A plague of young fare dodgers on trains through the Aire Valley are costing Northern Rail a fortune and hence pushing up ticket prices for honest travellers, warn transport experts.

A meeting of the Bradford Passenger Consultative Committee heard how fare evasion was rife on the Airedale line between Crossflatts, Saltaire, Shipley and Frizinghall rail stations.

Speaking afterwards, West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority member Dr Keith Dredge said Saltaire station is the worst place for offending – and schoolchildren are the worst culprits.

“Saltaire is a real hot-spot and the problem is with schoolchildren diving on and off and hiding from the guard at either ends of the train,” said Coun Dredge (Lab, Keighley West).

“The guards do their best, but they simply haven’t got time to get down the length of the train.

“Although recently one jumped off the train and straight into the arms of a plain clothes British Transport police officer!” Said Coun Dredge, who added: “Once, I was on the train full of kids and another passenger said “Oh, let them get away with it”.

“I told him who I was and that it is was unacceptable.

“Schoolkids are the most significant problem, and although their fare may only be 50 pence, it all adds up to a lot of lost money.

“And the more people get away with it, the more fares go up for everyone else.”

Drew Haley, Client and Stakeholder Manager for Northern Rail told the meeting strong efforts were being made to crack down on the dodgers.

“During our franchise, we have significantly expanded our revenue team to provide more staff on stations and trains,” he said.

“An example of this is the barrier staff at Bradford Forster Square who have reduced ticketless travel there from over 20 per cent to low single figures.

“These staff are also used along the Aire Valley at stations where required; such as Keighley, when we feel a high profile presence is needed,” Mr Haley said.

“We also have one of the most robust prosecutions departments in the rail industry and where people are found to be genuinely avoiding payment we always prosecute.

For genuine passengers we have provided ticket machines at all stations on the Aire Valley to reduce waiting times and provide more outlets. Tickets can also be bought online for collection at stations as we appreciate passengers use a diverse range of ticket purchase options,” he added.