RAIL passengers are being warned they face £20 on-the-spot fines from next month if they try to dodge fares.

But a critic says the penalty fares initiative would be unnecessary if train guards regularly patrolled services in East Lancashire.

Plans have been announced by rail operator Northern to introduce penalty fares at destination stations across Blackburn, Burnley and Accrington from December 6.

The route between Preston and Colne, calling at Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley Central, is being included.

An extension has also been confirmed for Yorkshire-bound services calling at Burnley Manchester Road station, to link up with similar provisions at Hebden Bridge.

It is understood that the Clitheroe to Manchester Victoria line, covering stations including Whalley, Langho, Ramsgreave and Wilpshire and Darwen, is so far unaffected.

No fewer than 11 stations in East Lancashire do not even benefit from a ticket machine, however, and just three have ticket offices, increasing the potential for conflict.

East Lancashire peer Lord Tony Greaves believes that if guards checked tickets throughout the day - instead of just mornings and afternoons - the new scheme would be redundant.

Lord Greaves said: “They are not exactly long trains that the guards have to cover. Northern is encouraging their staff to be lazy and then penalising passengers.

“Northern should be sacked for any number of reasons anyway, in my opinion. Trains regularly don’t turn up already and passengers young and old are regularly abandoned at Burnley Central in the dead of night when services are cut short.

“And they’ve all but given up on providing services on Saturdays, with all the strikes which have been taking place.”

Cllr Jim Smith, cabinet member for the environment on Blackburn with Darwen Council, said, however: “This won’t affect most of the travelling public who will have bought a ticket anyway.

“If you don’t want to get a penalty fare then it’s simple - buy a ticket.”

Rail chiefs say that the penalty fare will be £20 or twice the cost of the single fare for the anticipated journey, whichever sum is greater.

A Northern spokesman said: “Most stations on penalty fare routes will have either ticket offices or ticket-tending machines so customers will have the opportunity to purchase tickets before they travel.

“In addition tickets may also be bought at any time before a customer boards a train by using the Northern app, with no booking fees incurred.

“If these facilities are not available at stations, or if offices are closed or machines are out of order, customers will still be able to buy a ticket from the on-board conductor.

Customers are being told that if they only have cash, and machines are card-only, they can obtain ‘promise to pay’ notices, which can be handed to conductors with the right fare.

Rail chiefs say collectors will be instructed to use their discretion, where travel conditions dictate, and that the industry’s independent appeals procedure will still be employed.

There are ticket offices at Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley Central and Nelson. Blackburn, Accrington, Rose Grove and Colne have ticket machines.