The Weymouth-Waterloo rail operator has been accused of overcharging passengers by “hiding” the cheapest fares for many routes.

Commuters travelling from Weymouth, Dorchester and elsewhere across Dorset can make massive savings by buying a different ticket for each leg of their journey instead of paying a single fare.

Dubbed “split-ticketing”, the system allows rail users to slash the cost of long-distance journeys.

But operators stand accused of failing tell passengers about the cheaper fares, with critics claiming commuters are “simply sold the ticket they ask for”.

Surveys have found that passengers in Dorset and other parts of the UK can achieve savings of up to 87 per cent.

The normal cost of a return journey on South Western Railway trains from Weymouth to London Waterloo is £128.90

But passengers can cut the cost of their journey by more than £25 - a saving of 19.1-per-cent - by splitting their ticket at Wool and Winchester.

Split-ticketing can also reduce the price of a return journey from Dorchester to London Waterloo by splitting their tickets at the same two destinations as if you were travelling from Weymouth.

Splitting the tickets cut the cost of the £124.30 journey to £101.80, a saving of 15.8 per cent.

The same concept applies to Great Western Railway routes - but not the Weymouth to Bristol line.

Railfuture, an independent organisation campaigning for better rail services, accused the government and train operators of hiding the split-ticketing system.

Bruce Williamson, a spokesman for the group, said: “Passengers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find these hidden savings, which can be considerable. It’s unfair that those in the know can obtain cheaper fares than other passengers who pay the full amount.”

The Campaign for Better Transport claims that unsuspecting commuters are being overcharged.

A spokesman said: “When they buy a ticket they should be offered the cheapest option available, including the chance to split their ticket, but that doesn’t always happen.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, claimed that “no-one trusts” private rail firms to “do the right thing by passengers”.

It comes as a public consultation is being launched by the industry to suggest ways of simplifying the system, which will lead to a report containing proposals for governments to consider with passenger groups claiming the reform is long overdue.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents private train operators and Government-owned Network Rail, said the industry’s suggestions will aim to be revenue neutral, with no change in average fares and no extra support from taxpayers.

But rail activist and campaigner Jeremy Varns from South Western Railway (SWR) Watch, claimed that travellers were being ripped off.

Mr Varns, said: “It’s another sign of the train companies back-door strategy leaving passengers further priced off the railway because of these hikes and it’s not acceptable.

“They’re premium pricing a product, yet the number of services does not keep up with demand. The difference between peak and off-peak fares isn’t distinguished so the train companies need to have a simple and understandable price strategy.”

However, a spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents South Western Railway and other operators, denied that the split-ticketing system was being concealed from commuters ahead of the consultation.

The spokesman, added: “We know there’s more we can do to make it simpler and easier for people to get the right ticket for their journey.

“We want to work with government and passenger groups to reform the rules and regulations that govern rail fares, and improve our retailing systems.

“Train companies offer a wide range of good value fares and discounts which are attracting record numbers of people to the railway.”

“The public consultation would allow the industry to create a clear road map with the country so that we can make the right changes for the long term more quickly.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are working with train operating companies to consider how to provide wider access to rail fares data in a way that allows private sector companies to offer fares information innovatively while protecting passengers from buying invalid tickets.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the Office of Road and Rail added: “We believe that passengers should have clear and simple information to enable them to buy the right ticket.

“They can often save money by purchasing tickets in advance, travelling off-peak or splitting the journey into separate parts. But before they travel passengers should understand that there may be specific terms and conditions applicable to cheaper fares or they could end up paying more.”

How can a combination of tickets can save passengers a few pounds?Dorset Echo:

Weymouth rail station

PASSENGERS can make massive savings by paying a combination of fares on condition that their train stops at all the stations to which they have bought tickets.

One of the main reasons is that many passengers depart at peak times but arrive at their destination off peak.

Rather than buy a peak fare for their entire journey they can use the split-ticket system to buy a peak fare for the first leg of their journey and an off-peak one for the remainder of their trip.

Also, a 16 to 25 or senior railcard gives passengers discounted fares.

By splitting their tickets they can take advantage of the discounted fare for a specific part of their journey while paying for the cheapest available ticket for the rest. Split-ticketing also lets passengers take advantage of promotions that different rail companies offer on advance purchase tickets.

Campaigners calling the rail fares system to be made more transparent include Louise Ellman, former chairman of the Commons transport select committee.

She said: “Passengers are being left confused and - at worst - paying a lot more than they need to for tickets.”

The Campaign for Better Transport is calling for cheaper, fairer and simpler train fares.

A spokesman said: “The UK has some of the most expensive rail fares in the world but despite this fares are still continuing to rise year after year.

“For most people, train fares are now rising around three times as fast as their wages.

“Many people are finding that fares cost such a huge proportion of their income they’re having to seriously consider alternative ways to get to work, or even working in a different place.”