Steve Morrissey thought he’d landed a great deal booking a train ticket from Lancaster to London for £93 - when the price from Preston was £350.
But the software company director from Bispham got more than he bargained for on a nightmare trip to Euston.
First he was accused of fraud in front of a packed carriage. And then police were waiting to question him when he landed in the capital.
It was only after Virgin staff looked at CCTV footage that he was released without charge.
Steve’s case comes less than a month after MP Mark Menzies accused Virgin of “ripping off” travellers from Preston and vowed to raise the issue in Westminster.
“I did nothing wrong,” declared Steve, of Ingthorpe Avenue, who missed an important business meeting in London after being detained for 45 minutes at Euston.
I did nothing wrong
“Yet they were calling me a liar, saying I’d got on the train at Preston and not Lancaster. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.”
The West Coast mainline fares saga has been rumbling on for months, with furious passengers claiming they are being treated unfairly if their journey starts at Preston.
Ticket prices to the capital can be almost four times as much as fares from Lancaster which is 25 miles further away.
The disparity was first highlighted by another business traveller from Lancashire, Tim Chadwick, who claimed he was threatened with arrest after buying a cheaper single ticket from Lancaster to London, but actually getting on the train at Preston station.
He claims a conductor ordered him to pay the full £172 fare on the spot, or risk prosecution.
“The whole thing is blatant profiteering from Virgin Rail as they are offering nothing extra and are, in fact, charging disproportionately more for less of a service,” said Tim.
Another passenger, Chris Metcalf, claimed he had bought a ticket from London to Lancaster and, when he tried to get off early at Preston, he was told he must continue his journey through to Lancaster and then get a train back to Preston, otherwise he would be committing fraud.
“It’s a joke,” he said. “I’d bought a ticket from Lancaster to Preston to cover the cost, so I’d paid for the travel. I just opted not to take it. They said that was fraud.
“Buses charge you more for the longer your journey is. That’s sensible.”
Mr Morrissey believes his case, where he had done nothing wrong, shows a heavy-handed approach by Virgin staff as they try to close a loophole in their ticketing price structure.
The 33-year-old, who is a regular business traveller between Lancashire and London, revealed he normally books well in advance and uses discounted first class fares.
“But this particular trip was a last-minute thing and I only booked it the night before and so I looked at the prices and saw a return from Lancaster was £93, while it was £350 from Preston,” he said.
“It was a no-brainer really. Going to Lancaster is only an extra 10 minutes from my house compared to Preston, so I went for that.
“When I got to the station a member of the Virgin staff checked my ticket and said it was fine. Then the same guy checked it again on the trip between Lancaster and Preston and said it was OK.
“But then the same bloke again came round a third time near Warrington and accused me of getting on at Preston. He said he didn’t remember me from the previous two ticket inspections and said I had two choices - buy a new ticket at full price or give my name and address for them to send me a penalty notice.
“I refused to do both and so, when we got to London, the police were waiting. It was so embarrassing being accused in front of a crowded carriage of fraud. Then being questioned by police at a busy station was equally embarrassing.
“It was only when they agreed to look at the CCTV that they saw I really had got on at Lancaster. I got a verbal ‘sorry’ and they offered me a 50 per cent discount on my next trip.
“What an appalling way to treat your customers. I can’t believe they were so heavy-handed and refused to listen.”
A spokesman for Virgin Trains on the West Coast route said: “Virgin Trains has an excellent reputation for customer service and we want everyone to have the best experience possible.
“We’re sorry to hear of Mr Morrissey’s experience which falls short of the high standards we set ourselves.
“We have been in touch to offer him an apology and a goodwill gesture which he has accepted, and we will be looking into how we can learn from this incident.”
‘Virgin seems to have lost plot’ - MP
Fylde MP Mark Menzies is campaigning on the issue of Preston rail fares after claiming they are unfairly high compared to ticket prices from stations further away from London.
As a member of the influential Transport Select Committee he is demanding to know why passengers starting their journey at Preston during peak hours - many of them business travellers - should be asked to pay such a high premium.
Today, he said: “When I first raised this ticket pricing scandal a few weeks ago, which punishes travellers using Preston Station, little did I know I would be lifting the lid on what is absolutely shocking practices by Virgin.
“Based on what I am hearing from a large number of people who have contacted me, Virgin seems to have lost the plot.
“Unless Virgin can come up with a solution to this situation, I think a serious investigation is the only way forward.”
Mr Menzies is meeting with representatives of Virgin Rail next week to discuss the pricing of journeys to London on the West Coast Main Line, following an investigation that revealed Preston passengers are being asked to pay up to four times the amount passengers from Lancaster are charged – for using the same train.