Rail commuter complaints grow over first-class fines

PUBLISHED: 10:46 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:43 06 May 2010

THE plight of a commuter forced to pay an on-the-spot fine for standing in first class has prompted other rail passengers to hit out at the system. Donna Johnston, of Benedictine Place, St Albans, was highlighted in last week s Herts Advertiser after bei

THE plight of a commuter forced to pay an on-the-spot fine for standing in first class has prompted other rail passengers to hit out at the system.

Donna Johnston, of Benedictine Place, St Albans, was highlighted in last week's Herts Advertiser after being fined for standing in a first-class carriage because the remainder of the train was so overcrowded.

Among others who have been treated the same way is Rena Popat who was five months pregnant when she was forced to pay a fine for sitting in first class because there were no other seats available on the overcrowded First Capital Connect (FCC) train she was travelling on.

That was despite the fact that pregnant women are exempt from first-class restrictions provided they have applied for a free upgrade from FCC.

Another furious FCC customer Denise Rayner is still waiting to hear if she is to be prosecuted by FCC for refusing to pay a fine after sitting in an empty first-class seat because she was in severe pain from a neck injury.

Rena, aged 30, of Beechwood Avenue, St Albans, was five months pregnant when she was unable to get a seat on the 5.58pm fast train from Farringdon to St Albans. Having been told in the past that she could sit in first class because of her condition, she went into the carriage and sat down.

Two revenue inspectors got on and one quizzed her about why she was sitting in first class without a letter from FCC. She replied that she was unaware that she needed one but she was clearly pregnant so thought she was entitled to sit there.

She was then told she would have to pay a fine or the police would be called at the station.

Rena, who with her husband pays a total of £6,000 for season tickets on FCC, said: "I was already upset at what was happening so to say to a pregnant woman that the police would be called obviously caused me further distress."

She paid the £28 fine and unsuccessfully appealed against it. Rena added: "There was a complete lack of consideration to my case and I was left very upset. At the least I would have expected some sympathy and understanding from a massive rail company and its staff such as FCC, especially given the cost of travelling on their trains."

Denise Rayner, aged 53, of St John's Court, St Albans, is still waiting to hear if she is going to be prosecuted by FCC after sitting in an empty first-class seat because she was suffering neck pain after an injury with a lift.

When an inspector came into the carriage, he accused her of sitting in first class unlawfully and told her she would have to pay which she refused to do as the rest of the train was so overcrowded.

She was, in her own words, "subjected to the third degree" culminating in the inspector marching off with her season ticket, photocard, Oyster card and a credit card at St Pancras to put them in a notice of prosecution.

Denise said: "He made me get off the train. I was in agony, desperate to get to work and take painkillers. It was horrible and very distressing.

"That train is always packed and I never get a seat in the morning. I would have stood but my neck was agonising."

She added: "FCC are more money-grabbing than Thameslink were and they don't care about their passengers. They see us as a way of making money and nothing else."

A spokesperson for FCC reiterated that fare evasion or travelling with an invalid ticket was a serious business but although revenue protection staff had a tough message to deliver, FCC expected the message to be communicated professionally and courteously.

He maintained that FCC received strong representation from customers who held first-class tickets and expected the status of the carriage to be maintained.

And he confirmed that while concessions existed for pregnant women with season tickets, that was not the case for customers who were ill. They were advised to consider their travel and journey plans carefully, he added.

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