/ Travel & Leisure

Train fares rise again – can you afford our ‘rip-off’ rail?

Train ticket in pocket

As rail commuters head back to work after the Christmas break, there was one thing they had to look forward to – price rises. Today train fares rose by an average of 6%. Are you struggling to afford your commute?

Rail travel in the UK is already the most expensive in Europe, with the Campaign For Better Transport (CBT) claiming that some season tickets are 3.5 times more than the most expensive European tickets.

And as we see the New Year in, rail prices have sneaked up again. It’s not as bad as it could have been – the government announced in November that rises would be capped at inflation (RPI) plus 1%, rather than the previously planned plus 3%.

Then again, that still leaves us with an average rise of 6%, which for many could result in the hundreds of pounds.

Railing against the rises

Some routes have even seen prices increase by as much as 11%. Why? Because regulated tickets are grouped into baskets, and although each basket must not exceed an average 6% increase, individual ticket prices within these baskets can ‘flex’ by up to 5%. That means some prices can rise by a total of 11% (as long as others increase by less). Confusing, huh?

Some season tickets have now surpassed £8,000, which is a huge chunk of your pay packet. In fact, figures from Hay Group consultants today showed that many commuters are spending up to a fifth of their wages on getting to work.

Londoners, for example, spend on average 17% of their wages on commuting – and that’s before the Tube is taken into account. Thankfully, I only have to pay for the Underground, but since there’s a 6% rise there as well, I’ll have to cough up an extra £74 this year.

#Farefail for a fair rail

Today’s price rises have led the CBT to organise a day of action against what it calls ‘rip-off rail fares’, urging people to tweet in protest with the hashtag #farefail. In an open letter to the government, the CBT writes:

‘The decision to raise fares year after year takes us further away from a value for money rail service, which is what we need if we are to meet the economic and environmental challenges we all face.’

Perhaps commuters would be happier to accept these rises if there was a visible improvement in rail services? Sadly, improvements are often tough to see, with delayed and cancelled trains common on many lines.

At the end of the day, our rail network is expensive to run and the money has to come from somewhere, whether passengers or taxpayers. The government’s trying to reduce the amount taxpayers invest, but if commuters are struggling to afford tickets is it time to reverse this approach? Commenter Simon thinks so, telling us on a previous Conversation:

‘It would be good if we could all be encouraged to use public transport, in order to fill the buses and trains and reduce our utter personal reliance on guzzling petrol. Only by making the railways an attractive option, both in terms of cost and efficiency, will this be achieved. And sadly, the only fair way to do that is through a subsidy for the long-term benefit of all.’

With fares rising faster than inflation, and wage rises lagging far behind, can you really afford to travel by train any more?

Will the latest rail price rises make you stop travelling by train?

Yes, I'll look for other ways to travel (46%, 169 Votes)

I'll reduce my train journeys when it's practical (35%, 129 Votes)

No, I haven't got any alternatives to train travel (20%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 371

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Nigel Whitfield says:
3 January 2012

This year’s rise in London means that my typical trip when I go to work in an office where I spend some of my time has gone up by 6.8%, following all the rises in previous years.

Because I don’t work in the office often enough to merit a season ticket, I have to put up with the Oyster pay as you go fares; thankfully, I can afford to absorb the cost for now, but those who earn far less will certainly find it hard. I’m very probably not alone in not having had an increase in my daily rate since at least 2007.

Many people working on the minimum wage in London will now be spending one hour of their working day – possibly even more – just earning back the cost of getting to and from work in the first place.

Katharine says:
3 January 2012

I commute into London from Swindon. Full peak return fare is about £120 (80 miles each way). I usually pay about £60 by pre-booking on specific trains.

Full peak fare return to Cambridge from London (same distance) is £42. Can someone please explain?


It seems much of the pricing doesn’t make sense. There are expensive lines and cheaper lines, it all depends on the different rail companies.

I’ve even seen that some workers buy separate tickets because they don’t travel on weekends, which makes some season tickets more expensive than buying daily. How can that make sense?

The competition between rail companies was meant to be bring prices down, but I think there is a clear reason why it isn’t. Each appears to monopolise one line – so there’s only one choice of company and only one choice of route. They are not directly competing with each other in most cases.


I currently travel into work in London from an Oxfordshire town and the cost of living there + commuting costs into London actually costs the same as it would cost to live in an overpriced flat in London. That was before any increases.

My season ticket has gone up by £8 a week by the looks of things. Allowing for a couple of weeks off a year, that comes to roughly £380 extra a year. Wow.

Time to shut up shop and move to London methinks.


I’ve just moved out of London and have not only had a shock at train prices, but also at the service. Today – my first day of commuting – I already got into the office late, which makes me very angry considering how much I had to pay. I’ll be checking our train delay tool regularly now I’m commuting to see if I can recoup any of the extortionate fares!


Tell me about it! I pay an absolute fortune for my train fare and my train is regularly late…unfortunately I’m entitled to nothing back as I get a season ticket.

Phil says:
5 January 2012

“Today – my first day of commuting – I already got into the office late,”

Hardly surprising considering the weather we’ve had today. There are trees and power lines down all over the place.


Did you also know that you can’t get a refund on any replacement season tickets – so, for example, if you buy an annual ticket and then decide to move within a year, as I did, you forfeit that refund if it’s a replacement? I suppose this aspect is reasonable really, but always used to make me very paranoid about losing mine – especially as an annual ticket was around £4k from Kent – and that was last year!


New year, new price hike and same old service – at least from South West Trains. The first day back yesterday – the