Penalty fares provide a substantial source of additional revenue for the train companies which operate them. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the companies franchised to Stagecoach, whose founder Brian Souter believes “ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed”, should try to wrong-foot passengers at every step. After Stagecoach bid more than half a billion pounds more than their closest rival for the latest SWT franchise term, passengers were to pay a heavy price. The penalty fares scheme was quickly made more stringent, with the arrogant proclamation that genuine error would be punished.

There now seems to be no limit to Stagecoach’s aggression in the pursuance of greed. The answer to Question 131 in SWT’s latest Webchat event proclaims that passengers who have no means of obtaining a ticket at a station will risk a penalty fare if they do not ask the guard’s permission to board a train:

“Q: When ticket offices are closed, what are passengers supposed to do when the ticket vending machine does not sell the ticket they need (e.g. Priv tickets, rovers, season ticket extensions) or will not accept their payment (rail vouchers, damaged notes)? Are they allowed to get on the train without buying a ticket and purchase it from the guard or at their destination?

“A: As a rule, no passenger must board a train without a valid ticket.

We would also encourage passengers to book in advance through the internet or our telephone service at the Customer Service Centre, Southampton.

If a passenger is unable to purchase a ticket due to a failure of a ticket vending machine or the ticket is not available, the passenger must make themselves known to the guard before boarding the train. If a passenger boards a train without a ticket and is approached by the guard or revenue protection personnel, a penalty fare maybe [sic] issued.”

There is an often-voiced perception that fare evasion is one of the things which concerns passengers most. With some of the highest fares in Europe and the infamous 20% SWT greed tax on off-peak morning returns to London, it is not difficult to see why passengers with tickets would be concerned about others cheating the system. New eye-catching sets of posters about penalties for fare-dodging appear at SWT stations with seemingly increasing frequency. These reinforce the perception that there are hordes of people deliberately trying to evade payment.

Here’s a surprise, therefore. The Webchat event covered 151 questions, yet concerns about revenue protection were virtually non-existent. One questioner actually thought that penalty fares could reasonably be scrapped now that many major stations are gated. Another was concerned about SWT’s Rail Community Officers being employed on revenue protection duties.

Conversely, many questioners raised problems about ticketing, and it is clear that there is considerable dissatisfaction and misunderstanding about the Oyster card scheme as it operates on SWT.


“The great Oyster Extension Permit fiasco

I’m sure you’ve all heard that Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) is now available throughout the London Zones on National Rail. But did you know that someone holding a Travelcard on Oyster who wishes to use PAYG to extend their journey beyond their Travelcard zones (on National Rail) cannot use this PAYG facility in the way that PAYG works on the Tube (or, for that matter, in any other industry...)

No, the railways have to be complicated, as usual. In fact, this issue is so complicated that the people who invented it don’t appear to fully understand the implications. Any holder of a Travelcard season on Oyster who wishes to travel beyond their Travelcard Zones but still within the London Zonal area is supposed to load an Oyster Extension Permit (OEP) onto their Oyster card before travel. They then touch in, as normal, within their valid Zones, and then when they touch out the OEP expires, and they are charged the PAYG price from the boundary of their valid Travelcard Zones to their destination.

Why the need for an OEP? Well, if you do not load one, you’ll still be charged the correct amount, just as if you were extending your journey on the Tube - but the reason for loading an OEP is simply in case your Oyster card is inspected when you are out of your Travelcard’s valid zones. The OEP signals your intention to leave your valid Zones. In order to achieve this, it deducts the maximum cash fare next time you touch in within your valid zones, in other words it activates PAYG even though you are within your Travelcard area, but you are refunded for the zones your travelcard is valid for when you touch out at the other end. An OEP is not needed on your return journey when you start outside your valid Travelcard Zones and finish inside. Failure to load an OEP can result in a Penalty Fare being issued.

At a recent London Travelwach meeting, Transport for London (TfL) reported that only 3% of people who should be loading OEPs onto their Oyster cards are actually doing so. TfL also claim that Penalty Fares (PFs) are not being issued, in order to give people time to adjust. However a member of South West Trains (SWT) staff on Railforums.co.uk reported that SWT are openly flouting this instruction, and are charging PFs. Given that 97% of people are not bothering with this incredibly complex OEP system - indeed, it is likely they do not know about it, or do not understand it as they do not possess a master’s degree in Fares and Ticketing - it is quite sickening that SWT are acting in this way. But then it is only to be expected by a company owned ultimately by Brian Souter, who is infamous in the transport industry for controversial practices.

A member of the public found a major flaw with OEPs that goes against the PAYG model of not having to plan in advance. If I wish to make a London journey out of my valid Travelcard Zones tomorrow, then I can load an OEP today. But what if I then decide, at the last minute, to make a journey to a destination outside the London zones this evening? I purchase a ticket from the Boundary, and touch in using my Travelcard. Normally this would be fine, however I am charged the maximum cash fare when I touch in, and I then cannot touch out at my destination as they are outside the London zones. The solution would be for me to get a slow train that calls at the boundary and touch out and back in (probably having to then wait for the next one). Not ideal, and will a regular passenger really be expected to know that?

Surely all of this is totally against the PAYG ethos, overly complicated, and totally against the rights and interests of passengers? The people who thought of the idea must be trying to put people off rail travel by making it overly complicated and threatening honest passengers with Penalty Fares. These people are an enemy of rail travel. Sadly there are many such people in a position of power, and while they continue to make such ridiculous rules, the general public will continue to be confused, overcharged and put off rail travel.

Ticket advice for all

Advice on rail ticketing is available on railforums.co.uk in the ‘Fares, Tickets & Routeing’ section. We believe this to be the best source of UK rail fares advice available anywhere, as we have a team of people who are familiar with the complex rail fares system who can help you. Never pay over the odds again, and ask us if you need help!”


A friend from Stornoway reports a heart-warming incident on the First Scotrail 12.47 Inverness-Edinburgh train on 8 March. The conductor, called Rikki, carried out a ticket check soon after departure and found a young woman and small child without a ticket. She said she was travelling to Wrexham and her mother had agreed to pay over the phone with her credit card.

Rikki was totally unfazed and pleasant. He rang the ticket centre in Edinburgh, who in turn rang the mother in Wrexham. Meanwhile he looked up all the places the woman would need to change en route. When the ticket centre rang back to say the ticket had been paid for, he arranged for someone to meet the woman at the barriers at Edinburgh to ensure she didn’t miss her connection. He even ensured the member of staff and woman knew each other’s first names.

First Group can be proud of people like Rikki. The incident recalls the one last July when the young guard of a mid-evening First TransPennine service from Liverpool dressed a badly bleeding slit on a woman passenger’s arm, talking her through the process with a reassuring bedside manner.

(Just a thought, but has the customer service desert known as SWT been allowed to develop because DfT has seen a succession of Scottish ministers who assume that we enjoy the high standards of service which apply in Scotland?)


[Letter to Passenger Focus] “At Haslemere on Saturday afternoon (23rd January) the first/main screen on all four machines was only offering Cheap Day returns to Guildford, despite the fact that Super Off-Peak tickets are valid all day at weekends. The difference in fares is 60 pence (£5.70/£5.10). To get the correct fare, you have to search through 'any destination' and select the correct fare through a multitude of other more expensive fares. As I'd imagine this is one of the most popular destinations after London, SWT have potentially overcharged a lot of people (another of those accidental software glitches I'm sure).  Perhaps you would be able to find out how many of these tickets have been issued during Super Off-Peak times?

Apologies for the poor quality photo, the reflection on the screen and light made a good picture impossible using my camera phone. In the short time I was at the station I potentially stopped at least two people being overcharged in this way.”

UPDATE 30/01/2010

“The ticket office at Guildford was overwhelmed at 12:10. This is quite usual at other times in the morning; I frequently travel on a Saturday and there is never any chance of being served within 3 minutes. Today, at the above time I counted how long it took the last passenger in the queue to be served. It was 17 minutes.

I spoke to the guard on the next departing train to Waterloo (12:34). They had not been made aware of the excessive queuing at Guildford (I refer you to article 4.12 Penalty Fares Policy). More worrying perhaps, they denied that the queuing standards even existed. On referring them to the National Conditions of Carriage, and the Penalty Fares Policy that is referred to within this document, they suggested that average waiting times had previously been mentioned, but that this had now been removed from the Penalty Fares rule. They implied that there was no limit to how long a passenger can be expected to wait. A passenger could wrongly be charged a punitive fare because of the guard's wrongful interpretation of the so called rules, or worse still, they could be referred to a revenue inspector to pay a penalty fare.

Please note, during my time of observation at Guildford no additional windows were open (three remained closed of a total of five). No revenue staff were helping out with portable vending machines.

At Woking, the ticket hall situation was even worse (I wrote to the DfT in the autumn regarding excessive queues of over 20 minutes at this station). The entrance that leads to bus connections and the town centre was, as ever, closed. The 'main' ticket hall had two positions open and no additional provision was made despite the long queue. I asked the revenue collector standing at the gates if they could help those in the queue and they said it wasn't their job (they were standing chatting to a colleague who was also at the ticket barriers). I refer you to article 4.13 of the Penalty Fares Policy.

Day in, day out SWT are failing to meet their obligations regarding the Penalty Fares Policy. In addition to the above breaches, I do not believe that articles 4.29 and 4.30 are being properly interpreted by SWT revenue staff. I strongly suggest that the DfT 'spot check' SWT's Penalty Fares Policy to put an end to this constant abuse of passengers. I know your department would almost certainly not do such a thing, as I am confident that it would highlight regulatory inadequacies of the current system. The truth of the matter is, SWT can do whatever they want.

LETTER OF 23/02/2010 TO DFT

“Re: SWT Penalty Fares Policy / ticketing provisions.

Regrettably I am forced to write to your department again due to SWT's inability to meet their obligations regarding the queuing standards and their aggressive interpretation of the penalty fares policy.

Today, I arrived at the station in good time. Only one ticket window was open (from a total of 5 in the main ticket hall – the Guildford Park entrance was closed). The ticket I required was not available from the ticket machine. I queued for longer than the queuing standard, but in this time no additional provisions were made to reduce the wait for passengers (other than the one example below).

I saw a member of staff directing one elderly customer (from the back of the queue) to a ticket machine. He explained to her that the machine was not offering her a Senior railcard discount (she had a valid card – I witnessed this) but he nevertheless continued to assist her in buying the full priced ticket. This is quite outrageous. Why was the machine not offering a Senior railcard discount for an off-peak Travelcard? Why was the woman not advised to rejoin the queue? Is this member of staff trained in advising customers the correct ticket to buy, or simply there just to reduce the queue and increase revenue for SWT?

I purchased an alternative ticket from the machine, with a view to request an excess for the additional part of the journey (something SWT refuses to do, despite the National Conditions of Carriage stating this is permissible). I passed through an open gate and explained to the member of staff (I believe to be the Duty/Station Manager) that I would buy my required ticket on the train as the machine would not sell me the appropriate ticket for my journey. Without asking to look at what ticket I may already have I was told I would have to pay a penalty fare.

I made them aware that I had witnessed an elderly passenger having been overcharged and then proceeded to the platform. The member of staff and a revenue inspector followed me to the platform, and the revenue inspector boarded the train and said I would have to pay a penalty fare. At this stage (having still not been asked for my ticket; it was simply assumed that I did not have one), I showed the inspector my ticket. Strangely, I was told that 'the police will be called in future' even though I had not been asked to show my ticket at any time. I have an independent witness to the above incident; they were quite appalled at what was going on and got involved. I also wish to add that I do not believe the platforms at Guildford station to be deemed a compulsory ticket area.

When will your department start enforcing the regulations that form the 'approved' Penalty Fares Policy? Day in, day out SWT do not meet their obligations. Their machines overcharge and their staff do not act when lengthy queues build up. Of course, they don't need to worry though, do they? In the absence of competition and enforcement of regulation, they can do exactly what they want. I will not be intimidated by these bullies and I will not have my liberties restricted in this way. Please could your department ensure that SWT staff do not wrongfully stop a person's lawful right of way when they have not been able to buy a ticket prior to boarding.

If your department are satisfied that SWT are complying with the Penalty Fares Policy, why do you not test their processes as I have previously suggested? It is totally unacceptable that the persistent failures of the company are allowed to continue. Meanwhile, in the past 25 months I have been recording such related matters and I have not once seen a revenue inspector working after 10pm (either on a train or at Guildford or Woking station). I wonder why this might be the case, especially on a busy weekend evening?

UPDATE 24/03/2010

Guildford Park ticket office closed during the advertised evening opening hours (17:00). I have not seen this window open once in the past 14 months, why is it wrongly advertised as being open?

Woking station – again the ticket office leading to the town (and buses) was closed both in the morning and late afternoon. On average, I only see this part of the station open for selling tickets once a week. In the 'main' ticket hall there was one window open and there was a queue of 11 people at 16:50. How can SWT possibly meet their obligations to serve people in a timely manner with such poor provision? Why were none of the four revenue/gate-line staff assisting waiting customers as has supposedly been agreed? SWT refuse to answer my correspondence, so I am hoping your department might finally show an interest and enforce the existing rules.”


“Consultation on the 2002 Penalty Fares Rules and Policy Review

Response on behalf of the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group


1. The importance of revenue protection is recognised. However, experience suggests it is unlikely that the penalty fares system could be made to operate fairly across the train operating companies which operate it, without strict monitoring by an independent body with public access.

2. The Government has long claimed that the national rail network is a public service, publicly specified and privately delivered. In reality, the culture of bullying passengers and penalising those who appear the most vulnerable and unable to defend themselves is deeply rooted in some franchises, and bears more affinity to private greed than to public service. The penalty fares system is probably not in itself responsible for this situation, but plays a significant role in underpinning it.

3. The system attempts to mirror other ‘fixed penalty’ operations such as those which apply to parking permits and the London Underground. However, the national rail network is essentially different from these operations in two important respects. First, ticket issuing arrangements vary considerably at individual locations. Secondly, the fares structure is hugely complex, so people can have serious concerns about what they should pay, particularly if they are not affluent.

4. The underlying policy appears to assume safeguards for passengers that in many cases have been removed or diluted, such as the availability of permits to travel and the exercise of discretion.

5. By way of example, Stagecoach clearly sees penalty fares as a useful cushion against losses from its reckless financial transactions. It won the current South West Trains franchise by bidding well over half a billion pounds more than the second highest bidder. It then stripped out permit to travel machines.

6. In addition, SWT introduced a leaflet, ‘Buying your ticket before you board’, which stated “Some people make costly mistakes about ticket types when they travel on our trains… Having an invalid ticket counts as having no ticket at all”. The leaflet made no clear distinction between penalty fares and charging full rates, nor did it mention the right of appeal under the penalty fares system. However, it did mention the threat of imprisonment, even though penalty fares are a civil sanction. With remarkable cynicism, the leaflet ends “As you can see, we’re doing all we can to take the stress out of buying tickets. And to help you avoid breaking the rules and having to pay the price.”

7. It is not suggested that all operators would behave so contemptibly. The High Court effectively branded Stagecoach a cowboy company when it refused an injunction against the World in Action’s ‘Cowboy Country’ programme about the company’s aggressive business practices. And Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter himself told ‘Scotland on Sunday’ that “ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed”. Nonetheless, Stagecoach’s actions usefully illustrate how the intended administrative policy can be perverted, with penalty fares used to increase revenue without regard to any concept that they should be reasonably applied.

8. In the past year RAIL magazine and the Guardian have reported polls showing that 70 per cent of those surveyed, and 95 per cent of Londoners, would like to see the railways renationalised. This can be correlated with the constant findings of the bi-annual National Rail Surveys, that most respondents are least satisfied with value for money, particularly in the penalty fares commuting areas.

9. Successive sampling exercises by consumer bodies, and published accounts of individuals’ experiences, suggest that many passengers are given the wrong information about the cheapest fares. The fares structure is so complex that it is difficult even for trained advisors to give correct information. How many would know, for example, that someone can save almost 60 per cent of the Coventry-Southampton fare by buying separate tickets in and out of Banbury? Yet the saving could be vitally important to someone on low income, for whom the higher one-ticket fare could mean social exclusion.

10. Ticket names create further confusion. How can the occasional rail traveller be expected to know that ‘off-peak’ tickets are in many cases valid in the evening peak period, or that ‘super off peak’ tickets are better than off-peak in terms of cost rather than of availability? And whilst Southern’s weekly daysave ticket offers great value for money, how could anyone possibly work out what the name means?

11. Then there are the inconsistencies across the train operators. Why should a peak return from Southampton to London cost £63.90 by SWT, yet £30 (peak daysave ticket) by Southern. The discrepancy almost certainly arises because Stagecoach overbid for their franchise and Govia made a realistic bid for theirs. It’s scarcely fair, and suggests that Government policy has moved away from John Prescott’s repeated assertion that the interests of rail passengers were paramount. There is thus scope for re-balancing.

12. With expensive fares and fare anomalies maintaining a high profile in the media, it is unsurprising that people are concerned to get the best deal. Surfing the internet is one option, but not everyone has a computer, especially in lower income families. In addition, getting a bargain may depend on someone’s knowledge of routes and services, and the possibilities of booking individual tickets for various legs of the journey.

13. Travel centre staff are generally great, but travel centres are no longer deemed necessary in franchises operated by Stagecoach, although fine new facilities are being provided elsewhere. Booking offices should be able to help, but this creates pressures and delays where staff have to deal with questions which would formerly have been dealt with in travel centres.

14. That leaves ticket machines, which are notorious for overcharging. The full range of options for longer journeys will rarely be available, and a degree of familiarity is pre-supposed. For example, not everyone knows the difference between a Railcard and a Travelcard.

15. Off-peak tickets often cannot be accessed in advance from machines, so someone wanting to travel just after a morning price threshold, may well be issued a dearer ticket which could have been used earlier. The alternative option may be to get the ticket after the threshold, and miss the first train on which it is valid. A couple bought two tickets from the machine at Totton in immediate succession, but paid different prices, apparently because the machine adjusted for the time threshold during their transaction, even though the previous train, on which the cheaper ticket would not have been valid, had long departed.

16. More generally, ticket machines can cause huge difficulties. They may reject valid coins, notes, or credit/debit cards. They may not be easy for people whose first language is not English. While people are struggling to get a ticket, queues may form. There is no guarantee that revenue protection staff will accept such explanations for boarding without a ticket. So honest people may be wrong-footed, and become prey to aggressive revenue protection. At a more basic level, the human race can probably be divided into those whose natural instinct is to look things up, and those whose instinct is to ask others.

17. Interestingly, a senior manager of Northern Trains opined, at one of the stakeholder events during the Southern re-franchising exercise, that most ticketless travel does not arise from fare avoidance. A number of case histories are in the Appendix to this submission, and contain substantial evidence in support of his view.


The operation of the penalty fares scheme, and indeed the treatment of passengers in general, by the worst operators is a national disgrace. Passengers are often caught in a Catch 22 situation. On the one hand they may be concerned to speak to someone to ensure that they get the cheapest fare. Yet with travel centres closed, booking office hours reduced, and permit to travel machines ripped out, they are left to seek that help after boarding, which can result in a punitive charge being demanded, not to mention extraneous intimidation. Either there needs to be an independent monitoring body, with public access, or else the penalty fares scheme should be scrapped. In view of this conclusion, it seems unnecessary to comment on the proposed increases in penalty fares.



On 2/07/07, a woman and her student son travelled from Walthamstow to Kingston. The son asked at the start of the journey whether he could top up his Oyster card to pay for the trip and was assured that he could. At Kingston SWT demanded a penalty fare on the basis that Oysters were not yet valid on SWT, even though he produced a receipt to show he had paid. After a very long argument, the passengers insisted that SWT call the police to hear what they had to say. SWT then sold them the proper ticket.


RAIL magazine columnist Christian Wolmar writes, in issue 571, of a friend’s experience: “Held up by a queue at the ticket office at Wokingham, his train arrived and he spotted the guard with a portable ticket machine. So my friend approached him and asked if he could buy a ticket. The response from the man from South West Trains was robust. “If you put one foot on that train, I will charge you a £20 penalty fare and then sell you a ticket.” My pal waited for the next train.”


In ‘Modern Railways’, August 2007 issue, columnist Alan Williams writes of how a SWT ticket machine refused to accept a range of his cards which were working in machines elsewhere. He then had to sort out coins as his train approached, but none of the passengers in the queue which had built up behind him had time to purchase a ticket.


One morning in October 2008, a season ticket holder arrived at Southampton Central with his bike and found the wide gate unattended, contrary to legal requirements. He therefore let himself in, to avoid missing his train to work. Staff then appeared and he politely showed his season ticket. He was given a £55 penalty for opening the gate, under a remote bye-law which has probably been carried forward from the days when mail was carried on passenger trains and some stations had gates exclusively for postal staff.

He refused to pay as he considered he had done nothing wrong. He was then prosecuted and threatened with a £1,000 fine, 3 months in prison or both. A criminal record would have prevented him from continuing his charitable work with vulnerable serving and former service men and women.

In April, the Court directed SWT to release CCTV images to the passenger, along with details of the gate and its signage. SWT sent him just a polaroid image of the gates and confirmed in writing that they had looked at the CCTV images and destroyed them.

In July, the passenger had to come back from holiday in Spain to attend court. SWT pulled out all the stops, producing three members of staff to give evidence against him.

The passenger considers that their evidence was partly false, and the destruction of the CCTV tapes inevitably looks suspicious. Interestingly, some years ago, an employment tribunal found that driver Greg Tucker had been wrongfully demoted; it dismissed much of SWT’s evidence as “incredible”, “risible” and “implausible, even absurd”, with one key witness appearing to give evidence “without regard for truth and solely with an eye to where the advantage lay”.

In any event, the court found the passenger not guilty, said the case should never have been brought, and admonished SWT for wasting court time.


In January 2009, a woman hampered by crutches made a 5-mile journey to Axminster station to buy a ticket to travel to Basingstoke the next day. She got the ticket in advance because she had read of reduced ticket office opening hours and would only have a short time to get from work to catch her train. She found the ticket office closed during opening hours, so had to use the ticket machine. The screen was difficult to read because of glare from the sun – a well-recognised problem on SWT. She therefore inadvertently obtained a ticket dated the day of purchase rather than the day of travel.

The train guard clipped her ticket without query. At Basingstoke, the barrier rejected it. A member of staff took her details but said it was a common situation which would probably be overlooked. SWT’s prosecutions department then wrote saying they had intended to take her to court, which could lead to a £1,000 fine, 3 months in prison, or both. However, as it was a first offence, and taking her mitigation into account, they would agree to a Caution with Applied Costs: £45 operational costs for dealing with the incident; £10 for writing the letter; and £29.40 for the fare avoided: a total of £84.40 to pay within 14 days.

The woman pointed out that she and her husband were known to the previous Managing and Commercial Directors of SWT, who could give character references. Her husband had arranged a ceremony for one of the Wessex Electric trains to be named “Bournemouth Orchestras”, and the couple had hosted a celebratory Promenade Concert at the Albert Hall on behalf of SWT. She felt the penalty fare was completely unjustified and would opt for the case to go to court. SWT staff from Axminster would be prepared to give evidence in court on her behalf and one had said that SWT would rather proceed than admit a mistake.

This drew the response:
“Please allow me to inform you that any member of Stagecoach South Western Trains Limited staff from Axminster station who is prepared to attend court on your behalf must do so in their own time. If they intend to appear during their allocated working hours an arrangement for compensation to reimburse the costs of staff and their replacements must be made between Stagecoach South Western Trains Limited and you; before the court date.”

“……With regard to your comment allegedly made by a member of staff at Axminster station, that ‘South West Trains would rather proceed than admit a mistake’, I find such an accusation to be a most scurrilous, malicious and disloyal statement, which I take personally, and I am in contact with the Area Manager for the West of England to ensure it is investigated as soon as possible”.

The writer ended by saying that “I have no doubt that a prosecution would have a devastating effect on you and I am therefore prepared to allow the offer of a Conditional Caution to stand until 12.00hrs, 31 July 2009”. Overall, this response recalls Christian Wolmar’s book ‘Stagecoach’ in which he detects, “an arrogance and deep conviction that the company is right and everyone else is wrong.”

Just before the date of the hearing, the manager of Axminster station successfully pressed SWT to drop the case. The withdrawal was conveniently made on the basis that it had not been known the passenger was on crutches, rather than because the whole case against her was totally outrageous.


In January 2008, a passenger was approached at St Denys station by two revenue protection officers. He was returning from Brighton to Southampton, but had lost his ticket. He explained that he could get proof from his bank that he had purchased the ticket, but the officers became hostile.

A few days later he received a notice that he would be taken to court. He wrote straight away, explaining his position, but never received an acknowledgement. On 30 March, he received a summons dated 12 February. The man’s mother contacted us, and he took advice to consult a legal helpline.

The mother subsequently wrote to us:
“He went to court last week to plead not guilty and SWT withdrew the charge "on a technicality". Actually their lawyer hadn't even read the file and got such a shock to get a not guilty plea he didn't know where to put himself. They are such bullies you have to stand up to them. They are the railways’ equivalent of car clampers, on a par with all the other people who rip off the public just because they can get away with it. My son had a good case and prepared it himself with the help of a legal helpline. I think it was worth risking the extra money and stress a not guilty plea might cost, just to keep his good name.

The clerk of the court was very good and obviously knows the score. He extracted an assurance from their lawyer that there would be no other charges. So we are very relieved.”


While a couple, aged late sixties / early seventies, were visiting their daughter in Virginia, the woman suffered a tight chest and tingling arms, suggesting heart trouble. They had no money, so decided to come straight back. They arrived early morning, and took the bus to Woking station. Soon after they boarded their train, the guard said they were slightly early for the validity of their ticket, and told them to pay £80 or alight and wait for the next train. They sat at the next station for two hours, severely jet-lagged, with the woman in some pain. At the end of the journey, she went straight into hospital for an angioplasty.


A Surrey rail user wrote to us in July 2009, saying: “I have the misfortune to use SWT services on a daily basis and I am appalled at what has been happening over the last few years. In the past week I have seen an old lady robbed on the train by the guard selling her an expensive ticket (she said the ticket office was closed).

I myself have been checking ticket offices closed during advertised opening times across the network and revenue staff are rarely, if ever, informed of their closure or indeed of ticket machines not working. Talking of which, at Guildford, for nearly a year ticket machines were overcharging customers travelling off peak as 'Super Off Peak' fares were not available for between 10-30 minutes after they should have been. This scam would have gained SWT thousands in revenue.

I have also observed that women travelling alone and tourists as those targeted by SWT with a view to overcharge and harass.”


The London Lite of 7/10/2009 contained this report: “Fare crackdown ends in rail riot Students from Richmond College and transport police clashed yesterday after a ticket-checking operation led to a crush at a railway station. Three people were arrested and one student taken to hospital when British Transport Police closed Twickenham station, trapping people between the barriers and the ticket office doors.”


Letter to First Great Western, from an angry mother, about an incident in August 2009:

“Dear Sirs, 

I would like to inform you and indeed make an official complaint about an incident that happened on one of your trains on Tuesday 4th August. My 16 year old daughter and two friends arranged to go to St Austell to stay with a relative for a few days, their first long rail trip on their own.  One of the girls, assisted by her mother, booked the return tickets for all 3 girls over the telephone, 2 if not 3 weeks in advance.  She explained that she had a Young Persons Railcard and was given a discount for all 3 tickets. The girls left Romsey Station on the 08.35 and their tickets were checked on the train.

They changed at Westbury and their tickets were checked again, and the guard asked to see the Young Persons Railcard. When he realized they only had one railcard between them, the girls were told (in no uncertain terms) that their tickets were not valid and that they would need to disembark from the train at Taunton and pay an extra £38 each.  Furthermore the Guard told them that as they could not be trusted to pay the extra of their own accord that they would be met at the Station and “escorted” to the ticket office. At this point he left with their tickets, refusing to return them; the girls were left feeling very worried and upset. 

The Guard was rude and patronizing, so much so that another passenger felt it necessary to break her journey at Taunton to ensure that the girls were alright – she even offered to pay the extra for them. The exchange took place loudly and in front of all the other passengers and the girls were made to feel belittled and very worried. I feel that had it been myself, my husband or indeed any other older person, the whole situation would have been handled very differently and with a lot more respect. On arrival at Taunton, the girls were met and escorted to the ticket office by another rail official who showed no sympathy; they paid the extra fare of £18 each, which luckily they had. 

Could I ask at this point what would have happened to three 16 year olds had they not had the extra fare to continue? Would they, as suggested by the guard, have been escorted from the station and left miles from home? Do you have a policy to cover this? By this time they had missed their connecting train and had a 2 hour wait for the next train, they asked (politely) if there was an alternative and were told they could go via Exeter but this would cost an extra £10. When they asked if this could be waived in view of their predicament, another equally rude member of staff said, “Yes, we know your situation, just sort it out”.  They did finally get to St Austell at 16.30, 8 hours later. Can I just point out that these girls are polite, well brought up children; they are not criminals nor are they rude, loud troublemakers, and while I am sure your staff encounter their fair share of these, they should know not to tar everyone with the same brush. 

Had the girls travelled with the intention of “getting away without paying” as the Guard suggested, they would hardly have booked their tickets in advance would they? The tickets were sold to them (via cross country trains.co.uk) by someone qualified to do so and were bought in good faith.  I have had a Family Railcard for years and know that others can travel with me at the same discount. I assumed that the Young Persons Railcard would be the same.  I must admit though, that the extra payment fades into insignificance when you consider how these 3 young people were treated. I have always encouraged my children to use the trains and I am appalled that in this age, when you are trying to encourage people to use public transport, that the travellers of tomorrow are treated with such utter disrespect. I would like your comments on the above please and also to know by return, how you intend to deal with this matter. A copy of this letter will also be sent to the Managing Director of First Great Western and also to the Director General of DfT Rail Group.” 


Writing about SWT, a local MP recently told us: “I have recently been dealing with a situation in which a young constituent was unable to obtain a cheap ticket from the ticket machine, had to board without a ticket and was then taken to task for travelling without a ticket. The company have been completely unapologetic.

Whilst I have usually found guards to be helpful I have also witnessed an occasion of out and out bullying. The guard in question seemed to have it in for everyone. The first occasion was when a passenger wanted to change his ticket and pay the difference. He was told he had to buy a new ticket for the full journey, despite being politely told by the gentleman that he had done the same thing previously. The guard then went on to bully a young Asian child who clearly didn’t realise the difference between first and second class and frog marched him down the carriage. I would stress that in my experience this was an exception, but it shouldn’t have happened at all.”


Report in the Southern Daily Echo of 31/10/2009 by Editor, Ian Murray:

“-- Soon after, we were aware of the guard walking the carriage to check tickets. He visited the table opposite first, looking at the tickets of the one lady and the elder of the two young men before asking the chap in the white T-shirt to check his Railcard. He had every right to do so and also then to point out the card was out of date. He explained to the teenager that if he couldn’t produce a valid card – the lad explained he had picked up an old one by mistake – then he would have no choice but charge him for a full fare ticket.

All of this was perfectly acceptable, but not I decided the tone that at best could be called condescending, at worst downright rude. Now the teen was asking how he could later claim a refund of the extra payment when he found his valid card. The guard told him in no uncertain terms that no refund would be possible. He added that if the youngster re-read his Railcard paperwork then he would discover that clause 7 (I may have the actual clause wrong here) clearly showed that … and so on.

I looked up. As usual for the British everyone else was busily attempting to pay no attention, heads buried in books, papers and laptops. It was none of my business I thought, but as the conversation across the aisle continued with the teen remaining perfectly calm and polite and the guard’s tone becoming ever more accusatorial I decided to speak. Leaning across the gap I explained that it was my honestly held belief that the guard did in fact have the option of using his discretion and letting the lad off with a caution. What’s more he should certainly have the right of appeal if he could prove that he did possess a valid card and this was simply a mistake.

The guard was not happy at my intervention and was at pains to point out that I was wrong. He continued to press his point with the lad until the money was handed over. He now checked the rest of our tickets and I handed him mine. “I do have a valid Railcard,” I said, offering it up. “Bully for you!” was his professional response at which, after flamboyantly showing me his name badge should I wish to complain, he left the carriage.

Five minutes later the guard with a rail manager in tow returned to where I was sitting. Perhaps, he explained, sitting on the arm of another chair, I would wish to repeat to this manager what I had said. I declined, pointing out that I had no wish to entertain the whole carriage – who by now had understandably abandoned their British reserve and were all watching events unfold – and would make any observations I felt necessary in the usual way.

At that point dear reader he could have called it a day and the matter would have no doubt ended there. Alas, our friend decided to push the point. “You had plenty to say earlier,” he insisted, although not in the tone he had spoken to the teen it must be noted. I paused. To continue the conversation would play into his hands. And then it happened, one of those spontaneous events that restore your faith in humanity. The whole carriage began to speak up. They felt the guard had spoken to the lad appallingly. His tone had verged on bullying. If one of them had spoken to a customer in that way they would be fired.

The smart-suited chap announced he worked in security and in his opinion the lad was obviously a good sort. The mum I had helped earlier bemoaned the way youngsters were so often treated. Even the nicely-dressed lady popped her head around the seats to add her opinion that the tone had been unnecessary. If I hadn’t been so shocked I would have burst into applause. God bless them.

The carriage eventually fell silent, we all looked at the manager and then the guard who, after a moment, announced he was quitting for the day, told his manager there would be no more tickets checked on that journey and flounced off. The manager smiled at us all weakly, said nothing and followed. I looked at the lad and apologised. “I had no intention to make you the centre of all that,” I explained, knowing that if it been one of my daughters they would have been in equal measures grateful but mortified. He said thank you to everyone, but continued to look a little shell shocked.

For the remainder of the journey we noted it was the now whistle-wearing manager who saw the train off at each station. We did not see the guard again. – I like to think that there is at least a rail carriage-full of adults who will not sit by in future.”


Christian Wolmar [RAIL Issue 630] reports an example of his treatment by guards on Virgin Trains:

“-- Pleasant is not a word I would use for the guard on the Virgin train I took from Euston to Liverpool a couple of months previously. He was the sort of jobsworth who takes delight in making life difficult for passengers. I was unable to pick up my tickets from the machine because the travel agent for the TV company I was working for had texted me the wrong code. I knew the right code was on my computer but there was only five minutes to go and I did not want to miss the train. I said to the guard, who was on the gate checking people in, that I could show proof of purchase on my computer, but instead he demanded I pay the full £67 single to Liverpool before I boarded. When I was on the train, he accepted the computer ticket, allowing me to sit in first class which showed it could have been settled without me paying twice. Of course, by then he had made his 5% on my extra ticket.

Worse was to come. As he suggested, I sent the ticket for refund but VT said that since I had not shown a valid ticket to travel, it was up to the travel agent to reimburse me and not the train operator. So VT is quite prepared to make me pay twice to satisfy its bureaucratic principles. I am pressing for the refund and will relate my tale.”


[From: www.whirledpeas.eu/2009/05/11the-revolt-on-platform-seven/] “Perhaps the most depressing place to be in London is Waterloo Station. --- My train was the 9:35. As such, I had bought an off-peak ticket, which meant that I was paying about a third less than the usual fare, though at £30, it was still outrageous. I saw my train had arrived at platform seven, and I approached the gate. I stuck my ticket into the appropriate slot: the machine spat the ticket back at me and said, “Seek Assistance”. I flagged down a guard: she was a middle aged woman in a florescent vest and had a sour disposition. She looked as if she hadn’t had a good morning in twenty years. Her hair was cut short, her glasses were dirty, and she peered at me as if to say, “What do you want?”

“Excuse me,” I said, “my ticket won’t let me in.”

She cast a glance at it. “It’s an off-peak ticket, sir,” she said, “you’re not allowed in until 9:30. That’s the rules.”

I looked at the clock. It was 9:20.

I tried reason. I pointed at the 9:35 train. “But that’s my train there, the 9:35.”

She looked at me, her toad-like face registering nothing but contempt. “You’re not allowed in until 9:30, that’s the rules.”

By now, a small crowd was starting to build behind the barrier, all of whom had off-peak tickets and were similarly unable to get in. To my left was an old gentleman wearing a khaki trench-coat, grey suit and regimental tie. To my right were two young blonde university-age girls who were trying not to giggle too loudly at the absurdity of the situation: after all, it wasn’t like any of us were going to get across the barrier and then go to a slightly earlier train to a different destination just for the purposes of cheating South West Trains.

A young man with short black hair and black wire frame glasses approached. He asked, “What’s going on?”

“Do you have an off-peak ticket?” I queried.


“You can’t get in, they won’t let us in until 9:30.”

“So basically we have to run onto the train at 9:30 and hope to find a seat in five minutes?”


One of the girls spoke up, “Well surely if we’re not all on the train, they can’t let it depart.”

I pointed at the guard, who was now pacing up and down, telling all the off-peak ticket holders in flat tones they weren’t getting in. It was 9:24. I wondered if she was enjoying herself.

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” I said.

“It’s really rather a shambles,” the old gentleman added. “I don’t believe it,” the young man continued, “no wonder this country is in such a mess.”

The queue continued to build up behind me. The guard looked more nervous, pacing up and down behind the barrier as if she was defending a fort. The university girls ran down to the next barrier and managed to convince the guard there, obviously a more reasonable sort, to let them in.

The queue pressed forward. I looked hard at the guard, and wondered what made her such a misery. Yes, monitoring a ticket barrier was not much of a job; was her sole pleasure to be found in getting in people’s way? Was it the only way that she could be noticed?

It hit 9:27. The train’s engine spun up and spun down, which was probably due to the driver doing a systems check. The queue now had become a mob. It was the first time I had been in the midst of a seething mass with one clear, strong message: let us in, LET US IN!

At 9:28, the guard finally decided to radio in for permission to open the barrier, and reluctantly, she let us all through. The movement and sound reminded me of birds fluttering away out of a cage. Freedom: to get out of the station, and to get out of London.

I boarded, found a place to sit and settled back. I looked out the window: the train departed, and I saw Waterloo and the London skyline stretching out behind me, eventually disappearing into the distance. But what the young man said stuck with me, “No wonder this country is in such a mess.” But I think it’s not the stupidity of rules that make the country a mess, it’s the inhumanity in their application and the belief that they substitute for ethics.

If I had shown up too early, and wanted to board a train at say, 8am, using the wrong ticket, then definitely, the rules should be there to prevent me from taking advantage. However, note the time, note the train: common sense would have suggested that this was not a group of fare dodgers who somehow wanted to cheat South West Trains. We were just a group of ordinary people who had paid the right fare, and wanted to get on the right train. The guard should have seen this and had the confidence to say, “OK, go through”, but she didn’t. Whether this was out of spite or fear is unclear: but this type of nit-picking, tight-fisted rule making and enforcement has become a motif in Britain these days.”


>From Private Eye No. 1236

“Readers have reported more examples of train firms using ticket vending machines to try to overcharge passengers. One found SWT machines that don’t issue off-peak tickets until 10.00, when such tickets become valid. He risked missing his 10.02 train (doors closed at 10.01) if he waited until 10.00 to buy. The alternatives were splashing out on a peak ticket or queuing behind some 25 other passengers to buy an off-peak ticket from one of the clerks who survived SWT’s cull of 660 ticket-office and other staff this year.”


>From RAIL No. 619

“Last summer I booked an advance return to Derby. At St Pancras I was told that my train had been cancelled. I got on the next one, an hour later, only to be told by a real ‘jobsworth’ conductor that my ticket wasn’t valid and that I must pay a further, full, £76 single fare. This rude and aggressive person would not budge, even though I explained what had happened. I still had to pay up, even though the train on which the ticket would have been valid had been cancelled by the train operator! This ruined my day. Eventually I was refunded - though it took six weeks. Then East Midlands Trains had the audacity to tell me that my original train had had to start from Luton and that I should have taken a train from St Pancras 30 minutes earlier to catch that! The result is that I now hire a car which is cheaper and more convenient. Gervais Sawyer”


Report in the Evening Standard of 29/04/08:

“A commuter who could not find a seat on her train but managed to squeeze into a tiny luggage space by a lavatory was fined because she was too close to first class.

Nichola Myhill’s hour-long journey ended with the threat of arrest and a £69 fine because she had strayed out of a second-class compartment.

Now the 27-year-old magazine graphic designer is waiting to hear of her appeal against what she described as “the appalling way I was treated”.

Ms Myhill caught the 6.30pm service from Liverpool Street station on her way to her home in Fingringhoe, near Colchester, but there were no seats available.

She said: “I pay just over £4,000 a year for a season ticket yet I usually end up sitting outside a toilet on the dirty floor because everywhere is full up. People were standing in every available space between carriages – it was not possible to stand in the aisle because it would have caused huge disruption. Together with another young couple I stepped into the space at the end of a first-class carriage. A guard saw us and we explained that there was nowhere else to go, which he accepted. But 10 minutes later a pair of ticket inspectors came through and having seen our tickets told us we were all going to be fined on the spot. I felt intimidated by their aggressive attitude – they demanded my details including my National Insurance number and where I worked. I was not at all happy about giving them so much information but they said I would be arrested if I refused to co-operate. They called up two men who showed me their warrant cards and they told us that we had to comply with the inspectors or we would be committing an arrestable offence. I was made to feel like a criminal and I was terrified that I would be taken off the train in handcuffs. Several passengers in the first-class compartment protested at the way I was being treated. They were astounded by what was happening – one man told the inspector to leave me alone because I was not causing any problems and should be allowed to stay.”

Upset and scared, Ms Myhill said she had no choice but to accept the £69 on-the-spot fine – calculated as double the cost of a single first class fare from London to Colchester – but has refused to pay and is appealing.

“Ironically they told me afterwards that I could have paid a £12 upgrade and sat in first class anyway. To add insult to injury as they left they said I could sit in the compartment because I had now paid the fine – but we had almost reached my destination.”

Ms Myhill is waiting to hear from the Independent Appeals Service about her complaint.

A spokesman for National Express East Anglia said: “We are sorry if any customer feels unhappy about their journey with us. We will look into the specific circumstances on this particular train and decide what action is appropriate.””


>From the transcript of SWT’s Webchat event of 20/8/2008:

Q: “I recently lost my gold card and was subjected to a humiliating interview under police caution before I could be issued with a replacement. Why do you treat your loyal customers as criminal suspects in this way?”

Q: “I lost my annual gold card ticket last week and was shocked that I had to undergo a humiliating interview under police caution in order to get it replaced. I am as careful as I can be and have never lost a ticket before in my life, it was just one of those things. Please can SW Trains explain to me why I was forced to go through the same degrading process that suspected criminals are subjected to? I am seriously considering never getting an annual ticket again because of this.”

A: “We are sorry that you felt uncomfortable about the interview process surrounding the replacement of your Season Ticket. We require our revenue protection inspectors who undertake these interviews to explain clearly the reasons why the interviews are being conducted. Annual Season Tickets are worth a lot of money if they fall into the wrong hands and the interview process is designed to ensure that there is nothing untoward regarding the loss of the ticket and the application for a replacement. We have a duty to protect our revenue and I am sure you will understand that if the Season Ticket was not in fact lost (i.e. if the person claiming that they have lost their ticket had in fact given/sold it to somebody else) then this exposes us to significant revenue loss. Whilst in the majority of cases this is not the case, we do need to have adequate safeguards in place. The reason why you are interviewed under caution is purely a legal technicality and by no means an indication of guilt or wrongdoing. This is a policy adopted by the vast majority of train operating companies [?]. Once again we are sorry for the discomfort you felt during the interview process.”


Report by Andrew Gilligan, Evening Standard 14/07/08:

“Late last night, in the middle of Birmingham, I was physically assaulted, called a f***ing c*** and a prick, and left stranded after the last train back to London had gone. The person who did all this was not a mugger or a hooligan, or even one of my political enemies, but a member of staff of Virgin Trains. [49% Stagecoach-owned]

The provocation, I admit was pretty serious: I’d asked, politely, if I might board the 9.45pm from New Street to Euston with a bicycle. Each of the trains on this route has two sizeable bike parking areas for precisely this purpose. Strictly speaking, you need a reservation to use them, although this is almost never insisted on if space is available, as it was last night and indeed almost always is.

I explained, again politely, that it is possible to get bike reservations only at Virgin ticket offices (the website does not offer them); that I had started my journey yesterday evening from a place without a Virgin ticket office, or any other. I explained that the connection did not allow enough time to get a bike reservation at Birmingham; that for my particular journey it was, in fact, impossible to go through the bureaucratic hoops Virgin required; and that this was also the last train of the night. I even offered to take the bike’s wheels off. It made no difference: after a barrage of four-letter words, I ended up getting pushed on to the platform.

Now I’ve been kicked off half-empty trains before for the crime of bringing a bike – but never in such circumstances, and never in such a fashion. You feel, I can report, not so much angry, more amazed: even by Virgin standards, this was stone-carved, historic, off-the scale-bad.

Yet this isn’t just a personal complaint. What happened last night is a tiny example of the more general reasons why the railways in this country are broken and will never fulfil their potential.

First: they complicate things that should be simple. The bike rules are but a microcosm of the network so burdened by regulation and bureaucracy and having to agree everything with 456 different bodies that much-needed improvement has become almost impossible.

Second: they are run, at all levels, by incompetent authoritarians, of whom my train guard was an extreme specimen. Arguing with me delayed the train. Showing flexibility would have been by far the easier option – for both of us – and would have cost him nothing, except the pleasure of flexing his muscles.

Third: privatisation has turned a civilised means of travel into one that only Max Mosley could appreciate. It has erased the residual public-service culture. It’s impossible even to imagine an employee of, say, M&S behaving like that railwayman did to a customer with a legitimate, easily-solved problem.

Fourth: after our contretemps, I and the bike came home from Birmingham by taxi. To my amazement, I found that the chauffeur-driven trip cost me not much more than a standard ticket on Virgin Trains.”

LETTER FROM “ARNIE” – Evening Standard 15/07/08

“Andrew Gilligan is spot on. I visit Birmingham every month and in my experience, most Virgin Trains staff are rude and incompetent. Last week, I watched a man run down the stairs and dash across the platform to try and get on the train in time. A Virgin attendant yelled at the top of his voice and began swearing like a madman; surely a completely unacceptable way to treat customers?”


>From the Evening Standard 10/10/2008:

“A train manager threatened to have a commuter arrested after he came to the rescue of a vulnerable fellow passenger. Stand-up comedian Tom Wrigglesworth intervened when the Virgin Trains manager demanded an elderly passenger buy a new ticket because she had got on the wrong train.

Lena Ainscow, 75, sobbed as she was forced to hand over £115 for a new ticket, despite having been told to board that service by Virgin staff. Wrigglesworth, 32, stepped in and organised a whip-round among passengers for her. But the train manager saw him, said the collection was akin to begging and called police before warning him to hand back the cash or face being arrested.

Mrs Ainscow was travelling to see daughter Carol Battersby, her two sons, and husband Ian, a Regimental Sergeant Major with the Royal Artillery who has recently returned from Iraq. Her £11.50 pre-booked ticket for the trip to see the family in Bromley was for yesterday’s 10.45 Manchester to Euston service but her Virgin travel itinerary said she had been booked on the 10.15am service and she was advised to board the train by Virgin staff in Manchester.

Her explanation and pleas for discretionary sympathy failed to sway the manager who forced her to pay for a new ticket. Wrigglesworth, from Shadwell, East London, who is a regular at the Comedy Store in Piccadilly Circus, pleaded with him but was told not to interfere. He said, “I couldn’t sit there and let this helpless woman deal with it on her own. I had to do something so I got a paper bag from the buffet car. I told the other passengers that if we all gave 50p or £1 we would get the money in no time. Everyone was happy to help and someone even put in £30. When I gave her the money she got upset again”.

Mrs Ainscow, a grandmother of 11 from Bolton in Greater Manchester, said she was “overwhelmed” by the generosity of her fellow passengers/ She said: “When the guard said I had to buy a new ticket I was devastated. The only money I had was the savings I’d scraped together to get my grandchildren a present. “Tom really spoke up for me, he was marvellous. The train was only half-full, I don’t know why the manager had to make me buy another ticket. It was a simple mistake – and not mine either. My itinerary was wrong.”

Mr Wrigglesworth was met at Euston by transport police. He said: “The manager accused me of begging and asked me to give everyone’s money back. I told him I wouldn’t and that people didn’t want it back. When I got off at Euston there were a few police officers waiting. Thankfully a couple of the other passengers waited and helped to explain. Once the police had been put in the picture they walked away”.

----Mrs Ainscow’s daughter Carol said: “Tom has restored my faith in mankind. He was an angel. I dread to think what would have happened to my mother if he hadn’t been there.”