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Boarding the train with their £50,000 cellos, the group of musicians were looking forward to a relaxing journey home.
The train was only half full and, after a long day of performing, they collapsed into their seats with their precious instruments alongside.
But soon after the train left Plymouth for the trip to London, their happy mood was thrown into discord.
They were left astonished after being ordered by a ticket inspector to buy additional tickets – for the cellos propped up in the empty seats beside them.
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A conductor tried to charge the musicians extra when they placed the valuable – but also very large – instruments on the seats beside them
The performers were travelling back to London after playing at the International Music Seminar outside Penzance, in Cornwall, on Sunday, when they were approached by the First Great Western inspector.
Despite explaining that the cellos were too valuable to be left alone in the guard’s carriage, they were ordered to pay an extra £107 to cover the cost of the cellos’ “seats”.
But the group, who had already travelled with the seven instruments earlier that day on £25 advance tickets, refused and the police were called.
Tobias van der Pals, who is studying at the Royal Academy of Music, said: “These instruments are worth up to £50,000 so we cannot allow them out of our sight.
“The train was not full and there were seats available all the way home.
“But when the ticket inspector saw the cellos he got very angry and said he would throw us all off the train if they were not moved.
“When he rang the police and said: ‘There is an incident with some cellos’, everyone on the carriage just laughed.
“All the other passengers were very supportive and gave us their email addresses so that they could be witnesses if we were ordered off.”
The train was delayed for several minutes until one of the group, Hungarian-born pianist Valeria Szervanszky, told police that she would stand and allow a cello to have her seat.
It was then that the ticket inspector backed down and the train was allowed to continue its journey.
Mr van der Pals added: “When the police arrived they said there was nothing they could do and just left. After that the train manager did not return to the carriage. I think he was quite humiliated.”
A spokesman for First Great Western said: “We apologise for any inconvenience.
“But the fact is that under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, no group with bulky luggage, especially large items like cellos, should expect to receive seat space or free seating for their instruments.
“This group did not make prior arrangements with us for their large and valuable items, and therefore the train manager was entirely correct to charge for seats being used. We would expect an orchestra to make prior arrangements for travel with such items – be it by rail or any other transport.
“Our conditions of carriage clearly refer to size and weight of luggage allowed in the carriage.”
In January rail bosses at First Great Western admitted that they had “made a mistake” after axing services on a line where chronic overcrowding was already a problem.
The decision sparked a commuter revolt and “fare strike”.
Responding to complaints that his rail company had withdrawn 20 carriages around Somerset and Wiltshire, Mr Lockhead said: “We miscalculated the demand. We took capacity out. We’re putting that capacity back in.”
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Ah many’s the time I’ve given up my seat for a cello! Sometimes they have their small offspring violas in buggies. Of course it’s the Grand Pianos that take up all the space.
– Philip, London, England
Airlines have required tickets for cellos, guitars and other large musical instruments for years. It should be no surprise that a rail company does the same. If your luggage takes up a seat that would otherwise have been sold to a person, you should expect to pay for that seat. Given the crowding on British trains, there’s little doubt the seat would have been sold.
Delicate stringed instruments, even in quality cases, can’t be left in a baggage hold where they may be banged about or subjected to extremes of temperature. The instrument I play is not as valuable as the ones the cellists in this article own, but I don’t hestitate to pay to make sure it is safe and sound when I travel with it. I’ve always found the transport companies very accomodating, offering a child’s fare or some other discount. It’s amazing how helpful people are when you ask politely.
– Judy, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
“Empty seat”: I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the term?
– Marianne, SW France