lancaster.

For a journey next Monday, the return journey costs £227 from Preston to London Euston. The return journey to Lancaster – one stop further away from the capital – on the same train, costs £89.10, a difference of £137.90.

Tickets from Lancaster can be bought off-peak, whereas the same train is classified as peak when it arrives at Preston and continues to London.

“As a member of the Transport Select Committee, I’m not standing to the side and watching something that is continually hurting my hard-working constituents who need to travel to London,” said Mark Menzies. “It is a very poorly-thought out pricing policy and it must stop now.

“Passengers are being charged a premium to travel some 40 fewer miles on the railway, and prevented from travelling at peak times.”

The row comes less than six months after it was revealed rail travellers could pay more for a standard anytime return ticket between Preston and Euston than people booking a five-night holiday in New York.

The fare, booked at Preston railway station on the day, cost an eye-watering £344 - rising to £362.70 with a tube ticket into the city centre. At the same time a holiday firm came up with a five-night break in Manhattan, including flights and a three-star hotel, for just £360.

A return ticket as a Virgin Business customer between Preston and London can cost just over £500. So it can be cheaper to travel abroad - and spend two weeks in a hotel.

For £351 you can book a return flight from Manchester to Moscow. Travellers to Madrid can pay £277 for a return flight, rising to £452 with a two-week stay in the hotel.

A spokesman for Virgin Trains on the west coast route said: “Virgin Trains has for many years relaxed peak restrictions on some of its longer distance routes where we have more leisure travellers who are less likely to be commuting into London in the busy peak period. That’s not the case at Preston where there are a lot of business travellers who need to travel to and from London at peak times. Of course, if passengers are able to be flexible and travel outside peak times from Preston they can get lower fares.”