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Just the ticket... rail bosses' pounds 1m windfall.

RAIL chiefs are on the way to scooping a pounds 1 million jackpot following an alut blitz on ticket dodgers.

Inspectors have hit 500 cheating commuters with pounds 10 fines in the past two weeks.

Central Trains launched its new penalty fares scheme on September 7.

The high-profile campaign looks set to earn a massive cash boost for the train operator.

Because latest figures show ticketless travel - which cost the company pounds 2 million last year - has been slashed by half.

A Central Trains spokesman said: "In terms of lost revenue it could save us pounds 1 million per year.

"The percentage of passengers without tickets has fallen from eight per cent in July, to four per cent today.

"The dramatic drop is due to the huge publicity surrounding the new fines.

"Dodgers have been riding on the back of honest commuters for too long.

"They are now getting the message that there is no hiding place from our inspectors.

"They must buy a ticket before they travel... or prepare to pay up."

But the penalty fares initiative had got off to a farcical start.

By the end of the first week no fines had been issued as the company adopted an initial "softly, softly" approach.

However, after the Sunday Mercury revealed the lack of action, Central Trains went full steam ahead with the blitz.

And in the past two weeks, a team of 50 inspectors has caught hundreds of cheats.

The Central Trains spokesman said: "We wanted to take it easy in the first week to be fair to passengers.

"But now our inspectors are issuing fines on trains and at stations.

"They have heard all kinds of excuses from passengers caught without tickets.

"The favourite is the station ticket machine was not working.

"But it only takes a quick radio call to check their story.

"We are pleased our advance publicity is hitting home.

"However, we know we cannot rest until ticketless travel is wiped out completely."

Gill James, of the Midland Rail Users' Consultative Committee, said: "We are delighted dodgers are finally being collared.

"At one time this year ticketless travel was approaching 10 per cent.

"It was of great concern to us because it's so unfair on honest commuters.

"Now, penalty fare warning signs are on clear display at stations and on trains.

"Commuters no longer have an excuse if they are caught without a ticket."
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 27, 1998
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