Passengers take action against 'unfair' rail price hikes

28-01-2008

Passengers take action against 'unfair' rail price hikes
Commuters in the south-west of England are to stage a day of action against ticket price rises and poor service today.

Protest group More Trains Less Strain (MTLS) is masterminding the action, which according to its website will take place at western towns including Bath, Bristol, Plymouth, Penzance and Trowbridge.

Passengers will hand train conductors cards featuring slogans like 'Worst Late Western' and 'Route to Hell and Back' on the First Great Western franchise area, which covers all of south-west England and southern Wales.

MTLS says today's passenger action reflects their "growing discontent, anger and despair". It claims a similar protest held last year involved 2,000 people.

"[FGW parent company] First needs to take heed, listen to its passengers, reverse the recent fare increases, and invest their burgeoning profits in more rolling stock and staff," a spokesperson said.

Noting the proportion of trains arriving late on the Oxford-London line has increased to 35 per cent in the last month, the spokesperson added: "It is hardly surprising with figures like this, old trains, overcrowded trains, cancelled trains and rocketing fares that most passengers and many staff now want the government to act and remove the franchise from First."

FGW insists it is doing its best for its customers and last week doubled compensation for those enduring breaches of its passengers' charter.

Chief operating officer Andrew Haines admitted: "We've not given customers the service they deserve over the last 12 months, and we're sorry."

Its website this morning showed the 05:42 GMT service from Penzance to London Paddington was forced to start from Plymouth because a member of the train's crew was unavailable.

The 06:03 GMT from Bedwyn to London Paddington was forced to miss three stations and travel with three coaches fewer than normal for the same reason, it added.

FGW suffered bad publicity over the weekend when it emerged seven-year-old Laura Booth had fainted while travelling on a crowded train from Bath to Trowbridge in the run-up to Christmas.

She only recovered when the train pulled into its next station, the Times reported.

Her grandfather, Mike Pearce, told the newspaper: "FGW knew it was going to be busy. Lives are being put in danger as we were being treated like cattle."

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