Almost half a million pounds has been spent by Network Rail staff on taxis in the past two years, it has been revealed.

Network Rail, which owns and manages Britain's railway infrastructure, spent over £460,000 of taxpayers' money on 31,401 taxi journeys between April 2015 and March 2017. The rail operator is a public-owned body and paid for by the taxpayer.

The longest journey, revealed by data published by the Sunday Times under freedom of information laws, saw a taxi travel 176 miles from Tunbridge Wells, Kent to Derby at a cost of £461. The average journey cost around £15.

Responding to spending almost £500 on a single taxi journey, Network Rail said: "This was a one-off situation as we looked after a member of staff who went out of their way, hundreds of miles from home, to keep the railway running. The vast majority of the travel undertaken by our people is by rail and we have a 'rail-first' policy."

As well as thousands of taxi journeys, it was also revealed that Network Rail staff claimed for 879 first-class railway tickets over the same time frame, costing £134,827, or around £152 on average.

Network Rail said the "vast majority" of journeys undertaken by staff were in standard class, and that first class tickets were only purchased in certain situations, such as when the staff member has a disability.

As for air travel among Network Rail staff, the data stated that senior managers had spent almost £45,000 on business-class flights over the past two years. One such flight saw a senior executive book a return flight between London and San Francisco costing £5,662. Another flew return to Los Angeles on a ticket costing £3,269.

First-class flights have been banned among Network Rail staff travelling on official duty since 2016.

Like a kick in the teeth

John O'Connell of the TaxPayers' Alliance told the Sunday Times: "Millions of us have suffered from Network Rail incompetence. To find out taxpayers have been subsidising hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of first-class rail and business-class flights...feels like a kick in the teeth."