Sneaky tactics cause rail fares to rocket

10 May 2010

Some rail fares have nearly quadrupled over the past year due to train companies extending peak-time hours.

Tickets for trains that run during peak hours cost more than off-peak tickets. By changing the times that are classed as 'peak' train companies can increase fares without permission from the regulator.

Passenger Focus, the rail watchdog, described some of the fare increases as "astronomical" although  train companies claim only a “tiny” number of passengers are affected. 

The BBC says that since January more than 180 trains have been re-classified as peak services.

One service that has been affected is the 9.50am Virgin train from Birmingham to London. A return ticket from Telford to London on the service has jumped from £45 to £158 since last year.

Similarly a return from London to Manchester at 9.15am returning at 8.55am the next day would have set you back £66 last year but the same ticket on Virgin Trains now costs £262.

South West Trains, which runs a commuter routes from London Waterloo, now has 114 more trains classified as “peak” than last year. Meanwhile by extending peak hours by 35 minutes in the morning and 28 minutes in the afternoon, Virgin has moved 75 trains a week into the peak category.

Cutting the cost of rail travel

•   National Rail’s website has special offers from all the UK train companies as well as tools to help you find the cheapest fare for your journey. The trainline also has plenty of great deals.

•    Travel off-peak or buy an advance ticket. These both work out much cheaper than peak trains or paying the 'walk-up' fare on the day.

•    Get a railcard. Young people can get money off their fares with a 16-25 Railcard. The Family and Friends Railcard, Senior Railcard and Network Railcard all offer discounts too. As well as knocking cash off your train fares holding one of these cards can also get you a discount at certain hotels or attractions.

•    Consider splitting your ticket. In some cases it works out cheaper to buy a series of single tickets for different legs of the journey. Website can help you work out the cheapest option.

•    Season tickets offer big savings, but buying an annual one can be a big expense. Many firms offer interest-free season ticket loans so check with your employer if you can't afford it.

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