/ 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?


We need much greater clarity on what are Peak and Off Peak travel.
I went to catch a train from Euston at 3.30pm and was told my Off Peak ticket wasn’t valid.
Then looking further it was decided that Lancaster being the first stop after Preston WAS Off Peak to that I was able to travel on the 3.30pm after all. Apparently it was Peak travel upto Preston and Off Peak afterwards.
Silly me.
Perhaps they should issue a Rule Book containing all the Rules for every occasion and then we can wile away our time in deep study whilst standing and sitting on the floor of these overcrowded trains.

Travelling with a bike?
Two adults and two children travelling with their bikes booked on, and you have connections to make?
You end up with so many tickets you could have a pleasant family card game to keep you occupied.
It’s a pleasing distraction from finding that the electronic seat booking system is not working today.
Family with two young children fighting for seats in very busy train is not my idea of ‘letting the train take the strain’. My apologies to those who remember the origins of that phrase. But perhaps I should just use my car!

I thought the idea of having a bike was to ride it. I am sick of Green Socialists clogging up 1 & 2 carriage trains with there latest metropolitain elite status symbols whilst taking a break from Shoreditch or Islington. – Bikes should be banned from trains FULL STOP. – and a decent hire scheme or freight the bike ahead scheme should be in place like in France. You can’t take your bike on Megabus/ National Express or on most local bus services so why should regional and commuter rail be any different.

Ian Moor says:
14 December 2016

It is best to book ahead at the station to get both seats and tickets for the bikes.
If you book at the station then person serving can help. On many routes you need
a seat ticket and bike ticket to get into the train. Try not to get a route where
you have to change train – the bike will be at the other end of the train in the guard
and you have it out before the train leaves!

Part of the problem is that there are no guards vans on most trains now and no option but to use one of the few bike spaces in passenger carriages. There is obviously a demand for bikes on trains , maybe there is a case for bringing back at least a half caririage guards van ?

David Stuart says:
14 December 2016

Nick in Teignmouth I have great sympathy for your views – exactly how I feel but Hanora Crowley has hit the nail on the head with her suggestion that brake/guards vans should be brought back! That also by definition means a guard on the train Southern kindly note! The present rot started under BR in the late 1980’s when new trains were built without guards vans and trying to cram as many people as possible into the smallest possible space by using small seats with too little legroom!

If you are standing at the South Pole and step forward in any direction you are heading north, so this has to be welcomed in that spirit. It is long overdue, short formation, and not necessarily going all the way, but we should climb aboard and see where we end up.

My first observation is that the document was designed by people who have no conception of the problems of people with poor eyesight or colour definition difficulties. Printing the main text in a feint blue skeletal font is not a good omen for greater clarity in ticket purchasing. Some of the other text is also hard to read being green on a green, or blue on a blue, background.

My second observation is that despite various promises of greater clarity, absence of jargon, and plain English in ticket selling, the vocabulary of the document is not very accessible and the amount of gobbledygook is unbelieveable. Let’s hope the writers of the following section don’t have a role in explaining ticket conditions –

[Proposal] : Customers should have access to a clear and understandable choice of tickets when buying from vending machines . . .
[Action] : RDG will produce a transparent road map of current capability to identify what can be done in the short term.

The document abounds with ‘tools’, ‘road maps’ [even transparent ones] and other management speak and there is complete inconsistency over whether we are passengers or customers.

The proposals are all sensible and in line with what passengers have been grumbling about for years, but it addresses only part of the problem. A faster arrival would be appreciated as some of the actions are already in the long grass awaiting franchise renewals.

I was pleased to see that the facility to buy tickets with seat reservations on-line on the day of travel will be extended to some other operators [it’s only available on CrossCountry at present] and that, most importantly, the current flaw in the CrossCountry process will be rectified. [At the moment it is possible to book a reserved seat on a CC train after it has set off so the joining passenger might have been allocated a seat which is already occupied by a passenger who got on the train earlier when the seat was still unreserved. The new passenger has the right to take the occupied seat and to tip out the person already in it. This has been controversial since it was introduced, especially as the short CC trains are frequently over-crowded on sections of their routes.]

However, the elephant in the room is the basic fares pricing structure and there is no acknowledgment in the document that the elephant will be recognised let alone dealt with in order to make a rational and consistent fares system. The fares pricing structure as it is now dates from the days of British Rail in the 1970’s when they changed from a distance-based tariff to a market yield or demand management model. Each journey is priced according to the level of demand, the standard of service [frequency, speed, calling points, etc], quality of accommodation [newer carriages, electric trains, etc] and attempts to shed overloading to other times of day [this gives rise to the peak/off-peak definition inconsistency across different operators]. Over the years, due to changes in populations, travel to work patterns, travel alternatives, franchising, and massive increases in passenger numbers on some routes, the basic construct of this pricing model has become grossly distorted and now makes almost no sense to anyone outside the industry [and I think even the DfT are frightened of it so ignore it as a problem]. It gives rise to silly situations whereby similar journeys can be priced at wildly different levels. There are fifty different fares for journeys between London and Birmingham. Does off-peak mean when the train departs or when it arrives? – both definitions are in use along with several different starting times even on the same route. Why are passengers on some journeys of thirty miles or more not allowed to buy an off-peak period return but have to buy two singles whereas a day-return is priced at 5p more than a single [but you can book to the next station after your destination, get an off-peak period return at the cheap rate and get off one stop early!]?

The people who preside over this are going to be responsible for the reforms now promised so it is essential that Which? does get stuck in and holds them to account. Vickie asks “Will you work with us and help us find out how well train companies are doing at delivering on this action plan?” Just tell us what you want us to do and I am sure there will be an eager response.

Not just “management speak” but very old fashioned “management speak” which really sums up the problems of the railways. The management are low quality.

David Stuart says:
14 December 2016

I can vouch for that Steve!

Cheap Day Returns. In my opinion these should be available based on the time that the train arrives at a destination not at the time it leaves the departure station.

If the cheap day starts at 9:30am it should be available on a train that arrives at your destination after 9:30am not at the time of departure.

If the departure is from Bedford and the destination is London St Pancras with a scheduled train journey of 40 mins any train departing Bedford after 8:51am should offer a cheap day ticket.

The current system based on departure arrival times gives preferences those departing from closer to their destinations.

In the current scheme a train leaving Bedford at 9:15am does not allow Bedford passengers a cheap day ticket, however when the same train departs from Luton at 9:31am a luton passenger is entitled to cheap day tickets. So Lutonians arrive in London on Cheap Day at the same time as those from Bedford without a cheap day.

Clear as mud eh!

The return journey in my opinion should be allowed anytime, but I do understand the need to avoid peak commute load times.

I thought they were? – At in GWR Devon & Cornwall area this appears to be the case.

When the Edinburgh Gateway station opened earlier in the week it integrated trains and trams. However trains and trams don’t compete for business. Buses and bus companies do however. The integrated transport model in London is excellent, it works and it’s expanding. One Oyster fits all. However London got an integrated transport authority and the rest of the nation got deregulation and so-called competition. It’s not competition when I can’t freely chose a bus company because my ticket isn’t transferable. We have tickets on the rail network that work across train companies, an Oyster in London that works across different underlying bus companies and modes of transport but the rest of the nation is stuck in the transport dark ages. We need a complete rethink of transport across the UK which does not depend on expensive proprietary hardware , uses smartphones and/or contactless bank cards and which works out the smartest fares for our journeys via electronic ticketing with a transaction log, like Oyster online. The very idea of having to print a ticket in 2016 is ridiculous. Only some tickets can be bought online and loaded via an app or printed at home. The rest you have to stand in line at ticket machines with slow printers. If we upgrade how we think about ticketing, how ticketing is delivered and have clear and simpler rules this would be a huge step forward. And of course driverless trains because automatically controlled trains will be able to run closer together, serve more passengers and won’t go on strike. Works for the DLR!

To make London’s bus and rail modes (Underground, Metropolitan, Overground, National Rail, DLR, Tramlink) integrate takes a huge chunk of subsidy. – currently 60% of Department for Transport bus budget is spent in London to keep the city moving. Plus with the exception of Northern Ireland there is no statutory obligation to provide bus services elsewhere in the UK. – London is somewhat different the city simply isn’t build for traffic and the increase in Private Hire Car options [Hackney Carriages, Uber, Private Hire] and delivery vehicle is prooving difficult for bus operators to provide the required service levels. As for ticketing I agree on the printing a ticket thing after all flights and sea going ferries are usually all just done on ID as proof of payment so for long haul rail travel mostly prepurchased for cost advantage isn’t ID enough. – The mistake made with Oyster was it was launched on one urban area rather than the Dutch ChipKoort which is a national rail, bus, tram card within the whole country where each small town is a zone and larger urban areas broken up in to subzones – I don’t why this couldn’t have been done with Oyster – so London Z1-9 as exists know but a zone Dartford, Guildford, Brighton, Hove with the inbetween station counted as stages so the best fare is debited from your card based on Speed, Distance and popularity of the service. – so slower routes less popular with travellers get a discount versus limited stop busier ones,

C.Gale says:
14 December 2016

Altering the fare pricing system is a start but action also needs to be taken to the availability of services especially at weekends . Track maintenence needs to be better cordinated so that folk can get north & south of the midlands even if that means using the transpennine services , as all too often work on both East & West Coast main lines means no way of getting north or south of the midlands even with detailed knowledge of the network as key access points are blocked preventing the use of alternative routes

emilio says:
14 December 2016

Re-Nationalise! The train service, as with the earth’s essential materials belong to everyone and not for individuals to get rich on!

I can assure you, Emillo, that none of the train operators are getting rich. The commercial returns are a mere 2-3% on average but the commercial risks are considerable.

You must have a short memory Emilio. When the railways were nationalised, it was ran entirely for their benefit and customers were seen as an inconvenience. Granted, it is not a lot better now but the difference is that rail operating companies are now accountable. Also, nationalised rail frequently used the stupid tactic of pricing people off to control user numbers and fares were not reduced at quiet times. This demonstrates how little commercial nous they had. One final reason why the railways should never again be nationalised is that we cannot trust the rail unions to act responsibly. Nationalisation will hand them the opportunity to bring the entire network to a standstill.

Why would a union want to bring the entire network to a standstill?

Please do not patronise people who remember British Rail. I remember BR, from the 1960s right up till the ideological nationalisation in 1996. It was an integrated network, with strict operating and maintenance procedures which ensured that trains were properly maintained, it ran services which had enough seats for passengers to sit on and its procurement sustained a Britrish trainmaking industry.

Look at it now, Shoddy imported trains on Virgin and a decimated UK trainmaking industry; sky high fares, the highest in Europe; massive overcrowding as firms don’t want to eat into their profits by operating trains with enough carriages so that everyone can have a seat; unreliable trains owing to the privateersextending the intervals between maintenance to save money; rail owners making a fortune out of extortionate passenger fares and public subsidy; other, state owned, rail firms creaming off massive sums from the farepaying public to subsidise fares at home.

Britain’s railways are more akin to those in a Third World country than those in the country that invented the railways.

[This has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, Mods.]

This should be Done AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, To keep this country running, even more so as we are to be leaving the E U, and Most Owners of OUR Trains are Owned by E U Members.

Pam – Nearly all trains in the UK are actually owned by rolling stock leasing companies [ROSCO’s] which are specialist finance houses with major engineering capabilities. Some of the ROSCO’s are owned or part-owned by UK banks and by other UK financial institutions as well as having foreign investors. The ROSCO’s lease the trains to the train operating companies who run the franchises and some of these are part- or wholly-owned by foreign companies of which a number are offshoots of European state railways, although there are also a number of entirely UK train operating companies with some of those having the biggest networks. Many franchises are operated by partnerships between different companies in varying percentages. So the actual situation is a kaleidoscope of ownerships and it is impossible to draw any meaningful deductions from it. I cannot see that the UK leaving the EU will have any significant effect on the operation of the UK’s railways, although it might impact on the UK companies that have franchises or concessions to operate trains in EU countries.

Er I think some Indians might be insulted by your comparison of their railway to ours!! 🙂 I was there last year and whilst the toilets (Basically an open hole onto the track, poor track workers and carraige cleanres as the outside of the carriages near the toilets are streaked with excrement) leave a great deal to be desired. The ticketing process whilst quaint, works well. When you turn up at the station there is a printed list of everyones place on that train on the relevant platform. We travellled first class from Trivandrum to Kochi, some 300k for the princely sum of 450 rupees (£4.50 in early 2016) We had a booked seat in an air conditioned carriage, some very agreeable and interesting travelling companions who chatted to us most of the way, with a great exchange of ideas and views on the world. Oh yes and the most amazing food, freshly cooked with sellers and chai sellers endlessly coming through the carriage the whole way leaving us completely stuffed for around £2.50! The train was clean if somewhat old and spot on time. I know the commuter trains into Mumbai are a nightmare, but outside of the cities for long distance travel in that vast country, cheap reliable transport. That rail network serves a population of 1.2 billion so it can be done. I also noted that our train was 26 carriages long. I know that India is a totally different cae to the UK, I mention it simply to show that it can be done.

I have just returned from Milan using the railway system in a combination of fares and services both second (standard) and first class. I give the example of the outward travel: the Exeter to London Paddington (2hrs) (317 Km) consisted of a peak hour discounted Senior at £54 standard class (amazing value for UK travel!) a Second class Eurostar to Paris (2h14) from Lon StPan Int of £45 (450Km); a First Class TGV Paris to Strasbourg/Basel £87 (1h45+ 1h20) (600Km); a First class EC Basel to Milan (4h) (550Km)for £75. All these tickets were either exchangeable or refundable (save the UK ones). I ask myself the basic question as to why train fares and services in the UK have to be so much higher and bear unpredictable pricing compared to those available on near mainland Europe from a range of operators and why we have such crowded travel at times with passengers paying such a range of prices depending on when, how, where they purchase and conditions imposed that NO REGULATOR should put up with. I do hope your campaign produces results, though by past experience there appears rather more than inertia and a cultural element at work too.

I suspect subsidies have a lot to do with this. According to Wiki France provides €13.2 billion, Italy €7.6bn whilst the UK provides just €4.5bn in subsidies. Should the taxpayer help fund passenger travel? I’d be happy for it to subsidise rail freight operations, but for leisure and commuter travel they should pay their way – just like road and air transport does.

If you take into account pollution and the health consequences, supporting rail travel makes more sense. However, all forms of transport are a problem and I would like to see measures that would encourage people to live near their place of work and to cycle, but that needs investment in safe cycling routes.

In that case, please can we see air transport pay tax on its fuel in the same way as every other transport mode has to do?

I could not agree more, EBGB.

Not only that but housing that you can afford. It is I suspect house prices that drive most people to commute medium to long distances. House price inflation has grossly distorted our whole public transport system. Sure the ticketing is a joke as are the strikes, fare price rises, endless engineering works trying to catch up on nearly a century of underspending on the infrastructure. But the runaway house price inflation that seems to be regarded by all and sundry, except those who don’t own one, as a GOOD thing is in fact distorting our economy to the point where in the end it will cause serious problems (If it isn’t already)

Why not, that would probably remove the need for a third runway anywhere as fares would have to rise dramatically if the same tax rates that are applied to petrol and diesel were used. It would make people think twice about flying. Mind you the UK holiday destinations would have to sharpen their act, we have all grown used to relatively cheap good quality accommodation abroad.

A recent “viral video” has highlighted an important point. When first class is “declassified” any customer that has paid a first class price should be automatically refunded the difference between the price paid and the equivalent second class fare – in cash, not vouchers.

Why? You are still getting the same service. Is it the smell of the peasants from standard class such as I that gets to you that require you to ask for a refund?

David Stuart says:
14 December 2016

First class usually provides larger seats and extra space, hence the extra cost! If people who’ve only paid a Standard class fare get the same benefits for a lower cost why shouldn’t someone who’s paid “over the odds ” in the first place get the extra refunded Robin? It’s got nothing to do with “the smell of the peasants” as you put it!

How often is First Class accommodation ‘de-classified’? In my experience, Standard Class passengers have to pay extra to be upgraded to First Class and this is often limited to off-peak and weekend journeys when there is ample spare accommodation. I don’t see why First Class passengers should get a rebate if Standard Class passengers are allowed to travel in that section of the train – they still get the reclining seat with extra width and legroom, better upholstery and carpet, a curtain, a table, a lamp and overhead spots, and – on some services – at seat gratis refreshments; their journey is no slower, so what’s the problem?

Tried to book a pedal bike place from Sevenoaks to London. It was impossible. Even the ticket office found it time-consuming and confusing. Taking a bike used to be easy – the service has deteriorated and discourages (deliberately?) use of it.

If a ticket bears the ambiguous term ROUTE: ANY PERMITTED, a Court might hold that this means that any route is permitted.

David Stuart says:
14 December 2016

Well lukeye I doubt it although courts sometimes make odd decisions but the term “any permitted” is useful. Let me give you an example. A ticket from York to London (not booked in advance for a specific train or operator) is valid to King’s Cross or Liverpool Street, changing at Peterborough and Cambridge or St. Pancras changing at Sheffield. Try printing all that on a ticket! If someone wants to know whether a route is permitted, all they have to do is ask!

Smart technology is used for surveillance purposes, they want all these unnecessary devices talking to one another. I do not want a Smart Meter or anything Smart in my home. Microwave/wifi technology is lethal.

When I was in Ghent last year, I could buy a day return ticket to anywhere in Belgium for 6 euros, provided that I started out after 09:00.

As John Ward says above, if you’re stuck at the South Pole, any step north is something of a help. This is 30 years overdue and still ignores the basic financial risk to any occasional traveller, and citizen, of getting ticketing wrong across our fragmented railway. The train companies are covering their “risks” every way they can at the expense of the individual. I suggest a limit on discounts, a maximum limit of say 3:1 variations in the price of travel for any journey. This would give an occasional traveller, perhaps having to respond to a family or business emergency, a “ceiling” cost of perhaps 3 times the original fare payment, for any return journey. So what if the train companies feel they have to increase the price of their marketing off-peak special offers to cover this, it would make life much easier for real people. At the moment, train fare complexity is a real restriction on freedom of movement within our country, not everywhere is near an airport. Fiddling with ticket prices won’t deal with overcrowding, that’s a capacity and availability issue.

If the idea of setting such pricing limits gives economists nose-bleeds, at least a study on what ranges of controlled fare variation would be feasible, would shed some light on the chaos that’s there at the moment.

The ticket debate is long overdue and thank you for spearheading it. Unfortunately in the South East we are some way from this initiative. With no trains on most days in December and unable to rely on the return journey on all other days this month, we are despairing of ever seeing a proper train service again.

Seems that the South_Eastern Railways stop at weekends at many places. Buses are laid on because of works on the rails. This is a constant problem so I no longer travel by train at weekends. If I need to go anywhere I use the bus as it is cheaper and I would end up on one anyway. The service is atrocious and expensive.

David Davies says:
14 December 2016

The best way to get the cheapest ticket seems to be to ask the guard, which is probably why the Privatised Profiteering Parasites have posters all over the place to insist that you have a ticket before you board. The machines are useless, especially when you try to get a concessionary ticket; and the bewildering array of offers would test Stephen Hawking, in the unlikely event that the ticket office is manned.

Still, it is not all bad news. GTL lifted £1m in saved wages yesterday, whilst the just about managing taxpayers stumped up £50m for the cost of the dispute.

I must admit that I do not travel by train, but years ago I did. Then you would buy a ticket from Peterborough to Penzance and that was it. Any train would do and if I remember correctly that same ticket would also be valid on the London Underground ie Kings Cross to Paddington.

The only sensible and sustainable answer is to renationalise the railways.

John Ward points to one of the real problems which is the change in the 1970’s to a demand based pricing system rather than a distance based system that he says existed before compounded by the ridiculous amendments and alterations thereafter which cause utter confusion. GGdad’;s encounter with the complex off peak rules is but one such example, Greater Anglia runs the same crazy system and to compound it all allows off peak returns from London in state school holidays on peak time trains (why?) Cheap day returns are no better – on Greater Anglia Mainline these only exist from Manningtree into London (a remnant of the decades past Network South East structure). So guess what those in the know buy a ticket to Manningtree and a cheap day return from there to save £20 on a full price peak time ticket into London! To cap it all buy an advanced ticket to Coventry from Suffolk travelling into and back out from London on a peak time train and you get it at even less than the off peak advance ticket into London let alone the peak time fare into London. Utter madness.
In my view the solution has to be a simple distance based pricing structure with peak and off peak fares but with peak and off peak times defined uniformly over the whole UK network rather than line by line. Get rid of saver, supersaver and other specials (previous removed by government edict but allowed to return). Make all fares available for railcard holders – this currently varies for example Greater Anglia unlike most allows use of railcard prices on peak time trains. Only then will customers understand the pricing structure.

There will be losers – those travelling on low price per mile routes such as west Norfolk into London and Portsmouth line into London but also winners – e.g. Mainline Greater Anglia. The latter remains highly priced despite having had some of the oldest rolling stock in the UK for decades (usually secondhand stock from other lines upgrading) but at least we might be happier in 2019 when at last we have new trains rather than the current 40 year old antiques.

Re: renationalisation. the Swiss and Japanese railways are widely recognised as the world’s most efficient and are both state-owned. Ditto the French system where investment has been far greater than in Britain. If, as John Ward states the profits are small and the risks are great, why do private companies continue to bid for rail franchises? Answer: they receive huge public subsidies for running largely loss-making services and in the final analysis, can hand back the keys before the end of contract and thus avoid much of the treasury repayments. Steve Clark must have a pretty short memory himself if he believes that BR never offered off-peak fares; not true Steve! And in what way does a fragmented, privately-run rail network preclude the unions ‘bringing the entire network to a standstill’, – it could still happen. As we have seen with the Southern dispute it is often the taxpayer who foots the bill not the train company. As someone old enough to have used rail services during the British rail era as well as more recently, (indeed I have worked in a technical capacity for both BR and two of the private comanies) I am well aware of the failings of both public and private. The only significant difference between them is the enormously inflated costs both to the traveller and the taxpayer of the privatised system. The complex ticketing system which many of you complain about is as a direct result of the involvement of multiple companies and the huge bureaurocracy needed to make it all work together.

Most European railway systems are state owned but generally only the network/ infrastructure is operated in that way, to ensure the railways can permit a number of commercial operators across Europe including passenger and freight providers to use the system. This also operates in the UK through Network Rail. A fully integrated nationalized system would be difficult to operate to allow effective access to other users on its railways. May I suggest that the UK concentrate on proper discipline of railway operators through an EFFECTIVE regulator with teeth. The current system appears in practice not primarily to concentrate on such consumer issues as ticketing we are all concerned about.