A Fylde MP is demanding to know why some Lancashire rail users are paying more than three times the price to get to London than other travellers.
Furious Mark Menzies is to raise the issue about why train users who embark at Preston are paying so much more than their fellow passengers from Lancaster.
Mr Menzies will take the matter to Parliament after claiming Virgin Trains is “ripping off” passengers.
And the MP, a member of the influential Transport Select Committee, has demanded to know why it can cost £145 for a single ticket from Preston to Euston, while a ticket from Lancaster - 20 miles further - is only £46.60 in the same carriage.
“At a time when rail fares are going up and up, this is beyond the pale for commuters. I find it abhorrent,” said the Fylde MP .
“It’s about milking rail users. They’re ripping people off and I’m not having it.”
I’d paid for the travel, opted not to take it, and they were telling me that’s fraud
Mr Menzies’ protest follows the case of a passenger from his constituency who was threatened with arrest after buying a cheaper ticket from Lancaster and boarding the train at Preston.
Tim Chadwick, from Ansdell, said he was ordered by the conductor to pay the full fare on the spot or risk prosecution.
The regular traveller to the capital, who works in financial services, was hit with a demand for a new £172 ticket when he tried to save himself money.
“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,” he said.
“It is absolutely criminal. The conductor had the cheek to tell me that they regularly have people who get on at Preston, then go to Lancaster, to come back again. So they know they are ‘taking the proverbial.’”
Another passenger claimed he 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.
Single fares to London on Thursday last week cost £46.60 from Lancaster on the 7.38am service, but £145 from Preston on the same train departing at 7.58am.
Returning on the 4.30pm service from Euston, the cheapest ticket to Preston cost £82, but only £42.50 for passengers continuing on to Lancaster.
For a journey next Monday, the return journey costs £227 from Preston to London Euston. The return journey to Lancaster – one stop further away from the capital – on the same train, costs £89.10, a difference of £137.90.
In comparison, return flights from Manchester to the Canary Islands on the same day are available for £52.
Tickets from Lancaster can be bought off-peak, whereas the same train is classified as peak when it arrives at Preston and continues to London.
Tickets from Blackpool are also likely to be in the cheaper bracket but would require a change of train. However, many Fylde coast commuters who prefer to make their own way to Preston and catch the train there would be caught out.
“I’m not standing to the side and watching something that is continually hurting my hard-working constituents who need to travel to London,” said Mr Menzies. “It is a very poorly-thought out pricing policy and it must stop now. Passengers are being charged a premium to travel some 40 fewer miles on the railway, and prevented from travelling at peak times.”
Another passenger, Chris Metcalf, said: “I bought a return ticket to Lancaster and a Lancaster to London ticket. But I still got pulled at Preston when I alighted early.
“They were telling me I had to get off at Lancaster and get the train back, despite the fact I had bought the ticket from Lancaster to Preston to cover the cost.
“So I’d paid for the travel, opted not to take it, and they were telling me that’s fraud. It’s a joke. Buses charge you more for the longer your journey is. That’s sensible.”
A spokesman for Virgin Trains on the West Coast route said: “Virgin Trains has for many years relaxed peak restrictions on some of its longer distance routes where we have more leisure travellers who are less likely to be commuting into London in the busy peak period.
“That’s not the case at Preston where there are a lot of business travellers who need to travel to and from London at peak times. If passengers are able to be flexible and travel outside peak times from Preston they can get lower fares.”
What costs less than a return to the capital?
The row comes less than six months after it was revealed rail travellers could pay more for a standard anytime return ticket between Preston and Euston than people booking a five-night holiday in New York.
The fare, booked at Preston railway station on the day, cost an eye-watering £344 - rising to £362.70 with a tube ticket into the city centre. At the same time a holiday firm came up with a five-night break in Manhattan, including flights and a three-star hotel, for just £360.
Another celebrated case was that of teenager Jordan Cox who, shocked when he was asked for £47 for the cheapest train ticket from Sheffield to his home in Essex, found a cheaper route - going via Berlin.
Jordon spent £4 on a train to Derby, £4.20 on a bus to East Midlands Airport, £11.83 on a Ryanair flight to Berlin, £5 on a return train into the city centre, £9.54 on a Ryanair flight to Stansted and £8 for a bus home. Total cost £44.07, including a £1.50 Currywurst for lunch.
“It turned out that flying out to Berlin, spending seven hours exploring the city and then flying to Stansted and getting a bus home was cheaper than a single train journey in England, “ he said. A return ticket as a Virgin Business customer between Preston and London can cost just over £500. So it can be cheaper to travel abroad - and spend two weeks in a hotel.
For £351 you can book a return flight from Manchester to Moscow. Travellers to Madrid can pay £277 for a return flight, rising to £452 with a two-week stay in the hotel. A flight to see the Colosseum in Rome will set you back only £192. With 14 nights in a four-star hotel that comes to £515. You can get to Iceland and back for £367. And the Norwegian capital Oslo will set you back only £352.