Facing prosecution for sitting in a first-class rail seat

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My girlfriend and I took the Stansted Express from London Liverpool Street on 20 February at about 3.55pm and had a terrible journey. The train was extremely busy, with people sitting in corridors. We paid £61.40 for the (standard) tickets, and, as my girlfriend was feeling unwell, we went to the only free seats – in a first-class carriage.

A ticket inspector told us to leave, saying there were seats in standard class. But after walking the length of the train, there were no empty seats – apart from in another empty first-class carriage. We sat there.

The inspector told us “You have paid for a journey, not a seat”, so we got up to stand in a corridor. But the inspector wanted identification and said, if we didn’t comply, the police would be called. We offered our driving licence and passport.

It is now a legal matter and we face prosecution.
SB, London

I used to be a regular traveller on this route and can attest to how packed carriages often were before coronavirus struck. But it’s a modern myth that train travellers are allowed to sit in first-class if all other seats are taken.

The National Rail conditions of travel state: “You cannot travel in first-class accommodation (including standing in corridors or passageways) with a standard class ticket. This applies even if there are no vacant seats in standard class.”

Occasionally, a train operator will “declassify” first-class and allow passengers with standard tickets to occupy the seats. But in this instance that had not happened, so you were in breach of the rules.

Greater Anglia says: “Mr B and his girlfriend were informed they should move further down the train where seats were available in standard class. They did move from the initial first-class compartment but were later found sitting in a different first-class compartment. They were therefore reported for fare evasion, especially after they were advised to move previously.”

It says that there are “no financial incentives in place for revenue protection inspectors”.

However, after Guardian Money explained your financial situation – you lost nearly all your income due to the coronavirus crisis – it closed your case as a goodwill gesture.

You are now very relieved after three months of “fairly hostile communication” with the company.

It has to be asked why train companies persist with first-class carriages which are often empty when standard class is full.

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