You couldn’t make it up – but rail companies can!

In the last month, there have been two cases where rail passengers have been fined because they got off the train BEFORE the right stop.

Couple fined £114 for getting off train before their final stop – 6 September 2010

Getting off train early costs Durham professor £155 – 27 September 2010

You don’t have to be Mr Spock to see that this is a totally illogical state of affairs. In fact it is barking mad and the words “you couldn’t make it up” spring to mind. Unfortunately rail companies can and do, being run by people whose brains operate on wavelengths different to those used by the majority of humans since Upper Palaeolithic times.

The arguement employed by the rail companies is that “it is against the terms and conditions” to get off at an earlier stop if buying a discounted-rate ticket, contrary to something known as “common sense” (admittedly in short supply at rail companies). But it is more than contrary to common sense, I would argue that it is also contrary to law.

A train company can force a passenger to leave a train or penalise them for remaing aboard without a valid ticket. What it cannot do is when a train has made a scheduled stop to force or coerce somebody to remain aboard against their will, or penalise them for failing to remain aboard. I would argue that to do so is not only stark staring mad, it is false imprisonment, a serious offence in common law.

If so then the terms and conditions are irrelevant and unenforceble, because common law takes priority. For example, if the terms and conditions said “If you leave the train before your stop, you will be shot”, it is extremely unlikely that anybody trying to implement this policy would escape a lengthy jail sentence. I strongly doubt if the argument “I was only enforcing the terms and conditions” would cut much ice in court.

False imprisonment is a less serious offence, but it is still an offence. If somebody did sucessfully argue in a court of law that preventing somebody from leaving a train early did constitute false imprisonment, then railway companies would be in trouble. Which is why I suspect they backed down in the case of Professor Evans, albeit hiding behind the face-saver of “good will”. If the London couple had refused to pay, I suspect the outcome would have been the same.

If this argument is ever successfully tested in a court of law, it will hopefully force and end to this ridiculous policy and it will be a massive victory for common sense.

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Author: prehistorian

Prehistorian & author

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