Britain’s biggest train booking app has launched a new feature to help drive down the price of long-distance rail fares by as much as £80, amid fears that travellers are choosing to drive or fly between major cities instead.
Rail users were hit by an average fare increase of 2.7pc at the start of the year and those using lines operated by Northern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express have suffered repeated delays and cancellations so far in January. Expensive fares and poor reliability have caused some people to shun train travel altogether.
Others have tried to exploit loopholes in the fares system to cut the cost of travel, but are often left bewildered by the range of ticket options on offer. In some cases it is cheaper for passengers to buy multiple tickets for a single journey. This is a phenomenon known as “split ticketing”.
For instance, a traveller between Edinburgh and York can find it cheaper to purchase two tickets for their trip – one from Edinburgh to Newcastle and then a second ticket from Newcastle to York. Despite buying two or more tickets, they can remain in the same seat on the same train for their entire journey.
Booking website the Trainline has launched a new feature which automatically shows passengers where they can make savings by splitting their ticket. For instance, a passenger could save £37.55 on a journey from Edinburgh to York.
Other savings are even higher. Travellers could save up to £80.10 on journeys between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston and £79.85 on a fare between Edinburgh Waverley and London King’s Cross. The Trainline will display all necessary tickets in its mobile app, meaning consumers can avoid carrying multiple paper tickets on their journey.
In some cases, travellers have had to resort to extreme measures to cut the cost of travel. In 2018, Cricket fan Colin Hinchley had to purchase 10 tickets to make a return journey between Derby and Southampton to watch an England Test match. Mr Hinchley saved more than £90 by splitting his journey at Coventry, Banbury, Oxford and Basingstoke. However, he had to carry carry 26 paper tickets, including seat reservations and receipts, on his journey.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies and Network Rail, has previously called for the government to overhaul the current train ticket system. It found that 84pc of travellers want to see the fares system reformed.
Darren Shirley of the Campaign for Better Transport, a passenger group, said ways to reduce the cost of travel were welcome, but he criticised the complex nature of the fares system.
“Passengers should not have to resort to splitting tickets in order to find the best deal,” he said. “The Government must reform the over-complicated fares and ticketing system.”
Pressure from environmental campaigners such as Greta Thunberg has persuaded some people to avoid domestic flights and long car journeys in favour of greener modes of transport.
Clare Gilmartin, of the Trainline, hoped lower prices would convince more travellers to choose trains over other forms of transport. “This represents another big step in our goal of getting more people to pick train travel over cars and flights,” she said.
Mr Shirley said rail travel would be the most appealing option for the environmentally conscious, as long as fares are affordable.
“The need to reduce carbon emissions has never been more pressing,” he said. “Rail releases up to 85pc less carbon per passenger kilometre than other forms of transport, so bringing through changes that make it simpler and easier for people to use the railway should be a priority.”