A "RING of steel" to prevent £1 million a year in fare dodging is to be created at the heart of Britain's second biggest city rail network, The Scotsman has learned.
• Picture: TSPL
Automatic ticket barriers are to be installed at Glasgow Central and three other city-centre stations next year as part of a new crackdown to increase ticket revenue.
Central Station alone is used by more than 27 million passengers a year, who often have their tickets checked by staff only at rush hours. Train operator ScotRail said fare dodgers had switched to off-peak trains to avoid detection.
The 5m scheme, to be funded by Network Rail, will also include the low-level (underground) platforms at Central, along with Charing Cross, Argyle Street and Anderston stations. It follows barriers being erected at Queen Street – Glasgow's other big city-centre station – six years ago.
Gates were installed at the same time at Edinburgh's two main stations, Waverley and Haymarket. They were followed by others at Aberdeen, Ayr, Dundee and Stirling in 2006-7. It is understood the new gates will save up to 1m a year in lost revenue.
ScotRail managing director Steve Montgomery said: "In 2011, ticket gates at Glasgow Central high and low level, and other stations, will form a 'ring of steel' around Glasgow.
"It's actually off-peak that most of the money is being lost, as people are getting very clever about how to avoid checks."
Mr Montgomery added: "Revenue protection and reducing ticketless travel have always been priorities for us, as it is honest, fare-paying passengers who bear the burden in lost investment in Scotland's railway.
"Ticket gates are also proven to discourage antisocial behaviour and improve station security."
Passenger Focus, the official watchdog, agreed the move would deter troublemakers.
Its Scotland board member James King said: "By and large, we are very much in favour of gates. They help to keep antisocial behaviour off the railway because those sort of people tend not to have tickets.
"However, there will have to be staff available to assist people who need help getting through the gates."
ScotRail said it was finalising negotiations with Network Rail over the project, which will cover stations with high passenger numbers.
A spokesman added: "Once agreed, contractors will be appointed and a programme of work agreed, with a view to completion in spring 2011."
Network Rail said the precise location of the gates at each station had yet to be decided. A spokesman added: "We'll be financing the installation of barriers and carrying out the work. We are examining options for ticket barriers at a number of stations in Glasgow.
"We are currently liaising with the train operators who use the stations involved and are also considering where within the individual stations the barriers would be installed."
The introduction of ticket barriers in 2004 ended ScotRail's pioneering "open stations" policy, in which staffed barriers were scrapped in the 1980s to encourage more passengers. Tickets were checked on trains instead.
However, the train operator subsequently saw fare dodging rise, with lawyers and surveyors among those caught.