/ Travel & Leisure

Update: getting the rail industry to deliver a fairer ticketing system

Train tickets

Today we’ve co-hosted an event with the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP, to tackle the longstanding problem of how to improve the passenger experience and launch an action plan to simplify information on rail fares and ticketing.

Over the past five years we’ve consistently highlighted problems with the rail ticketing system. Rail passengers told us about their struggles with the multitude of ticket types and not being able to find the cheapest ticket.

The fact of the matter is, to get the best ticket for your journey you often need to have extensive knowledge of how to play the system.

Rail ticketing

It’s clear that this system requires simplification, so Which?, the Department for Transport, the rail industry and passenger groups, have produced, and agreed to, an action plan that aims to deliver sizeable changes within the next 12 months to improve the rail passenger experience.

Earlier this year, in our annual train satisfaction survey we found that 30% of passengers surveyed thought the most important thing for train companies to focus on was to improve clarity on the range of tickets available. And 16% wanted better ticket machines that are easier to use and have more comprehensive ticket choices.

Accessibility to ticketing information and choices has been a longstanding issue and we’ve been frustrated that the rail industry hasn’t been quick enough to tackle it.

This action plan includes an end to confusing technical jargon like ‘any permitted route’ on tickets and more upfront information in plain English about the tickets available.

To help rail passengers make the most out of their journeys, train companies have also agreed to publish information on when stocks of the best value ‘Advance’ tickets are running low. And you’ll now be told it’s possible to get a cheaper ticket by travelling at a different time.

To improve access to information and to help you make your train journeys more efficient, accessible and pleasurable, train companies have agreed to make data on timetables, fares and how busy trains are more available.

Delivering on the plan

After bringing all parties to the table to agree this action plan we now need to hold the industry to account and make sure that they all deliver these much needed changes.

Our work isn’t done here yet – if Which? sees a lack of progress to implement these changes then we’ll make this publicly known and ensure that the rail industry is held to account.

And this is where we need your help to secure the longer term changes that are sorely needed to improve satisfaction with train journeys and the service provided on our railways.

Update: 1 February 2017

Today’s news coverage has shown that progress is starting on improvements to the rail ticketing system, as train companies announce the start of trials to change the fares structure.

It’s well known that passengers struggle to use the existing complex ticketing system, so we’ve been pushing for the rail industry and government to take action to improve and simplify.

We brought the industry and government round the table last year, and back in December, together with the Department for Transport, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and Transport Focus, we published a joint action plan to improve to the ticketing system.

The trials were splashed in today’s papers, committing to removing fares for long and connecting journeys where cheaper options exist and introduce single leg pricing for a selection of trial journeys.

But, this is just the first step. The rail industry must now deliver on this plan as passengers will expect big changes to make fares and ticketing system easier to understand. People must be able find the best ticket for their journey and cheaper fares must not be hidden.

Trials of today’s commitments are due to start in May. But we’ll still be keeping a keen eye on the train companies to see how and when they implement these much needed improvements.

We need passengers to stand with Which? and help us to hold the rail industry to account. Will you work with us and help us find out how well train companies are doing at delivering on this action plan?

Simeon Hopkins says:
15 December 2016

How about a less bloody-minded attitude by those running and manning Southern for a start? What is their intention? To bankrupt this country? When we have trains running regularly, then we can think about simpler ticketing options and jargon.

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Steve says:
15 December 2016

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Rosemary Sealey says:
15 December 2016

Obviously ticketing should be changed so as to automatically give the cheapest option, and this should be honoured by all train companies even where a train has been cancelled by another company whose services form part of the journey.

This is only part of the problem. Trains are often overcrowded and sometimes late. I suggest someone has a look at how Switzerland runs train services, as they are very reliable. They are called “Schweizerische Bundesbahnen” or SBB (in German), and as this means “federal railways” I imagine they are state-owned and run. Privately run rail services are also reliable, for one example see BOB (Berner Oberland Bahn).

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Theresa Archer says:
22 December 2016

Its not about a rail service its about the rail service thats why British people never get things done they divert from the main topic time after time

Terry says:
2 February 2017

You have to question the Union when the head man says his main aim is to get May out. This is seriously not about labour and staffing and begs the question on his suitability for office.

Simon George Spratt says:
2 February 2017

Absolutely!! So should our blinking Government!! It’s as much their fault as that of the Railway and Maritime Union!!

BladeRunner says:
2 February 2017

Switzerland is one of the most privately run countries in the world. The railways in Switzerland are 100% private and they aren’t cheap either, but I believe Britain and Norway are slightly more expensive when it comes to ticket prices.

Disgusted says:
3 February 2017

First get rid of RMT and ASLEF who seem to think that they are owed a living and the Railways are primarily meant to provide them a job for life and on their terms

Pam LAIT says:
4 February 2017

Judging by some of the Trains I’ve used down there and up in Cheshire A Guard is defiantly Needed.
The Handles don’t always work, So without a Guard the more Mature Passengers would miss their stop or be unable to get ON Board

Barbara Lucas says:
15 December 2016

We have one of the most expensive and illogical railway systems in Europe. I think it is crazy that commuters, who pay a small fortune for their tickets, should be crammed in like cattle. Another thing which makes no sense at all is that it is frequently cheaper to buy split tickets on a long journey than a single ticket for the journey.


Having the oldest railway system in the world is part of the problem, and having half of it ripped up in the 1960’s and 70’s has also contributed to its impracticality.

Season ticket-holding commuters get considerable discounts as their peak-time trains are the most expensive to operate and are very heavily subsidised by other passengers who can only buy expensive tickets at walk-up prices.

Barbara – Do you think the railways are obliged to accommodate every passenger who wishes to travel on a particular train? Are they expected to increase capacity when a station’s catchment area fills up with lots more new housing? These questions never seem to be addressed.


Yes we have the oldest railway system in the world, but it was sold cheaply and companies are supposed to invest to get a return, not customers making that investment as we won’t own will we? We are already forced to do it for all the other cheap sell offs, where is THEIR investment.
On the subject of fares there are some 16,000,000 of them and I fear that all that will happen is the 6 ticket very cheap journey, for those with the patience to find it, will disappear and we will all only be offered a single far more expensive ticket, by raising prices on the segments. If they don’t raise prices then these options won’t be available to find. I have no trust in the rail companies to actually be honest about this “simplification”.

Theresa says:
2 February 2017

That does not make sense— which ever hour of the day you travel the train is a big chunk of metal and it cost the same all this discount nonsense is smoke and mirrors, Travel is vital to the countries health and wealth and it is a need not a want and it should not be used as a tool for excess profit and should not be left in the hands of people who are only in it for the money that way leads to profit anarchy