The price of a train ticket

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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5 Responses to The price of a train ticket

  1. Christine says:

    Believe me iPods are not a distraction in first class carriages in the most part – first class is for the working traveller. You can also often book a seat in the "quiet coach" which should protect you from all noise from iPods and mobiles. Travel in the high summer months – the 6 weeks of the summer school holidays give or take a few weeks either side to allow for regional variations on the start and finish dates of schools – has always been more expensive. All sorts of reasons given but it used to be something to do with people going on holiday during that period. Tuesday to Thursday the train fares are often a little lower – Mondays and Fridays are often days when people go to and from contract work for the week – so charge more. Saturdays and Sundays are often regarded as busy – so charge more! It\’s a good trick to buy 2 singles rather than one return to save money. And sometimes you can save money by buying your tickets in stages. For instance – going from Newcastle on Tyne to Penzance is actually cheapest on 4 tickets: Newcastle to London then London to Penzance and Penzance to London, London to Newcastle. If you are prepared to not book a sleeper ticket but sleep in any seat you can get the overnight train from London to Penzance for very little (as I have done many times). Is train travel expensive? If there is more than one of you – yes. Two drivers and it\’s moot whether you will use the train. There\’s an awful lot of National Express coach seats but you really do get a numb bum on a long distance journey – but it saves money and if you are really broke that may be all that counts. If you can stand it you can go from Newcastle on Tyne to Penzance for about £50 instead of £155 on the train (including overnight) but hmm – do I really want to do the coach?But no worse than going on a coaching holiday I suppose.

  2. Bill says:

    September \’95, I attempted a contract in Hereford, while still yet living outside B\’ham, x 3days/week.I was on the road before 05:00hrs., to reach the first train at just after 06:00hrs., arriving in Hereford at 08:30, to catch a private bus before 09:00hrs., finally arriving in t\’ office at 10:00hrs. Well over 4 hours.I then left t\’ office at 17:00hrs., to catch the 18:00 train to B\’ham, arriving at 20:00hrs., only to wait as much as an hour for the bus.The almost empty train alone cost almost £10 each way, it would have cost only £10 return twixt 09:30 – 15:30. I could never solve the riddle of the discrimination. There is no difference in cost/seat, so why the discrimination?They also claim a subsidy, & are supposedly a non-profit Social Enterprise!I have had a similar problem Euston – B\’ham. Those who have a day return only pay £50 return, & recieve a refund if the afternoon return is late. I have to pay £50 single, with no refund, despite the train leaving Euston 2 hours late.Every train journey of over 10 miles that I have ever made, I have also hitch hiked, in half the time, & for free. I can even hitch hike from Euston in the afternoon rush-hour, simply by taking the tube to Hounslow or Barnet. I have even hitch hiked the A206 South Circular in the wee small hours, from Wales to Dover, stopping for Breakfast at 04:00hrs., on Tower Bridge, without any problem.When the rail operators pay no fuel or road tax, & operate such large, efficient/economic/ecologic 500 -1,000 passenger Inter-City, why does the same journey cost only a third as much by bus?B\’ham (Dudley) – Euston £15 return (09:30 -15:30) by bus, £15 single outside these hours. Again the same discrimination!It would mean me having to leave home at 02:30hrs., to catch the 03:30hrs. from Dudley, at least 7hrs., in order to be in court, on the Strand, by 10:00hrs., obviously kissing the day return goodbye, & not arriving home until at least midnight, on the 17:30 bus from London.The entire system was not only a rip-off, but also a complete mess & waste of space under British Rail. It is even far worse today!

  3. Hannah says:

    Hi Pippa, love your blog by the way, very interesting.Like you I hate train fares.Petersfield to Portsmouth child reture is £3.55Petersfield to Portsmouth is £3.45. Rip off.

  4. piper says:

    I have sat in the so-called quiet coach on trains where people ignored the signs and still chatted loudly on their mobiles!

  5. My 16-25 rail card has just run out so I’ll sadly have to pay adult prices from now on, sigh 😦

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