/ 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?


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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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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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.

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.

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

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

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”.

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

A real test of the proposed ‘make it simple’ aim must handle the silliness revealed by Simon Calder in the i recently. This was that the cheapest peak-time trip from Stoke on Trent to Euston involves buying a 7-day season ticket from Milton Keynes to Crewe and a day return MKC to EUS.
I defy any machine to find that one! (99.9999% of staff, too, probably).


Simon says:
15 December 2016

all we need is to be able to ask for a ticket giving time of day, destination, and time of return and automatically be given the cheapest ticket, with a ticket office advising on a change of time etc, for a cheaper ticket.
Unfortunately you only get this with a good office with experienced staff, not with a machine. no doubt a machine could give this info, if they were much improved. There is little incentive for the train companies to do this whilst they make more money with the machines as they are.

One of the most unfair things about the present system is that a ticket can suddenly become invalid and worthless through no fault of your own. Example: I travelled on cheap advance ticket involving three train companies. Train run by company A cancelled (lack of staff!) and then company B refused to accept my ticket and made me pay full fare for a journey I’d already paid for. The fact that it was hardly my fault that I’d missed the train booked cut no ice. It was another train company, so it was pass the buck time.

I agree David. There ought to be way of getting a ticket endorsed [or a supplementary travel warrant issued by the cancelling company] to permit travel at the booked rate. The different companies can then sort it out through the Rail Settlement Plan without inconveniencing their passenger any further.

David Stuart says:
16 December 2016

In those circumstances you should refuse to pay any extra BUT give company B your correct name and address (otherwise you are committing a criminal offence). They will then bill you and you can then explain what happened (again!). That should the be the end of the matter and the money remains in your pocket! The absolute worst case scenario is that they take you to court. Ask for it to be dealt with at Crown Court where trial is by jury, not by some old fuddy duddy magistrate in a magistrate’s court. Can you imagine 12 of your fellow citizens finding you guilty in those circumstances? No, neither can I!

Emma smith says:
18 May 2017

If a train on any leg of your journey is cancelled or late and you miss a connecting service as a result, you should get your ticket endorsed at the ticket office to allow you to travel on the next available service. This is the current guidelines set out by ATOC.

The only time that you have to purchase a new ticket is in the event that you miss the train. This would include you missing the train due to late public buses, flights and taxi’s getting you to the station for the first leg of your journey.

The rail network has never really improved since privatisation. Perhaps a little presentation here & there, but fundamentally, there are more delays, more overcrowding, and companies who will not accept responsibility and just pass the buck. People pay more than ever, supposedly for improvements, but has anyone seen any improvements? OK for some PR bloke to say they’ll improve in time, but for what people are paying, they should be running perfectly now. They can’t keep spinning the claim that improvements take time. They’ve had 20 years of private railways and they’ve only made things worse.

Andrew Nicholas says:
15 December 2016

The railway privatisation was a chaotic, last throw of the dice, for Major’s Tory government which has never worked efficiently which is hardly surprising given that it spawned 96 separate companies to run the trains in place of British Rail. Aside from the continuing troubles facing the network which are insoluble given the way it was all set up in the first place, not to mention the sheer lack of political will to do anything except tinker, we have had to tolerate a ludicrous ticketing system that even the most fevered imagination would find hard to devise. We live in hope that this initiative might achieve reform. It’s enough to make an atheist offer up a prayer.

Privatisation is in a way a farce, it was put in place to allow the rich to have access to shares in the company’s running the railways. We have in a way retuned to pre nationalisation trains company’s run for profit not for the public. How is it cheaper to go to Barcelona than Margate to London? And why aren’t the ticket offices open late you cannot discuss with a machine your requirements and then work out the most reasonable price!! .
Terry Lear

We are reaping the whirlwind of a chronic lack of investment in our rail network which dates back to the end of WW1. The dangers of “backloading” infrastructure projects is perfectly illustrated with the UK network. Doing it this way is the most expensive way and it puts the whole load on current passengers and of course the cost is much much higher. After WW2 there was a plan to spend £3.5 billion on the network (£1321 billion in today’s terms). As I remember it less than £500 million was spent and the network survived on a diet of cuts and care and maintenance until recently. Heathrow T5 was another example, a friend of mine worked on that project after leaving Uni in 1975 cost then £63million final cost all those years later £8.5 Billion. Our roads are about to suffer the same fate as the cost of putting them all back into a good state has risen to the point where it will never be done and unlike rail, roads are more difficult to do a “Beeching” on. As an aside although Beeching presided over the most famous cuts, there were more miles of track closed in the preceding years.

Here is a tip for getting the cheapest fare assuming that the trains aren’t cancelled leaving the rest of your journey in chaos, oh and you need an internet connection (Yes there are people like my mum who don’t) and also a fair amount of time. I learnt this whilst trying to go by train from Scarborough to Fort William, which is hard enough as we all know that travelling East-West on our network is a nightmare almost everywhere. So here goes
1. Go to a site like Trainline.
2. Enter your start and end point and the dates you wish to travel along with the number of passengers, rail cards etc.
3. Get a price for a return ticket and add it to your basket.
4. Change the criteria to a single ticket and do it for each way and add both of them to your basket.
5. Get the route details from one of the above journeys by clicking on the “details” button.
6. Split the journey up into its constituent parts and get prices for single and return journeys for each part and add them to your basket as you go.
7. Go to your basket and using a calculator check the totals for each method of doing the journey.
8. Delete all the tickets from your basket that you don’t need and buy your tickets!!!
9. Be aware that if you book a journey as lots of separate bits it is down to you to check that there is enough time to make your onward connection as mistakes are down to you
10. You also need to check ticket restrictions to make sure that you aren’t stuck somewhere if the train is delayed or cancelled

My journey from Scarborough to Fort William had four changes as I remember and it took something like 5 hours to get the best price, the difference? A simple off peak return was around £300 a mix of single and returns £96 so worth it in this case but be warned it doesn’t always result in savings!

The reason I do it like this? Is despite protestations that they don’t do it I think some train companies use “Dynamic Pricing” where the price varies on line according to the interest being showed on that route – by putting each ticket in your basket as you go it avoids triggering the algorithm that raises prices.

So YES we need a simpler, fairer system!! The method above demonstrates just how convoluted ticketing is and it is wrong, unnecessary and downright deceitful

Hi Peter, wow that certainly seems like a laborious task just to get a better price for your train fare. It does feel like a bit of a game you have to play here, which doesn’t feel very fair.

It seems like you’ve cracked the cheapest way to buy your tickets, but in case it’s of any help we also have a list if top ten tips to cut train fares here http://www.which.co.uk/money/money-saving-tips/getting-a-great-deal/guides/10-tips-for-finding-cheap-train-tickets

I agree Lauren, but what Peter’s demonstration shows is just how complex and ridiculous our rail travel pricing system is and where it needs to be simplified. Each one of Peter’s ten steps needs to be taken apart and either eliminated or harmonised with the others so that there will be a consistent, rational, comprehensible, and – above all – fair price for taking the train. The original British Rail fare structure and pricing plan [which are basically still in place] did not benefit much from an intelligence-driven computer analysis; it was computer-developed but mechanical in its outputs with very limited versatility. We now have computer power and a refinement of pricing requirements for time of day or type of journey that could put together a completely rational tariff that would acquire passenger respect. Making it income- or profit-neutral for the train operating companies is probably the hardest challenge but the government would just have to force it through using the franchising process.

My train company [Greater Anglia] has some spare capacity in the first three months of the year so has just sent me the following offer : John, wake up your weekdays with Greater Anglia! With three simple day return prices of either £10, £15 and £20 across the entire Greater Anglia network, you can get into London, out to the coast or simply visit family or friends for less! What’s more, up to two kids can travel with you for just £2 each!. Even within a national fare structure there can still be room for innovation and special deals that make train travel easier for all, and with a Railcard the cost is even less.

I am not a regular train user and have been generally very happy with local train services, but I very much sympathise with those who have to cope with inadequate services.

Having moved home last year, my concern is about prices. To travel by train I would need to use a connecting train for a journey of 10 miles in addition to the familiar journey of 60 miles. That triples the price, though if I was to buy the tickets for the two journeys separately, it would just double the price. No wonder I’m fond of car sharing and park & ride schemes.

Fedupcommuter says:
19 January 2017

I work 3 days a week, and at the moment the cost of a weekly ticket is the same as the price of 3 individual tickets. Yet I am only using the train Monday to Wednesday, but I pay the same as someone using it Monday to Friday. What is the logic behind it? If any?

Today the rail industry announced plans to start trialing of some of the agreed measures to simplify rail fares for passengers in May this year.

Commenting on this news our Director of Campaigns and Communications, Vickie Sheriff, said:

“Passengers have struggled with a complex and confusing ticketing system for far too long. This is why Which? pressed the industry and government to tackle fares and ticketing in an action plan agreed at the end of last year.

“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.

It’s a start. But even the best fares are not right and they need to crack that as well.

I dont pay for any tickets i am now of an age that pays my fair . but let me say i did work almost to the end having to give up work after a fall braking my back . but still i vote to help others that still do pay for rail fares which i see it far to high for working people . giving the rail drivers more and more money that to me is just greed . the more they get it seems the more they want .

Will the train companies have to disclose the savings made by split ticketing on a given route ?

Please, please, please combine this dialogue with the need to improve the lot of the disabled passenger travelling from, through and to a destination by rail? It’s not rocket science, surely?

I despair to hear the constant ‘mantra’ that we have ‘Victorian’ buildings as the excuse to sort the disabled access problems, including disabled toilet provision. Also, the apparent lack of staff with suitable training available to assist the disabled move around the system. Why not a ‘Blue Badge Scheme’ for transport overall? We seemed to manage it pretty well for the Paralympic Games in 2012?

Gerry says:
2 February 2017

But the changes that have just been announced are still ‘too little, too late’. As I understand it, they refer only to trials in just a few areas, and where it is necessary to change trains. If you don’t want to be massively ripped off, you’ll still have to mess around with Split Ticketing if you stay on the same train all the way. Sorry Which?, but there’s really very little to celebrate, it’s just the odd crumb falling from the railways’ table. A tiny bit of jam tomorrow . . . perhaps.

There also seems to be little or no progress on making tickets easily understandable, getting rid of nonsense such as ‘Valid as Advertised’ or ‘Route: Any Permitted’. The latter is disastrously ambiguous because it can easily be misunderstood as ‘ANY Route IS Permitted’, i.e. a permit to go whichever way you like rather than a severe restriction, the exact opposite of what is intended.

Similarly, you shouldn’t be expected to go online to find out the first train that’s considered to be Off-Peak, or to find out what ‘BC’ means: it should all be clearly printed in Plain English on the ticket, but there’s nothing that even tells you that ‘BC’ happens to be a Route Code, let alone its significance.

Johnson says:
2 February 2017

The train operators will soon find other ways to maintain their revenue. Until we get a Government prepared to curb the excesses of the train operators and stand up for passengers nothing will improve. Witness the Government’s lamentable failure to do anything in the Southern Rail fiasco.

I am disable and when travelling on the railway I am made to feel like I was something nasty you find on the bottom of your shoes

sceptical says:
2 February 2017

The simplification will not provide cheaper fairs it will only remove them. Since Virgin trains took over the East Coast Mainline I have yet to find a good cheap 3 month advance fair.

I read all this but more in hope than expectation