/ Travel & Leisure

Petty train fines for getting off early

Ticket master on train

If you’ve gone to the expense of buying a train ticket to a far away destination, you’d think you could get off a stop early. But rail companies are playing a petty game of punishing travellers with complicated terms.

Even professors are getting it wrong with train tickets. Professor Martin Evans was made to pay £155 by East Coast for getting off his train… one stop early.

Yes, early. Rather than getting off at Durham (the station he had an advance ticket to) he got off at Darlington, one stop earlier and nearer his home.

To add insult to injury, he’s reported as saying he was made to feel like a ‘wrongdoer’ – which isn’t a nice perk for travelling first class.

The rules of getting off early

The conditions of advance tickets do state that you have to make the journey printed on your ticket without breaking that trip or changing destination. Nevertheless, these conditions aren’t on the ticket itself, so you’ll have to make a pro-active effort to read them.

Is it just me scratching my head at the idea of being charged more for actually travelling less? Even leaving that aside, how can the £155 that Professor Evans was made to pay be justified when he couldn’t have caused any such loss to East Coast?

I’m guessing the answer is that it’s meant to act as a deterrent. The rail network’s argument is that if you want to catch any old train and break your journey, you’ll have to pay for it with a walk-up ticket. And by ‘walk-up ticket’ I mean the normal (usually expensive) ticket you buy when you don’t want to be tied down to a particular train.

Trains don’t live up to their potential

But here’s the rub. People’s lives aren’t run to strict timetables that never change. Meetings overrun, a swift half isn’t so swift. That’s life. This is something cars, motorbikes and bicycles are brilliant at coping with – when you’re ready, they’re ready.

Planes aren’t so good at this. With all the check-in and security palaver, you know you’ll have to arrive well before take-off. And since flight frequency isn’t that great, you definitely won’t want to miss your flight.

But trains could offer a compelling halfway-house alternative. There isn’t any traffic, and you can turn up whenever you’re ready.

Oh, wait, they do offer this. But only when you buy a walk-up ticket that costs so much more than an advance ticket that many us simply can’t afford them. Not only that, but peak-times are now longer and regulated fares are also on the way up. Whatever way you look at it, the kind of railway where you can just turn up and go is in retreat.

I know, there are more passengers than there used to be and there’s a limited rail network to put them on – but this all seems a bit petty to me.

Should the rail companies go the way of Ryanair – with cheap advance fares if you commit ahead of time and chunky penalties for even the slightest of changes? Or should they try to tempt you with more flexible offers?

Sophie Gilbert says:
29 October 2010

Professor Evans should appeal against his fine in court and the judge should say to East Coast, don’t be daft, and if I hear about more fines like this, I’ll fine you! Once again train companies prove that they are not there to provide us with a service but to extract every penny they can out of us.

Not only that,when one you their defective rubbish trains breaks down they demand the ‘right’ to hold you prisoner while they do nothing to resolve the problem. Another reason why I would avoid using a train at almost any cost.

All Rail companies are not passenger friendly.They divide the people like first class and second class,peak hours passengers and non peak passengers,expensive fare and advance ticket fare etc.
They have different terms and condition with restriction.They have made a such bad rules that anyone can trap in to their penalty fare.They are playing their monopoly game with passengers to be always winner.They do not listen the passenger focus also. We all wish that Govt should show red eyes on them and make fare more affordable without any restriction and remove peak time and off peak time.It strange that no any M.P is interested to solve Rail passengers misery.

I was disappointed to see that you have removed my expanded comments on how ‘prison trains’ should be treated by those illegally detained by their defective miss-operators. I see that further adverse comment about the appalling way that the miss-operator treated passengers and ‘prisoners’ has now appeared in the press, including allegations of dangerous driving by at least one bus driver. It really is time that these failing outfits, (you cannot call them organisations) were made responsible and made to suffer for their failings.

Hello Richard, we’re not quite sure what happened to your expanded comment and don’t recall seeing it. Perhaps something went wrong when you were submitting it, for which we apologise. Please feel free to submit it again.

As for the problem that richard refers to below. There are two solutions – one or both of you could have an initial added to your usernames, which I can do for you – so please let me know if you’d like to do this by using our Get in Touch form: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/

The other solution doesn’t involve changing your names, but uploading a personal avatar so that people can distinguish between both of you. If you haven’t already registered for a free account please do so here https://conversation.which.co.uk/register/ you’ll be able to upload an avatar there. If you’ve already signed up, click on your name once you’ve logged in and you’ll be sent to the user area where you’ll again be able to upload an avatar.

I hope this solves the problem. Thanks.

May I point out that there now seems to be TWO Richards

Malcolm Ripley says:
11 November 2010

Try this trick: buy the longer distance cheap discount ticket AND a ticket for that last leg of your required journey. Then you have a valid ticket for getting on and getting off! For example: Manchester-Leeds £8.50, Huddersfield-Dewsbury £2.15, total £10.65, versus Manchester-Dewsbury £12.10. Madness utter madness especially since I will have a reserved unused seat from dewsbury to leeds on a busy line!

Howard Smith says:
19 February 2012

In the March Which? magazine, John Hargaden’s second question re ‘Getting off a train too early’ was “What is the reasoning behind it?”, (I was awaiting the reply with anticipation!), to which there was no answer. I found the answer in this forum, but would have thought it important for Which? to make this known to the many Which? members who do not have access to the internet. Can you explain why this was not done, please?

As far as I can see there is no rational explanation in this forum for train companies’ policy of fining you for getting off early – it just says they do it to “deter” us. But why are they so eager to deter us? What is the actual logic behind selling a service then fining customers who choose not to avail themselves of the entirety of that service? We’ve seen the same thing with return ferry and air tickets – operators have been known to pursue people who do not make their return journey for “compensation”. It is bizarre, but technically legal.

Their argument is that the contract for a “discounted” ticket says you MUST travel the whole way (respectively make your return journey). Too bad if you don’t like that. The fact that you are sitting in the train (ferry/plane) for less time, so wearing out the upholstery that bit less, and causing us to use slightly less fuel, and perhaps making a seat available for another passenger – all this counts for nowt because you AGREED to go the whole way. Travelling to a different destination, whether en route to the purchased destination or not, is a breach of contract. They might add, with absolutely no evidential justification in my view, that the economics of discounted tickets can only work if they strictly enforce these rules, since otherwise lots of people would buy tickets for destinations other than the one they really want to go to, which would lose the company money – somehow.

While they have the legal right to do this, it is of course a very stupid policy and goes some way to explaining why our railways are in such a mess. They are run by strange people who cannot see that enforcing this just causes bafflement and resentment. Normal people cannot understand why, for example, it might cost £30 to travel 200 miles between large stations, but two or three times that to travel to a smaller station somewhat nearer than the large station. (This is a real example, not made up). So a normal person would buy a ticket for £30 and get off early. But train operators do not think like normal people.

This inevitably encourages people to strike back, for example by the device of buying two tickets, one for the longer journey and one for a local journey to where you intend to get off. Legally this is probably also a no-no, but wouldn’t you love to get into an argument with a ticket collector about which train you actually arrived on? I know I would. For pity’s sake, when will these people learn?

J Turner says:
6 March 2012

I find it hard to understand how train companies can do this without potential claims for something along the lines of ‘wrongful imprisonment’ (I’m not a lawyer, so assume there’s a more relevant term). Is it really lawful for the company to prevent someone (who maybe doesn’t have additonal funds on them) from leaving the vehicle? The terms and conditions of travel clearly allow them to do this, but wouldn’t other non-contractual law not over-ride this?
Has this angle been tested through the courts?

False imprisonment requires an element
of intent that may be absent OR difficult to prove,
in any event subject to T&Cs of rail company in

Contract law provisions can only be overridden
as being contrary to public policy in clearly
-defined or set out circumstances.

If prepared to research the internet, may be able
to find out relevant case law.

service TGV says:
7 August 2012

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David S says:
1 September 2012

How many readers would agree that the term ‘Robber Barons’ is an accurate description of our privatised train companies?

Mark says:
5 February 2013

By the same logic if I were to buy a pack of 4 cakes in a supermarket but decide to eat only 3 of them, the supermarket should impose a large fine for not having eaten all of the cakes I paid for.

william says:
7 March 2016

There is no logic for the entire system. It can cost less to go further, and you can reduce costs by breaking up your ticket this should not happen full stop.

And then you got the polices like this. Well I feel when you get an advance ticket you pay for getting from A to B at this time so if you get off before B that is fine but you are not getting back on.

I also find it annoying how if you get anything wrong you got to pay for everything again or get fined (or both). But if the train company gets it wrong and the train is late or what ever then you cannot return the favor. No you can only get some compensation if the train is delayed for something like 1 hour and even then your getting vouchers for maybe half the cost of your trip.

And then you got no consistency with staff. One conductor will check every rail card and look at every detail of your ticket to make sure everything is in order and then you got the guy who just glances over and is done. Or the station staff who say one thing and the conductor saying another. Or my favorite one was when picking up an advance ticket. they say you need the card you used and the code. Usually they just use your card and then of cause the one day you don’t have the code they NEED the code cause the book says it is needed.

The whole system needs an over haul.

ozlojo says:
31 May 2017

Of course, if their toilet wasn’t quite up to standard (didn’t lock / flush / wash / provide loo paper/ wasn’t clean/ was smelly – and when is this NOT the case?) you’d have a valid reason to leave the train to find a loo urgently and tell them the alternative is for you to claim compensation!

Stephen Psallidas says:
14 May 2019

I agree that passengers buying a discounted/advance ticket should not be able to *break* their journey (ie. exit and then re-enter an intermediate station) if that isn’t allowed on the fare. But *terminating* early and being penalised seems madness.

As others have pointed out, it is of course due to the fact that fare-setting is so eye-wateringly complex on Britain’s privatised railways that the train companies have to enforce the conditions of every ticket 100%, or else the whole bizarre fare system collapses! (Which would be a good thing in my view….)