/ 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?


I found the service I received under British Rail better. I have endured nothing but misery since denationalisation. Connex Southeastern were absymal and Southeastern are no better. Every day the trains are delayed. To an extent they are hostage to Network Rail but as operators they make it almost impossible to get to work on time. Chris Grayling in my opinion should resign. TFL are not perfect but they can achieve a better level of service than our current operator – Southeastern.
His ridiculous attitude does not help us the passengers.

I would add that since the railways were denationalised I have never been able to choose which operator I can use to travel to work. I have not had the opportunity to choose the best service and the cheapest fairs because that option under the current franchising system doesn’t and has never existed for those of us who commute. The idea that ‘competition’ will drive up standards, give us choice with competitive fairs is absolute rubbish.

Does anyone (apart from TV Personalities who are paid for it) travel by train unless it’s absolutely unavoidable ?
This 19th-century transport method is a pain in the anatomy; generally, in the feet. Punitive pricing is an outrage. Luckily, I have a ‘bus pass, so were there a ‘bus, I could use it, free. However, I can’t take my bicycle on the ‘bus. Hang on; neither can I on the railway, nowadays.

Does anyone use the train for fun ? Black-belt Masochists, perhaps. Our system would be a Pythonesque joke if it were on TV. It isn’t, so it’s a shameful tragedy. Would a standardized fare of 10p a mile make for more passengers ? Would 90p bring fewer ?

The main problem is lack of information. No matter how much printed matter is produced it will be mis/re interpreted.

Staff in situ with a knowledge of routes (especially) and ticket conditions will beat a machine any time.

Likewise, ‘any permitted route’ is not a difficult concept to grasp if explained by trained staff

Basically the whole rail experience is appalling and never seems to improve. Having spent years travelling to London from various stations outside London it was always expensive, mostly late trains and crowded conditions. Why? It should be a money making machine if the politicos could keeps their noses out after controlling the rabid unions with some tough legislation.

Andy Barnes says:
14 December 2016

We could learn a lot about making fares cheaper from the ‘Tickety Split’ web site http://www.splitticketing.com I’ve saved loads that way.

I recently went to Glasgow Central from just outside in Clarkston. I am a pensioner and as such enjoy concession rates. This journey usually costs me 1.30 pounds. I arrived at Clarkston at 16.15 hours. The ticket office was closed and the machine outside the station made no allowance for for concession tickets.
The train arrived and and departed the station at 16.38 hours. I asked the guard for a concession ticket to my destination and he informed me that concessions do not apply between 16.30 and 18.00 hours. I advised him that the office was closed and the machine would not allow me to get a ticket but it went on deaf ears and he charged me 3.50 pounds (almost three times as much). Several other people got on and asked for concessions and were told the same. It’s not the money but the principle of it all and it shouldn’t matter two hoots what the time of day is in my opinion.

Nationalise the lot……..we are having our pockets picked.

£475 for a First Class day return to London from Manchester…….I could go on holiday to the Canaries for a fortnight and it would be cheaper

If money is the issue, why travel first class? You can get a return for £73.20 or, if you must travel 1st, £113 if you travel off peak.

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. Railways are effectively a very safe way to convey lots of people over distances. Their inflexibility as mass transport operations are evident where they converge on major centres like London. I agree entirely that our main gripe must be about the pricing policies and the price discrimination practised by rail operators but the system should not be dismissed for this alone. The Actions of the Rail Regulator must be seen to work in the interesyt of rail users as consumers. It does not look that way right now.

A simple electronic ticket machine that works out the route and price you need to pay dependant on what you programme in to it. If I want cheap off-peak travel I would input ‘cheapest fare’, If I want First Class then I input ‘First Class’ etc, etc. Let the machine give us the correct information before we choose the wrong one, and end up paying too much or getting in trouble with a Penalty Fare.

Chris Graylin and his cronies are lining their pockets they wont give in, they will just change the law to suit themselves. Typical conservative. “B******S”

The WHOLE Railway needs to be re-nationalised – travelling by rail ought not to be a “for profit” enterprise – as even the private sector is now recognising – billions are given to these private companies that STILL cannot meet the demands of travel – bring it back into government control – simple as THAT.

There are so many things wrong with the whole of the system. The problems arise, in my view, from the fact we have so many different companies running the rail system, which includes the railway stations. This leads to companies from different companies not wanting to install systems at their stations that may benefit the other companies! This does not for the customer experience and only makes for more frustration amongst travellers.
Profit is definitely the root of all the evils and until the companies are run for the public and not for the shareholders profits we will always have these problems.
I find it interesting to hear that consultation has been made to ascertain how to right the wrongs. I haven’t seen anyone at the station I use consulting with anyone. Maybe we are too far away from the South!
Forgive my cynicism, but alas, this is all based on my life’s experiences!

I just get so fed up with providers being so coy about prices. Probably the most important thing for most of us is to know what a product will cost. Let’s not beat about the bush; we need service providers to give us a comprehensive list of prices so we are sure we’ve got the best deal for our purposes. I live in the country and even with my rail card I still take my car because (1) I need it to get to the station in the absence of public transport and (2) the ticketing maze is so complex that it’s usually quicker, cheaper and more convenient and (3) I generally need it to get from the end station to my destination. I would love to turn the clock back to the days of my youth when you always knew the cost of tickets between two points because they did not vary according to bookings but of alas we are now in the brave new world.

Re nationalise the Rail System as a first step to a fully integrated public transport system. Privatisation of public services just does not work in the public interest.

to get the best possible rate of payment you have to have the memory of an elephant and the stic to itiveness of a gastropod. so thank you for all this. HOpe it becomes clearer for all of us who are not elephants or gastropods…

It is very strange that recently the so called government agreed to spend thousands of pounds on improvements to BUCKINGHAM PALACE!! and can also find thousands of pounds to BUILD NEW SUBMARINES!!! but why ?? basically the queen should pay for the repairs!!!!!! but its down to normal workers TAX MONEY BEING WASTED–AN UTTER DISGRACE!!!!!!

Richard says:
14 December 2016

Would it be old fashioned to ask for one national rail company responsible for all trains & fares; one where shareholders and profits were not the priority, but a cheap affordable *public transport* was?
We could even call it National Rail… Now that would be new.

I used to travel long distance journeys during 1972 to 1998. The fare structure was fairly simple but the ticket checking system was not that good and I guess fare dodging costed the Railways some loss. But after the privatisation, that had been virtually eradicated. But the fat cats of privatisation had increased the fairs disproportionately high. The fare structure had been very much better and understandable. I support Jeremy Corbin’s policy of renationalisation of the railways.
I also think that the idea of registering with an annual registration fees for old and disabled people is an extra charge by back door. There is no need for this – to allow concession for the old age and disabled. Proof of age etc are easily available from the driving licence, pass port, recent bank statement( for identity).

I wonder how much the NHS would benefit if stress related illness were to be reduced .
Road and rail travel is high risk to stress levels ,fuel receipts ,travel tickets including parking ones should have a government health warning printed on them.

Travelling to Newcastle, it’s cheaper to buy a ticket to Carlisle then one from |Carlisle to Newcastle than buy the whole ticket from Crewe

Some train companies websites place “cookies” on your computer which track you, raising prices when you return to that website to make a purchase, knowing that you’ve been there and are interested in the ticket. It’s outrageous and needs to stop. The way around it is to clear the cookies from your browser or use a different computer.