Delay means huge rise in rail tickets
Timetable details provided too late
Delay means cheap rail deals unavailable
Effect ‘devastating’ for train companies
RAIL passengers face having to pay up to six times more for tickets over the festive season after network chiefs failed to provide timetable details on time.
With less than a month until Christmas, train reservations are only available until December 24 on many services run by Virgin Trains, whose routes include Edinburgh to London, Manchester, Bournemouth and Plymouth.
The lack of timetable means passengers are unable to access the cheapest tickets, which require advance booking on a particular train - meaning travellers face paying almost six times more for a ticket.
The cheapest return fare on Virgin trains from Edinburgh to London costs 32 if booked 14 days in advance compared to an open fare of 186.
Operators blamed Network Rail for not providing them with the information they require to run their booking service. A spokesman for Virgin Rail, said the problem was having a "devastating" effect on the train companies because the uncertainty was causing travellers to book journeys by air or coach instead.
He added that the cross-country operators in particular were reliant on Network Rail, which organises engineering works on rail lines, to provide them with enough advance notice to input latest timetables into their computer system - a process which can take up to ten days.
The problem means that anyone wishing to book a train journey beyond Christmas Eve must pay full price for an open return - a ticket which does not require travellers to specify on which train they will be travelling. A Virgin spokesman said: "When engineering work is taking place we are supposed to get that information 12 weeks in advance [from Network Rail] to allow us to open reservations by inputting data into the system.
"Without all that information available to us - and it has to come from all the different Network Rail zones - we can’t open our reservation service."
In September, the rail regulator temporarily permitted Network Rail to make a reduction in its notice period to four weeks.
A Network Rail spokesman blamed an increase in maintenance since the Hatfield crash four years ago: "It’s a product of the huge volume of work we’ve been doing on the network. We’re making progress on many things but we recognise that this is not particularly good."
Other rail operators said they were not so badly affected by the problems. GNER which runs the east coast route to London said it was taking bookings until January 7.
The company is understood to have avoided many of the problems faced by Virgin and other operators because Network Rail have been able to provide them with timetable details for the particular parts of the country which they run through.
A GNER spokesman said: "We are taking bookings up until January 7 and expect to be able to take bookings beyond that in the next couple of days. It is up to Network Rail to provide us with the information. We don’t seem to have been so badly affected as some other companies."
Anthony Smith, national director of the Rail Passengers’ Council, said: "It’s very, very disappointing. When you’ve got a rail industry which is based on airline-style advance purchases for long-distance travel, this kind of delay undermines the whole system."
A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said delays were generally out of operators’ control: "Train operators will not hold back tickets voluntarily. Frankly, the long-term disbenefit far outweighs any short-term gain there may be perceived to be."
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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