Train travellers stumped on 'peak travel'

27 August 2010

Travellers using the UK's train networks tonight, ahead of the busy August Bank Holiday, may be forced to shell out for peak time fares for journeys that start as early as 3pm.

The opaque charging structure relating to what constitutes more expensive 'peak travel' time has come under fire this week from consumer Watchdog, Which?

It said that train operators were not conveying a consistent message to consumers, making it very difficult for them to plan their journeys efficiently.

For example, East Coast trains charges its highest fares on trains running just before 3pm, Virgin from just after 3pm, while other services such as Chiltern Railways and Merseyrail impose no evening restrictions at all.

The duration that peak travel time applies also varies wildly between operators, from as little as 30 minutes and up to four hours. Even the type of ticket passengers buy with the same operator will affect whether they are travelling at 'peak time' or not.

This means that two tickets bought from the same train operator will be subject to different peak times.

A spokesperson at Which? said that passengers would be, "forgiven for not knowing whether they are coming or going".

However, the Association of Train Operating Companies claims from a recent survey that "four out of five passengers are happy with their journey".

Train passengers are already braced for government-controlled price hikes from January next year.

But back in June, ahead of a report into the cost of train travel, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, said: "Passengers and taxpayers will rightly ask why it is that our railways in the UK are so much more expensive than those in the rest of Europe.

"Given the very significant financial constraints that we face, it is essential that we drive out inefficiencies and reduce costs."

Keep train travel costs down

Book early: You can save an average of 43% off the cost of your train ticket if you book in advance, according to Most tickets go on sale 12 weeks in advance.

Find out what constitutes peak times: Peak fares can be triple the price of regular fares so call the train operator you will be using ahead of your journey to avoid travelling this time of day.

Look at split fares: Rather than buying a straightforward return to your destination, find out the cost of two tickets – the first covering the first half of the journey and the second covering the second. Though you may not even have to get off the train, nonsensically, this can sometimes work out cheaper.

Try two single tickets: With such complex charging structures, it's not always the case that a return is cheaper than two singles. Experiment online.

Invest in a railcard: Railcards, such as the Network Railcard start from as little as £25 and will get you a third off all non-peak journeys. Railcards will vary depending on where you live but there are usually savings to be had. Ask at your local ticket office.

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