A retired couple were thrown off a train, threatened with the police and abandoned in Newcastle – after a conductor refused to accept their valid tickets.
Sheila and John McEwan were travelling from Glasgow to Durham to visit their grandchildren when their train broke down.
Garden-centre worker Sheila and husband John – a retired engineer, who still suffers from the legacy of a spinal injury – had been travelling on a train run by the Cross Country railway firm.
They were told they could instead catch a train run by London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and their existing tickets would be valid.
But, once on the LNER train, the ticket collector refused to accept their tickets and ordered them to get off at the next station.
Sheila, 74, from Blanefield in Stirlingshire, said they had spent £120 on first-class tickets to attend a family birthday.
“We had treated ourselves to a first-class seat to make the journey easier,” she said. “John had a spinal injury some years ago and we splashed out on the dearer tickets.
“The Cross Country train from Glasgow was delayed by three hours and we were put onto an alternative route via Edinburgh and onto an LNER train.
“We were sitting in first class when the train inspector looked at our tickets and told us we had no right to be on the train.
“He told us to get off and when I replied that we had been diverted to this train by Cross Country he wouldn’t listen and threatened to call the police.
“I assured him we had been guided on to the train by LNER staff working with Cross Country. However, nothing would convince him that we were entitled to be on the train and, above all, in first class.
“We had no choice but to struggle off the train.
“I felt humiliated and angry that we had been treated so badly.”
The couple had organised assistance in getting on and off from the train company when they booked their tickets but had to struggle, unaided, at Newcastle.
She says that a train official from LNER took pity on them and got them on another train to Durham. “My son was waiting at Durham wondering what had happened to us,” she said.
The couple have been trying to get compensation and an apology from LNER since their nightmare trip in January. “We struggled to get either from LNER,” said Sheila.
It was only when The Sunday Post intervened that they were taken seriously.
An LNER spokesperson: “We are currently in contact with Mrs McEwan about her journey with us and are investigating the issues raised.
“In this instance, ticket acceptance wasn’t in place with Cross Country so our advice would be for customers to double-check with station staff before boarding if they are in any doubt.”
LNER comes fifth-top for complaints among the UK’s 23 rail companies, according to rail watchdog the Office of Rail and Road.
Surveys on passenger experience show complaints in 2018-19 for franchised operators is the highest annual figure since 2012.
Almost 10% of complaints about all rail companies are about staff conduct and availability.
Research by disability charity Scope revealed last week that almost 80% of disabled people have felt anxious about using public transport.
David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “When passengers turn up to the station and find their train cancelled, the least they can expect is that the alternative arrangements will work.
“We work with rail companies to drive home the message that passengers, especially vulnerable ones, must be looked after during disruption.”
LNER has now offered Sheila and John two first-class tickets and travel vouchers.
Their spokesman added that he hoped the compensation would assure the couple they had taken their complaint seriously.
Sheila added: “We can only hope our next journey is trouble-free, as it should be for every passenger.”
A spokesperson for Cross Country said: “We were sorry to hear about the problems these customers experienced. We always try to ensure customers can complete their journey with little inconvenience, usually through asking other train companies to help.
“It appears this news hadn’t reached the train crew on this occasion. If the couple would like to get in touch, we would be happy to investigate.”