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Rail firms 'misled' passengers into buying tickets for trains that will not run

Paddington Station will be closed for much of Christmas week (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Rail passengers trying to get home for Christmas and the New Year are being sold tickets for trains that will not run, a pressure group has claimed.

Transport Focus says rail companies are “misleading” the public by not publishing which services will be cancelled or be hit by engineering works between December 23 and 29.

It says six rail firms failed to offer a full range of advance purchase tickets 12 weeks before Christmas – when the fully updated and accurate timetables should have been first released.

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Transport Focus claims it has seen “numerous” short-notice changes to timetables, with particular problems on Great Western Railway and South Western Railway routes.

It says this means some passengers will have booked certain tickets based on inaccurate information, and in the worst case, could be stranded when they turn up for a train that’s no longer running.

It discovered 2,648 incorrect journeys being offered during Christmas week.

In one example, Transport Focus said Great Western Railway was offering a ticket from London Paddington to Cardiff on December 27, even though Paddington will be shut.

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During its research in October, Transport Focus found reservations were not available on Chiltern, Greater Anglia, Great Western, London Midland, South Western and Southern 12 weeks before Christmas, and Virgin Trains only had 15% available.

Rail passengers could find themselves without a train to board – even if they have bought a ticket (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “Failure to release timetables 12 weeks ahead of travel can mean passengers buy tickets for trains that will not run. That can’t be right.

“Train operators’ advice is to book early at Christmas to get the best deal, but if the timetable has not been finalised only more expensive ‘on the day’ tickets can be bought.

“Being forced to change plans because the railway hasn’t got this right will only result in more frustration from passengers. The rail industry must act urgently to make sure the timetable is accurate 12 weeks ahead if passengers are to trust they are on their side.”

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Network Rail, which manages Britain’s train tracks and stations, is planning 11 days of work over the festive period, which will see five of seven major routes closed at some point.

Some 20 million passenger journeys will be affected.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train firms, said: “We clearly agree this is important. We will discuss with members potentially through National Task Force, develop a plan and get back to you [Transport Focus] more fully before Christmas.”