A favourite bugbear of mine – the high price of travelling by rail in the UK – has hit the headlines again this week as it does periodically. The Transport Select Committee is concerned that the recession may lead train companies to hike prices yet again, as well as close more ticket offices and cut back on carriages because they are making less money. Job cuts in the UK’s financial services sector mean that train operators are carrying fewer premium passengers. Some companies have also run into financial difficulties. National Express recently surrendered the East Coast Mainline back to the Government because it could no longer afford to run it.
Last week, DJ’s Mum came down from Wales to stay with us for a few days and travelled down by train. We were impressed that she’d managed to find a great ticket deal which, using her senior citizen card, cost just £12.50 each way. Navigating the UK’s crazy train ticket system isn’t for the faint-hearted, but luckily she came across a friendly ticket agent who advised her as to the best price available and the best time to travel. The journey from here to Wales taken on a Friday would normally cost DJ around £60, even when buying the ticket in advance, but because she travelled on a Thursday, DJ’s Mum managed to get a further discount.
Out of curiosity, we decided to take a look online to find out exactly how much it would have cost to do her return journey without the senior citizen discount and buying the tickets on the day rather than in advance. I bet it would cost £80 while DJ’s Mum bet that the price would be £30. In reality, a single fare travelling after 9.30am cost £65, but if she travelled before 9.30am it would have cost her a whopping £95 just one way. Ouch.
Then, just for fun, we checked to see how much the ticket would cost if she travelled before 9.30 in the morning, first class and with an open ticket allowing her to travel on any train she liked. We placed bets on what the price might be. I guessed that it would be £150, while DJ’s Mum guessed £60.
So what was the ‘anytime’ first class return ticket price between Essex and Wales (excluding senior citizen discounts)? No less than £297 return! Madness! Can you imagine anybody actually paying that? It would cost less than that to hire a chauffeur to drive her there or to fly there. You could even get a pleasure ride in a helicopter for less at £250. I can’t even imagine a rich businessman or woman being willing to pay that fare because he or she would still have to travel alongside other passengers playing their Ipods or chatting on a mobile phone, despite having paid nearly £300 for the privilege…
Do you think train tickets are overpriced? How would you change the train fare system? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. Leave a message and let me know.
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