Thousands of rail passengers overcharged for not having a valid ticket

Thousands of passengers caught fare dodging have been overcharged (Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

Rail passenger organisations have hit out at a mistake to rule changes that saw thousands of fare dodgers overcharged.

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said eight train companies had punished ticketless travellers too harshly by not implementing a rule change made in April last year.

New rules reduced the correct punishment for some fare dodgers, but they were ignored after guidance issued by the RDG didn’t correctly set out the changes.

The error, which may have affected up to 10,000 passengers and led to tens of thousands of pounds being demanded unfairly, was only discovered last month.

Passenger organisations have questioned how rail travellers can trust the bodies that run the railways when such mistakes are made.

The Association of British Commuters branded it a “major error”, asking: “Can we really trust the 'Association of Train Operating Companies Ltd' to oversee a UK-wide fares and ticketing restructure?”

David Sidebottom, director of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers will want urgent answers as to why this error occurred and assurances from the rail industry that it is being investigated and fixed immediately.

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“Train companies need to do everything possible to demonstrate that they have a clear plan to get things back on track, provide train staff with the correct advice to avoid this happening again and make sure passengers aren’t out of pocket.

“Only then will people feel confident that they are being treated fairly.”

The RDG said it has conducted an investigation and will ensure train staff are properly trained.

Around half of people affected will be issued refunds for the amount they were overcharged but for many, train companies don’t have their full contact details.

On routes where penalty fares apply, if passengers board a train at a station where there is an open ticket office or a working ticket machine they must buy a ticket.

If they avoid buying a ticket, they can be issued with a penalty fare notice.

Penalty fares are £20 or twice the appropriate single fare, whichever is higher.

The single fare was previously based on the price of a ticket valid at any time of day but the rules changed in April last year to allow the price of off-peak fares to be applied if the tickets were available for the journey taken.

The train companies which overcharged passengers are Chiltern Railways, Govia Thameslink Railway, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Northern, Southeastern, South Western Railway and London Northwestern.

Around 1,500 Southeastern passengers were affected by an average of £8.

London Northwestern Railway estimates it overcharged 2,700 people by a total of £12,000 – which works out at £4.44 per person.

Great Western Railway said it has posted cheques to those passengers it has details for, with an average refund of £6.

An RDG spokesman said: “When people haven’t paid to travel, it’s important for train companies to take a firm but fair approach because fare dodging denies the railway around £200 million a year which could otherwise be invested to improve services for all passengers.

“People who have been charged a penalty fare shouldn’t be overcharged, though.

“We have investigated this issue and will ensure that staff have the right advice and people affected are reimbursed quickly and easily.”

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