Not so cheap day return

I spent some time last week looking at saving money on rail travel. How many places can I get a ticket online? As well as all the Train Operating Companies, there’s another handful of companies that just sell tickets, giving us almost 40 different places you can buy a ticket online.

And the there’s various money saving type of sites that redirect you to ticket sales sites and earn a referral dividend each time they do so.

Yet it’s something that just appears to be accepted by the majority of people as normal. That is, a massively over complicated arrangement for getting a ticket for going from A to B. Certainly most of the mainstream media don’t discuss it, they’re too busy writing articles about how to save money on tickets…

And you can waste an hour or two trying to save money. Yet despite all the hype, promotion and the numerous articles about how to save money, for a significant number of journeys it makes little or no difference.

Granted there are instances where buying an advance fare or using a split ticket site will save a substantial amount, especially on the East & West coast main lines – but not every time.

Here’s an example – a trip to London from North Worcestershire. My nearest mainline station is Kidderminster, with Worcester a few miles further away.

For just a day trip I can choose either, however because of the way the routing works, its cheaper to go Kidderminster to Marylebone (via High Wycombe) than Worcester to Euston or Paddington. Or indeed Kidderminster to Euston.

And it doesn’t necessarily take any longer – take a look at this screenshotkidmybtkt Kidderminster>Euston   07.54, 2 ½ hrs, 2 changes, £185.00 return

Kidderminster > Marylebone 08.09, 2 ½ Hrs, 0 changes, £55 return

Then add a 1 day zones 1-6 travelcard, it works out at £60 – about a fiver less than buying a separate travelcard/capped Oyster

So by being slightly flexible on your travel time you can get a much cheaper train, with no changes -And Marylebone is a much nicer station to use than Euston!

A departure at a similar time from Worcester to Paddington or Euston ends up more expensive – at least £72, or up to £194, depending on time and destination.

And there was no option for an advance fare – I knew 5 days before that I would need to make this journey, and there were none on offer for that journey. I spent over an hour checking various ticket sales sites and split ticketing sites etc, but could do no better than the one I found in the first search, the 08.09 to Marylebone.

Why is the ticketing system so ridiculously over complicated? It’s partly a legacy, years of not streamlining the system, the historic setup where busier routes – such as into Euston – are more expensive than quieter ones (like the Chiltern route to Marylebone, and the fact we have 30+ TOC’s offering tickets. 

Loads of companies are fighting for a slice of the cake, and all it does is increase prices for travellers. Each train operating company has its own ticket sales website, a massive over duplication of resources, that passengers are paying for. There are no benefits to the current mess whatsoever. What passengers want is reasonably priced fares and a simple, quick and easy way to buy them. You should not have to spend an hour trawling the web to get a ticket at a reasonable price.

If you look at some overseas state run rail networks – Viarail in Canada is a state owned rail system and they have a single portal for buying tickets. There’s a few travel sites that book tickets and packages as part of a tour, or for overseas visitors, but ordinary tickets can only be bought from Viarail, either online or at stations.

The whole process is much simpler, there’s far less duplication of resources and therefore it all costs us, the travelling public, a lot less overall.

If you have the time and inclination, a comprehensive plain English guide to UK rail fares and ticketing is available on the RailUK Forums.

Yet again, the current set up of the privatised system fails the general public. The only winners from this farce of a system are the private companies who own the rolling stock (aka ROSCOS), the Train Operating Companies, despite popular opinion, don’t make much of a profit, and we get charged some of the highest rail fares in Europe. The regular complaints about fare increases ignore the fact that over 80% of fares are set by the Department for Transport, and under the current ticketing and fares review it is expected that the system will get a lot simpler, if not cheaper.

Thanks for reading. Check out my other posts on travel, heritage railways and more.
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