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Railwatch 074 - December 1997

Unfare treatment

One woman has discovered the sad reality of the pledges and promises made when the railways were privatised.

Valerie Evans who lives in Polesworth near Tamworth, Staffordshire, had travelled, every few weeks, to London for hospital visits, using the early morning train (the 09.18 from Nuneaton) arriving in Euston by 10.30 am without any problems.

"For three years everything was all right," said Valerie. "Now because of new timetables, and more restrictions on Saver tickets, I am unable to make the same journey until later in the day. The first unrestricted train that I can catch is the 10.12 from Nuneaton and there is now no connection from Polesworth at that time.

"A journey which used to cost me about £18 return, would now cost more than £50. I am a 65-year-old pensioner with health problems and I cannot afford to stay in London overnight. This is causing me hardship. The situation in this area is now very much worse for people attempting to travel by train.

"I have complained to Virgin Trains and the answer I was given was that the trains are now so busy. It is not, I was assured, because they are now Virgin Trains. I have also complained to the Rail Users' Consultative Council." She added: "I am not disabled but I have progressive systemic sclerosis, a condition that is difficult to treat, which is why I travel to London for hospital visits."

Quite rightly, Valerie is angry at the situation she has been left in. She told Virgin Trains in a letter: "It would appear to me that you are only interested in business and higher-paying passengers. You are not providing a service for poorer people, the very ones who rely on train travel. We were assured this would not happen with privatisation."

There were many reassurances from politicians that Saver fares were "safeguarded". But a combination of changes in conditions and timetables are undermining those assurances. Valerie suggests: "If, as Virgin Trains say, the trains have become much busier, then they need to run more trains, not put a 70% increase on the price of a ticket."

For most people, cost has been the key factor in preventing them travelling by rail. The introduction of the Saver fare was one of the most user-friendly moves by British Rail. Now it is being undermined.

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