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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Two-thirds of rail advice 'wrong'
Rail tickets
Staff "have not been given necessary training"
Two-thirds of people who call train companies are given the wrong information about tickets, fares and routes, research has suggested.

Consumers' Association investigators made a total of 62 visits and phone calls to stations and to the rail telephone inquiry service (NRES).

As many as 66% of their questions were answered incorrectly, said the association's Which? magazine.

The report is a piece of unrepresentative rubbish

Nick Illsley, National Rail Enquiry Service boss
But the research, released on Tuesday, has been dismissed as "unrepresentative rubbish" by train operating companies.

According to the researchers, when the wrong fare was given passengers were overcharged by an average of 32.

One fare which should have cost 52 was quoted at as high a price as 164, while another which should have been 25.60 would have cost 72 if the advice given had been followed.

Which? editor Helen Parker said: "With UK rail prices among the most expensive in Europe, it's important that consumers get good information.

Survey findings
Query: Cheapest fare to London from Manchester Piccadilly by 1100 tomorrow. Right answer: 52. Answers given: 164 or 95.
Query: Cheapest London day trip to Burton-on-Trent tomorrow. Right answer: 18.50. Answer given: 42.40.
Query: Cheapest London-Bath fare, returning tomorrow. Right answer: 25.60. Answer given: 72.
"When we last looked at rail advice in 1996, only 10% of fares quoted were correct, so there has been some improvement - but not enough."

She added: "The Rail Journey Information System was meant to solve advice problems but it's clearly not working. In most cases, rail staff were helpful and courteous, but overcharging and wrong advice were still endemic."

Rail Passengers Council national director Anthony Smith said staff were trying hard to do a good job but "it seems they haven't been given the right tools or the necessary training".

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said the Which? report was "a piece of unrepresentative rubbish".

Nick Illsley, ATOC director and chief executive of the National Rail Enquiry Service (NRES), said: "To carry out a tiny sample and then claim that two out of three responses are inaccurate is statistically meaningless."

He said NRES had been a big success in customer delivery but conceded that "there is a way to go".

The BBC's Tom Symonds
"Independent research suggests that it is accurate 97% of the time"
The BBC's Max Foster
"It seems that often we are not given the cheapest fares when we ask for them"
Which? Editor Helen Parker and Nick Illsley of NRES
"Our questions were undoubtedly more challenging"
See also:

15 Mar 02 | England
Train passengers 'suffered badly'
14 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Rail masterplan at a glance
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