February 19, 2009 / 3:37 PM / 9 years ago

UK rail travel more expensive than rest of Europe

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Traveling by train in Britain is generally more expensive than in any other European country, especially for those who use London commuter services, according to a survey by a consumer watchdog released on Thursday.

The study by Passenger Focus, carried out at the government's request, found that travelers were unhappy about the value for money train travel offered, although they were generally content with the quality of rail services.

"Price of tickets is a key factor behind this, but so is performance, overcrowding and managing delays," said Colin Foxall, Passenger Focus chairman.

"By comparison with some other European countries, Britain's railways are generally more expensive, especially in London and the south east."

There has been growing anger among rail users about the rise in the price of tickets, with regulated fares -- season, saver and standard day return tickets -- allowed to rise annually by at least the rate of inflation plus 1 percentage point.

That meant these tickets rose by an average of 6 percent in January this year, although some commuters to the capital saw tickets go up by 8 percent.

"Tackling overcrowding and continuing to improve punctuality are key," said Anthony Smith, the watchdog's chief executive.

"In the short-term we believe removing train companies' ability to increase some prices by more than the headline inflation plus 1 percent can help."

The survey did find that British travelers did fare better than their European counterparts in terms of train frequency.

It also said long-distance travel to London could be cheaper than fares to many European destinations such as Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Madrid and Zurich if people were able to buy advance tickets.

However, it said the system for buying tickets for long-distance journeys was too complex, and needed to be more transparent and made fairer for passengers who needed to change their travel plans.

The Campaign for Better Transport said the survey showed the government needed to take action to cut fares.

"Passengers already know fares are higher than anywhere else in Europe, and they're sick of the government making them pay above-inflation fare increases every year," said Cat Hobbs, the group's public transport campaigner.

Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Paul Casciato

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