RAIL campaigners are demanding an overhaul in antiquated ticketing rules which left one North-East traveller close to tears after she travelled on a Newcastle to Leeds train ticket - but got off at Darlington.

The mother-of-four was hit with a £33.70 fine - despite the ticket she was using costing £10 more than the one she was supposed to have bought.

Campaigners said the case highlighted the nonsense of England's overly complex ticketing structure which makes travellers feel like criminals even if they have just made an innocent mistake.

Last year the Government said it was preparing a shake-up in the rail regulations and promised that passengers who make genuine mistakes over their tickets will no longer be ‘treated like criminals’.

But campaigners say the shake-up is taking too long.

They cited the latest incident which happened after a friend bought two identical return tickets from Newcastle to Leeds on April 24.

The friend got on at Newcastle while the passenger got on at Darlington.

After a day in Leeds, the pair caught the train home and the passenger, a 42-year-old mother-of-four, got off at Darlington.

However, she was stopped at the barrier for having the wrong ticket and issued with a fine by Virgin Trains East Coast staff.

The woman, who has asked not to be named, said she was unaware she had committed an offence, adding that staff had not stopped her on the outward journey.

"A male member of staff took me to the office to complete the unpaid fare notice and another female member of staff was there too. I was very distressed by this point and close to tears as I have never once broken the law in my entire life. I tried to explain that it was a genuine error and they kept cutting me off in mid-sentence, the female member of staff telling me that I'd 'obviously got away with it'.

"I was made to feel like a criminal in front of other passengers and felt completely embarrassed and humiliated. My two small children were also at the other side of the barrier with my husband and were extremely distressed at me not being allowed through."

The passenger said she was horrified that she had unknowingly broken the rules.

"I offered to get back on the train and my husband would have had to drive to Newcastle to collect me. However, the train had already left and I could

not do this," she said, adding: "I felt bullied by both members of staff."

The passenger appealed the fine but this was rejected by Virgin Trains.

The Northern Echo contact Virgin Trains East Coast for a comment and the request was passed to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators.A spokesman said: “Cheaper advance fares offer great value for money and are very popular. In return for significantly reduced prices, advance tickets are valid only on the date and train shown on the ticket and subject to clearly advertised conditions.

“Sales of popular Advance tickets have increased five-fold in the last ten years.”

But Passenger Focus, a rail watchdog, said train operators should show some common-sense. It is calling for a shake-up in the rules governing ticketing – some of which stem as far back as 1889.

And a spokesman for Railfuture, the independent campaign for a better rail network, said: "This is another example of our ridiculously complicated fares structure which works against the passenger.

"This is terrible PR for the rail company as it makes them look evil. There's lots of work to be done to make the system much simpler and more reasonable."

Last year the rail minister Claire Perry said: "Passengers rightly expect that we take strong action against fare dodgers. But passengers penalised through no fault of their own must be treated fairly. That’s why we have listened to passengers groups and are working with the rail industry to improve the system so it is clearer, fairer and easier to use.”

In 2010, The Northern Echo highlighted the case of university professor Martyn Evans who was asked to pay £155 after getting off a train one stop early in Darlington, rather than continuing to Durham.