MORE than 600 fare-dodgers were snared by rail investigators at stations in East Lancashire during the past year.

And now train operator Northern Rail is fighting back with a clampdown on those looking for a ‘free ride’ on the county’s lines.

Darwen has emerged as East Lancashire’s fare-dodging capital - despite only hosting two services - with 240 cheats caught out in the previous 12 months.

Another 233 were identified travelling from Blackburn, 71 at Accrington, 39 at Burnley Manchester Road, and 10 apiece at Burnley Central and Colne.

Rail sources said Darwen - which only has a vending machine - was possibly the largest offender as most passengers will be travelling to either Blackburn or Manchester, where checks are carried out.

But the county’s biggest rail bandits are in Preston and Central Lancashire - with 339 fare-evaders trapped.

The worst route for dodgers is the Preston to Manchester train, which stops off at Chorley, Buckshaw Parkway and Adlington.

Poster and video campaigns have now been launched by the rail firm under the banner of ‘Get A Ticket’.

One illustrates an unwanted party guest helping himself to a takeaway, and another attempting to take a ‘free ride’ in someone else’s car.

Alex Hynes, Northern’s managing director, said: “We know from talking to our customers they have a real problem when they see others not paying for their journey.

“We don’t want to see passengers get into trouble and want to make sure they understand the implications of taking a free ride.”

The rail operator has installed new electronic ticket machines at the likes of Colne, Darwen and Burnley Manchester Road stations over the past two years.

Ticket checks have been in operation at Blackburn for some time and are occasionally extended to cover Accrington and Nelson.

Mr Hynes said that while smaller stations may not have ticket machines, larger numbers of fare dodgers were caught at locations with open ticket offices and self-service facilities.

Fare dodgers can either be given the option to pay their fare, and an administration charge, or prosecuted before magistrates.