British rail fares ARE the most expensive in Europe with passengers paying up to four times more for tickets

Britain is the rail 'rip-off' capital of Europe when it comes to train fares, with some tickets costing four times more than they do on the continent.

Rail-users are having to fork out more money on fares in a system that is 'complicated and not logical', said a passenger watchdog.

The report was commissioned by the Government and reveals that Britons, particularly those in London and the south-east of England, were being ripped off when it came to short-notice trips.

A commuter walks to board a train at Kings Cross Train station

A passenger watchdog has warned that British rail-users face a ticketing system that is 'complicated and not logical'

Although most passengers were generally satisfied with the quality of rail services, Passenger Focus said they were not happy with the value for money they were getting.

Travelling at short notice or needing flexibility about train times is an expensive experience in the UK.

The report compared the cost of long-distance turn-up-and-go fully flexible day-return fares to each country's principal city.

In Britain it was 3.31 times more expensive than the cheapest country, Holland. After Britain the next most expensive country was Germany, but the ticket was still 1.87 times more expensive for us.

Union leader Bob Crow

Union leader Bob Crow said British rail users are 'the victims of a legalised scam'

Even worse was a British annual season tickets for journeys of no more than 25 miles. It is 4.19 times more expensive than the cheapest ticket, which was found in Italy, and 1.88 times more expensive than the next most costly country, France.

However, there were some long-distance fares that were cheaper.

Piling more misery on commuters is the news that London's busiest rail commuter lines faces shutdown in the biggest co-ordinated strike action since the early 1990s.

They include routes operated by South West Trains, First Capital Connect (Thameslink), National Express East Anglia and London Overground.

Hundred of thousands of commuters would be affected by the action over job losses and working conditions.

The first of what is likely to be a series of 24-hour walkouts could take place next month.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said: 'This report shows British passengers are the most ripped off in Europe.

'Every year, ministers are forcing above-inflation price hikes on passengers who are being forced to stand on increasingly overcrowded trains.'

Union members have also reacted angrily to the news.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: 'Rail passengers in Britain are the victims of a legalised scam that imposes Inflation-busting fares increases year on year to feed the massive profits of private train operators.

'Fares should be set at levels that get people out of cars and aeroplanes and on to trains, for the sake of the environment and economy.'

Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union, welcomed the report as confirmation that Britain was the 'rip-off' capital of Europe for rail fares and demanded that the 'annual farce of inflation-plus fare increases' should be scrapped.

'We also want ministers to scrap their insane plan to make passengers pay 75 per cent towards the cost of running the railways from the present figure of 50 per cent.

'For too long, passengers have been regarded as cash cows by ministers and rail operators alike. That has to stop.'

The survey found overall satisfaction with services as high as 83 per cent but only 46 per cent considered they were getting value for money.

However, most UK passengers seemed better served than other European passengers by the number and times of trains available, according to the results of Passenger Focus autumn 2008 survey.

Enlarge   Rail fares UK versus Europe graph

Commuters in London, south-east England and the east of England rated value for money lower than in other parts of Britain and most passengers were worried about punctuality and reliability, being able to get a seat and passenger information during service disruption.

The report also said the current funding polices in which the cost of funding switches from taxpayers to passengers needs to be reviewed as does the year-on-year fare increase regime.

Passenger Focus chairman Colin Foxall said: 'This major new study lays bare why Britain's passengers are broadly happy with the quality of rail services but not happy with the value for money they are getting.

'Price of tickets is a key factor behind this but so is performance, overcrowding and managing delays.'

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith, said: 'We recommend that the Government reviews its intention to shift the cost of funding the railway from taxpayers to passengers.

'This policy was born in very different economic times. Passengers cannot be expected to continue paying above-inflation fare increases year on year during a recession.'

Rail fares in the UK recently broke the £1-a-mile barrier for the first time, according to seperate research.

Some fares are now three times higher than they would have been had they kept in line with inflation since privatisation in 1995.

In standard class some fares are approaching 70p per mile, but the highest fare rate found was the £87 charged for a first-class peak-time walk-on ticket for a 77-mile journey from London Paddington to Swindon with First Great Western.

This works out at £1.13 a mile and compares with 42p a mile in 1996 - a near three-fold increase.

The same type of tickets from London Euston to Manchester and from Paddington to Bristol cost £1.05 per mile.

Standard fares are as low as 13p a mile in Poland and 17p in France. First class fares are around 19p and 27p respectively.

Even in Germany, where ticket prices are higher than many other parts of Europe, a 181-mile journey from Hamburg to Berlin would cost just 35p a mile for a standard ticket or 56p for first class.