Shee was travelling on the 8-46am to Glasgow from Euston when he witnessed an incident that clearly showed the rules are different for travelling MP’s to the rank and file of the British public.
When the train manager (Tommy Cheah) came into coach K to check the tickets he noticed that a lady and her companion were returning to Preston on out of date tickets (dated 23 April).
The train manager asked for the outward bound part of the ticket which could not be produced thus invalidating the tickets that were shown. Mr Cheah offered them a single fare to Preston and asked them to take up the matter with the train company in terms of a possible refund on the return ticket value.
At this point quite voluble remonstrations and protests ensued, which could easily be followed by everyone in the half-full carriage, including my informant. The lady in question then identified herself to the train manger as Geraldine Smith MP and refused to accept the manger's offer.
Politely, he then asked for her address so that he could offer an invalid travel notice, which she could then settle with the train company in the next ten days. The address she gave was the House of Commons, not one the train manager was familiar with, so he asked her for her home address, which she refused to give. Instead she asked him for Richard Branson’s phone number, the CEO’s phone number and Virgin’s Head Office etc. She herself phoned her assistant in Westminster and asked him/her to trace these people’s numbers too. My informant tells me what happened next:
"She was clearly leaning on the poor man, who behaved courteously
throughout, if a little amazed by what was happening. The MP was blatantly
pulling rank, name dropping and behaving in a highly unprofessional manner
in order to get her way. While the manger went away to look for help and
clarification in his hand book of travel conditions, which he brought around to
show this MP, a great deal of loud complaining and general harrumphing went on,
with numerous phone calls to her contacts and even a Virgin representative she
managed to contact. She dismissed the train manager’s offer to check the travelling
regulations handbook with a dismissive “you can’t expect me to know all those
regulations". More complaints about “ridiculous behaviour, petty regulations“
followed more phone calls to influential friends and contacts. Quite frankly,
she made a spectacle of herself and to her fellow passengers the sympathies of
those other passengers on the train clearly lay with the besieged train manager,
rather than with this excuse of a public servant.
The House of Commons, according to her, had furnished her with the ticket costing approx £347, which she bandied about ro all and sundry. The rest of the passengers, all of whom had valid tickets, would have only paid around £60 for the same ticket, booked through the Virgin internet/phone booking service. As all this is tax payers' money you might have thought the House of Commons travel office might avail themselves of best value travel costs.
Finally, when the argument had gone back and forth for more than ninety minutes the guard handed her a “invalid travel notice“, which she refused to sign. It was clear that she had spoken to his Head Office and a message had been relayed to the manager to back off and that they would deal with the matter. She announced this fact to him with some glee. So much for management backing up their staff.
We can only surmise what would have happened to an ordinary member of the travelling public in the same situation. They would most probably have been asked to leave the train at the next station and the Transport Police would have been informed. My contacts says...
Having witnessed this episode, it was a spectacle which further underlines what
some people think of their elected politicians - not a lot.
It is interesting to note that Geraldine Smith has asked quite a few questions about the West Coast Main Line recently.
30 January 2007 I congratulate the Government on the improvements on the west coast main line between Lancaster and London. They have made journeys much better. We must now consider capacity, especially, in my area, on trains between Lancaster and Morecambe, and improve the frequency of the trains by improving the track. What funding is available for such improvements?
31 January 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to improve rail services between Lancaster and Morecambe.
7 February 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to encourage people to use public transport. 8 February 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what funding is available to improve rail services on the Lancaster/Morecambe line.
8 February 2007
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will encourage the relevant train operators to provide more direct train services from Manchester and Preston to Morecambe.
I guess the simple answer to most of her questions would be that the train companies may make a start of improving services if MPs paid the correct fare for their travel and stopped taking up the train manager’s time so he can concentrate on the level of service to other travellers.
Perhaps I might give her a little help in drafting a follow up question for her...
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will ask Virgin Trains to ban MPs who abuse their position from their trains...
UPDATE: UK Events has received a response from Geraldine Smith with her version of the events described above. I have read her response now three times and can't see that it differs greatly from what I originally wrote. I'm copying it here for you to judge for yourselves. I did in fact try to contact Ms Smith at the time but I got no response...
In response to a blog making defamatory allegations about me that has appeared on an Internet site. I wish to state that the versions of events described in this article are factually incorrect in virtually every aspect.The central allegation is that on Thursday 26 April I attempted to travel from London to Morecambe on an out of date ticket and then tried to use my position as a Member of Parliament to browbeat the train manager into accepting it. This is totally untrue, on the day in question I presented the train manager with a valid in date ticket for the journey. The train manager inspected it, stamped it and returned it to me without question. There was however an incident involving a member of my staff who was sitting across the aisle in an adjacent seat. Whilst waiting for the train manager to approach him, he noticed that the return portion of his ticket had been stamped. On closer inspection he found that it was for travel from Morecambe-London, which had been his outward journey. The outward portion of his ticket was unstamped and was for travel between London & Morecambe i.e. the journey he was making. The ticket was well in date in fact it had over 3 weeks before it was due to expire. It was obvious to him that an error had been made when the tickets were issued and the outward and return journeys were the wrong way round. My member of staff duly presented both portions of his ticket to the train manager and informed him of what had happened. He demonstrated that the date stamp on the Morecambe-London portion clearly showed that he had travelled to London on Monday 23 April (the first day that the ticket was valid from) and that he was now using the other portion to return home. To his surprise and annoyance the train manager informed that because the return part of the ticket had been used the unused ticket was invalid. He then sought to get my member of staff to purchase another ticket. My member of staff told him quite bluntly that he was being unreasonable and that he had no intention of purchasing another ticket and that he would take the matter with Virgin when he got home. The train manager then left the carriage and I asked my member of staff what the problem was. For although I had overheard the latter part of their conversation I was not clear on how it had started. He filled me in on what had transpired and I agreed with him that the train manager’s refusal to accept his unused ticket was unreasonable.The train manager returned shortly after armed with sizeable rulebook and a pad of invalid travel notices. He then approached my staff member and proceeded to point to a rule to justify his actions. My member of staff replied to him that whether or not a rule existed it should be applied with commonsense. He also said that no references to the restricted use of open tickets were made either on the tickets or at the point of purchase.It was at this point that I felt that it was appropriate to intervene and I asked the train manager if I could have a word with him. I introduced myself as Geraldine Smith and told him that I was the Member of Parliament for Morecambe & Lunesdale. I imparted this information not to intimidate him in any way but simply because it was relevant to the issue. I explained that the person whose ticket he was refusing to accept was a member of my staff and that I had purchased the tickets for him using my Parliamentary charge card on Euston station on my way home from Parliament the previous week. I told him that I had asked for a 1st class open return ticket from Morecambe to London with a start date of Monday 23 April and that the ticket clerk had clearly issued them wrongly. I also informed that the whole point of purchasing open tickets at the exorbitant price that the train operators charged for them was the flexibility they afforded to people with uncertain travel arrangements. I put it to him that the all fuss was about a simple error and that it was wrong to penalise a passenger because of it. I suggested that the matter could be amicably resolved by him accepting the in date unused fully paid ticket that had been presented to him. I told him that to do otherwise would simply waste the time of Virgin and myself sorting it out at a later date.I put these points to the train manager in a plain straightforward fashion. He for his part listened courteously and attentively to what I had to say. In fact he was courteous and polite throughout the whole thing but unfortunately he was determinedly unhelpful in equal measure.Having listened to what I had to say the train manager asked me for my name and address. I replied Geraldine Smith House of Commons London on the basis that any payments due to be made or any refund on unused tickets would have to go through the House of Commons procedures. He responded by stating that he could not accept the House of Commons as my address and that he required my home address. I realised at point that it was intention to issue me with an invalid travel notice (even though I had already presented him with a valid ticket that he had accepted) and not to my member of staff whose ticket he had rejected. I came to the conclusion that any further dialogue with the train manager was futile and informed him accordingly. I also informed him that I would be contacting a senior manager at Virgin trains headquarters as soon as I was able to do so. He told me that he was not satisfied with my refusal to give him my home address and that he would be taking some unspecified further action.I then made calls to my offices in Morecambe & London to obtain the telephone number of Virgin trains chief executive’s office. I subsequently spoke to his secretary who informed me he was unavailable and she put me through to the franchise director. I attempted to explain to him what had transpired with the train manager but due to frequent loss of signal and generally poor reception this became virtually impossible. As the train was approaching Warrington we agreed to defer our discussion until I had left the train at Preston. A short time later the train manager reappeared and presented me with an invalid travel notice. I assisted him by supplying him with the postcode for the House of Commons, which had now apparently become an acceptable address but declined his invitation for me to sign it because I felt that it would be inappropriate for me to so.After a short and amicable discussion with the franchise director about the issue when I arrived at Preston he agreed that the invalid travel notice be withdrawn and intimated that an apology would be forthcoming. However I yet to receive the written confirmation that he promised to send me.The foregoing accurately reflects what actually happened during my journey home on Thursday 26 April 2007. At no stage did I threaten, bully badger or belittle the train manager. Neither at any stage claim or expect any privilege to be afforded to me because I am a Member of Parliament.Finally I fervently believe in the right of free speech within the limits that the law allows. However I draw the line at the publication of slanderous lies from undisclosed but obviously politically motivated sources, without any real attempt to establish the veracity of the statements being made.