UK Railway Fare Structures

A small blog on railway pricing in the UK, which as of today (18th February 2019) is in the spotlight again. The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operators in the UK, would like to see an end of the peak and off peak price differential.

In the UK, broadly speaking, a peak time train is one which leaves from a station from around 0530 until 0900. This varies wildly from station to station, as stations close to main cities can have peak prices up to 0930, whilst stations away from cities can have their main peak finish as early as 0845.

Peak times can operate in the evening too in some places. In Edinburgh, I experienced this while on holiday as my off peak ticket couldn’t be used between 1600 and 1745 (in 2016). Cost of peak time trains throughout the UK are vastly higher than off peak.

The Rail Delivery Group proposes therefore that this price difference be narrowed. They claim that this will help reduce over crowding. My main concern is that this narrowing will not benefit the off peak user, as the cost for an off peak ticket would rise to counteract the lowering of the peak price.

Although the smoothing out of fares is a good thing, if it makes overall journeys dearer, then I cannot really see a benefit.

One of the other proposals is an extension of “tap-in tap-out” ticketing. In London, Oyster cards and credit/debit cards have been able to be used for this purpose within the Tfl area. The advantage is only paying for the journey you make, which is especially beneficial to tourists who find it an easier way to pay for their journey.

I would welcome this idea, but could it be countrywide? It would be no good tapping in at Rainham, only to find that I could only complete my journey within the Network South East area map. I can see however that countrywide tapping in and out could be flawed, as many rail journeys on inter-city routes need to be seat allocated.

It is true that the whole ticketing system needs an overhaul, but with so many train operating companies, getting a true common ground could be difficult. Not that I’m advocating re-nationalising (I think now the cost of doing so would be prohibitive), but all companies need to work closer together to get a simpler ticketing system and pricing that works. Not simple, but with clever planning and willingness of all concerned, it could become a reality.

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Many thanks for reading, I’ll blog again soon

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I am a railway enthusiast based in Rainham, Kent. I enjoy mainly modern traction, however the history of rail, especially in places I visit, also interests me. I also have a static model railway, Mistydale, which has its own Facebook page. Thanks for visiting.

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