Growing rail revenue

Sunday 27th November 2022

Growing rail revenue was the theme of one of the sessions at the ‘Future of Britain’s Railways’ Conference held over two days last week as part of the Modern Railways Expo exhibition in Milton Keynes.

Modern Railways editor Phil Sherratt kindly invited me to join the panel discussion along with Mark Smith (founder of The Man In Seat 61 website) after presentations from Suzanne Donnelly, Director, Passenger Revenue, Great British Railways Transition Team, Stuart Jones, Commercial Director, Lumo and Alistair Lees, Chair, Independent Rail Retailers. The session was ably chaired by Sharon Hedges of Transport Focus.

It was a fascinating session hearing from the speakers and the ensuing questions and discussion from the audience and I certainly added to my repertoire of knowledge nuggets about the rail industry.

Here are a few.

Of the rail industry’s roughly £8 billion of ticket revenue (down from a pre-Covid £10-11 billion) £2.5 billion of sales are made by independent rail retailers direct to passengers with another £0.5 billion to business customers and a further £1 billion are sold online through those Train Operating Company websites which are overseen by an independent company (Assertis). That’s half the country’s total rail ticket sales.

That’s a sizeable commission being paid from the industry to third party providers, when the cost of ticket offices and station Ticket Vending Machines (TVM) are borne by the industry…. but for only half of all sales.

According to Alistair there are currently 2,822 ticket types, 901 unique ticket names, 655 restriction codes and 1,288 route codes. How is anyone supposed to understand that lot? It’s a complete and utter mess overloaded with complexity. And it’s got worse since privatisation (the foregoing figures have grown seven fold since then) and it’s got worse since the pandemic (more than 300 extra ticket types have been introduced since March 2020). It’s out of control.

Ironically each Train Operating Company (TOC) is doing its own thing at a time when all revenue from ticket sales (aside from Lumo, Hull Trains and Grand Central) goes into the same central piggy bank at the Treasury. And that’s the problem – the Treasury and DfT’s micro management of the rail industry will never allow the necessary commercial risks and innovations to grow revenue.

Alistair observed the average fare on the railway is £7.40. But there are huge price variations for long distance journeys ranging from eye watering expensive to ridiculously cheap.

Online/PayAsYouGo is currently 65% of ticket sales (up from 52% pre pandemic).

Overall, trains are running on average across all journeys with 75% spare capacity. But there are extremes of horrendous overcrowding on busy lines and at other times virtually empty trains. The devil is in the average.

Suzanne explained rail revenue has recovered to between 80-85% of pre pandemic levels. Recovery improved steadily earlier this year but has now ‘flatlined’ and this recovery has brought about a new market structure with season ticket sales falling from 19% to 8%; anytime tickets down from 30% to 29%; off-peak tickets up from 33% to 40%; and advance tickets up from 17% to 22%.

Business travel is at 37%; commuting at 59%; and leisure travel 115% of pre pandemic levels.

Sundays are at 115%; Saturdays 105%; Tuesdays/Wednesdays/Thursdays are at 82-83%; and Mondays/Fridays are at 78-79% of pre pandemic levels.

Stuart told us how Lumo’s one class dynamic price offer has made inroads into the London Edinburgh air/rail market with rail increasing its market share from 35% to 57% whereas rail has more or less retained its 30% share on the London Glasgow market.

Lumo’s presence is said to be a key reason why the London Edinburgh market is now at 125% of pre pandemic levels.

So, putting all this together, how is the industry going to grow revenue to plug that £2 billion gap between revenue and costs, setting aside the impact of current disruption due to industrial action which we can only hope is resolved through negotiation and compromise on both sides very soon.

There were two contrasting views during the panel discussion whether a step by step, bit by bit evolutionary approach is better, or whether it needs a revolutionary Big Bang approach. Alistair tended toward the former while Mark felt the latter was the only way.

The problem, of course, is the Treasury. They’re not going to sanction anything that puts revenue at risk at a time when the industry is already a couple of billion down on where it needs to be. I drew the analogy with the relatively small scale comparison in Brighton & Hove twenty odd years ago when we went to a £1 flat fare to replace graduated fare scales, if your aim is to simplify and reduce complexity then almost by definition that involves major change with associated risk, and a ‘Big Bang’ is the only way, but the potential rewards are high if the new simplified system attracts new revenue, because customers suddenly understand and are attracted to travel with its new simplified logic.

Alistair put forward his idea of single journey pricing (no returns); have an industry standard for what a peak is (in time definition); have just three ticket types: Fixed, Flex and Semi-Flex; and Flexi commuter – the more you travel in a given period the more you’re rewarded (reduced fares, free days, partner offers); ‘pay as you use it’ with no commitment up front to a week, month or year but automatic calculation of best rates depending on intensity of use.

He also made the point changes to tickets after purchase and refunds should be made much easier with a fair cost for doing so rather than the penalty price paid currently.

My experience of travelling by rail over the last six months has been of relatively easy journeys during the peak commuting periods, always being able to find a seat – a peak hour journey up to Victoria on the Brighton Main Line on Friday morning saw the train only around a third full – whereas recent journeys on Sundays on the Brighton Main Line and East Coast Main Line have been uncomfortable on packed trains with passengers standing. This experience doesn’t accord with the current pricing model. A return ticket from Hassocks to London in the morning peak is around £51.30 (anytime day return, no railcard) whereas on a Sunday the same ticket can be bought for as little as £8.55 (to London Bridge with a railcard). This makes no sense. The former is too expensive; the latter too cheap.

I think it’s time to do away with peak pricing. Buses did this decades ago and with working from home being much more commonplace, now is the time to grasp the nettle and simplify the price proposition by having the same tariff irrespective of time of day or day of the week.

As has been suggested let’s also go for a single journey only pricing regime as has applied as a “trial” on the East Coast Main Line for a few years, but I don’t recall seeing any analysis of the results of that.

Such a system should include easy to understand route alternatives offering different price options – eg London to Birmingham either via Milton Keynes or High Wycombe but let’s do away with the TOC specific tickets (eg Avanti only or London NorthWestern only) when they’re on the same tracks. More complex “Any Permitted” route options for longer distance journeys need to be easily explained so passengers (and staff) know what is and isn’t possible. At the moment it’s virtually impossible to know where you can go with such tickets. For example, here’s the simple (ironic alert) introduction explaining how to use National Rail’s routing guide to let you know what route you can take – no need to read it all, I’ve just included it all for effect.

While we’re having a ‘bonfire of ticket types’ let’s throw on the pyre advanced purchase tickets at cheaper prices too. Keep it simple, with one price whenever the ticket is bought and for whenever the travel is for.

And why not make a charge for reservations on long distance journeys, just like airlines do if you want to select your seat. Something like £10 per seat or three for £25, four for £28 with automatic refunds when the system is down.

We don’t need to wait for the so called ‘Rail Reform’ (if that is ever going to happen) to introduce a whole host of other small improvements to make things easier and more understandable for passengers to encourage more journeys. For example, stop insisting customers have to specify a journey time for their return journey when buying either online or from a new type TVM. With single leg only pricing and no peak surcharges this would change anyway with the simple purchase of a single out and a single back both at the same price.

Old style TVMs (at least those in GTR territory I use) should be able to sell Railcard discounted tickets for travel before 09:00 where that is currently allowed (ie for journeys beyond the Network Card area in the “south east”) whereas they don’t permit this (the button is greyed out) and you have to manually fool the machine by pretending you’re travelling after 09:00 (even though you’re not) by changing your time of travel – very few passengers know that trick.

But in any event I’m becoming more attracted to the idea Mark put forward in advance of the discussion at the Conference that the time has probably come to do away with railcards and make the up front price of a ticket more attractive rather than hide the best price behind an unattractive high price. As Mark observed – what other customer orientated industry or retailer does that?

I still reckon many of today’s fares/tickets complications on our railway are because directors and staff responsible for the mess that’s been created don’t ever have to use it as they all enjoy free travel. They’ve never had to turn up at a station, find the ticket office with a long queue or even closed, and have to wait in a queue for the one TVM that’s in operation and then work out what the best priced ticket to buy for their journey is… as the train they want pulls in and leaves. (And yes, I know you can buy online and get a QR code to your smartphone and avoid all that faff these days, but I’m just making a point.)

And not that I’m suggesting free travel for staff should be removed. On the other hand….

Will anything change in the next few years? It seems to me all there is lots of talk about “Rail Reform” but not much reform is actually happening. Nothing has changed since the pandemic struck in March 2020 – it’ll soon be three years next March – and I doubt anything will change in the next three years to March 2026. Or ever.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

58 thoughts on “Growing rail revenue

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  1. The only problem with simplifying tickets is where to draw the line. Here in the West Midlands County on top of the TOC tickets you have a vast array of Transport for West Midlands tickets valid on the railway many of which cannot be bought from a rail vending machine only on the bus , metro or Swift. There are Daytrippers, N Day Tickets, 7 day & 28 day N tickets all valid on the rail in specific zones as well as the bus & metro part of the Centrocard scheme. There are also rail specific tickets from TfWM that are known as Railmasters valid within the West Midlands County. These are all available on top of tickers issued by Abelleo & Chiltern on our local services. If you simplify national rail you risk removing local accountability on tickets within the West Midlands County that are much cheaper than TOC tickets. It’s a very complex problem that in Brum would very difficult to tackle in my opinion without passengers paying more to travel at a time budget’s are tight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very much the same as in Greater Manchester where there is a comprehensive array of tickets. The Wayfarer provides access across GM on the extensive tram and bus networks and into neighbouring counties incl as far as Buxton and Northwich on rail.

      Then you have the GM only options such as System One tickets that have a range of permutations based on age and mode (train & tram, train & bus, or all three), again all very similar to West Midlands.

      Then there’s tram and train combined single and return tickets and that’s before you get onto good old Plusbus and the operator specific tickets from the numerous TOCs that inhabit the area.

      As always, we want choice and not to be disadvantaged nor pay for ticket functionality that we don’t need. It is not easily solvable.


  2. You say that staff don’t have to deal with the complicated mess – what should be a simple zonal system in TfL land has become a complicated mess as well, as no-one seems to understand how staff discounts on Oystercards work, TfL staff don’t understand the different types of staff discounts and its a struggle to get the discounts put onto an Oystercard.
    There’s Safeguarded and non-Safeguarded (i.e. ex-British Rail and newer staff), Network Rail and freight staff don’t get anything (although recent developments give Network Rail staff something different to the two options above) unless they’re safeguarded. So the staff side is a mess too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I quite agree, it’s all so complicated but after a while we passengers get sort of used to it and start to think it’s quite normal. So yes, have a big bang, get rid of Railcards, Off-Peak, Super Off Peak, Advance, this restriction, that restriction and have simple fares and at least you’ll know you’re paying the same fare as the person in the next seat.

    Also, introduce a National Rail Smartcard, similar to an Oystercard so you just have to tap and go and it deducts the correct fare from your account. Southern have a limited form of this with their ‘KeyGo’ which works out the correct fare and takes the money from your Debit or Credit Card overnight. The only problem with that is that it’s ok for the limited area but if you forget, for example, that Bexhill is in the zone but Hastings isn’t, you have a problem. (St Leonards and Hastings stations are managed by Southeastern).

    Have a look at other countries too to find out how they do it with simple fares and new technology. I’m thinking of the Netherlands, South Korea, Japan and cities in the US and Canada.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I still reckon many of today’s fares/tickets complications on our railway are because directors and staff responsible for the mess that’s been created don’t ever have to use it as they all enjoy free travel”

    Same with Buses Roger…..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with your experience of using Victoria services on the Brighton main line, they are nowhere near as busy as pre pandemic, especially in the peaks. However, Thameslink trains are another matter, in my experience they are busier than ever, both peak and off peak. Last week I caught the 1735 from London Bridge to Brighton, it arrived on time, following a Horsham train which I thought would take most of the short riders. Not so, the 12 coach Brighton train was crush loaded and still had standing passengers beyond Haywards Heath – and that was a Friday so not the busiest day.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, but less so, in November! All those near me were clearly commuters, travelling alone, without luggage. I’ve experienced similar conditions on other days of the week.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. While I agree that the number of different ticket types and prices is clearly too high, I would take issue with some of those that you suggest should be scrapped.

    In particular, advanced purchase reductions. If I buy a ticket two or three weeks before my planned journey, then (in theory at least) the train operating company has two benefits: they can get my money earlier; and they should be better able to plan how to meet the demand – assuming that they are flexible enough to be able to respond to fluctuations in demand. On that latter point, I have my doubts. However, the passenger deserves to be rewarded for (potentially) helping the train operator to manage their business.

    I don’t think that an industry standard time definition for what a “peak” is would work – I have no doubt that the “peak” varies geographically, and probably more so than ever following Covid-19.

    By way of a comparison, I checked the fares for a journey from Freiburg in Breisgau to Mannheim for Tuesday 6 December – the basic fares varied from €19.90 to €57.60 depending on how much flexibility about choice of train that the passenger requires; the scope for short notice cancellation; seat reservation included or not; use of local transport services at the destination. That doesn’t include the rail card discounts – basically 25% or 50%, but there are various types of Bahn Card, e.g. for pensioners. First class is offered at a supplement “from €10”.

    If I try to book the same journey for tomorrow, then the starting prices are more variable. The lowest seems to be €21.90, but some journeys the cheapest offered is €29.90 or even €33.90. For those journeys, the €33.90 ticket seems to have the same validity as those sold for €19.90 on the 6 December; the cheapest first class supplement is €36. The maximum price is still €57.60.

    The Deutsche Bahn pricing policy does not seem to be a lot simpler than that in the UK, but it does seem to encourage advance booking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The only reason advance purchase tickets exist is to fill seats which would otherwise be empty; this has the side effect of shifting a few people off busier trains. There isn’t enough flexibility to allow train companies to plan for demand – the resources simply do not exist

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can remember when British Railways put on ‘relief’ trains or added extra carriages during busy periods. On today’s railway such flexibility is deemed wasteful of resources.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think the reality is a lack of paths across the network. Regional operators could do with more units to enable longer trains (e.g. enough to run every cross country as a double voyager, enough to triple unit the EMR Crewe-Newarks etc.)

        Relief trains are unlikely in most areas because the network just can’t accommodate additional trains.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s not just the rail staff who don’t have to use the ticket machines it’s plutocrats like Sir Richard Branson who gave us the most complex ticketing system known because everything has to be a gimmick and we mustn’t forget Sir John Major who gave Sir Richard the opportunity to do this.


  8. Sad to see that there was apparently no mention of better integration (between different ex-franchises, or with buses) as a means to improving travel numbers and revenue. From my own frustrated experience, there are numerous journeys which are impossible, or impracticable by public transport due to ill-timed connections. Just by improving the offer to customers (isn’t that what the private companies were supposed to be good at?) I feel sure that overall travel could be driven up by at least 10%.

    Just a thought – how about returning the railways to the structure just pre-privatisation? – i.e three main commercial arms: Intercity, Network SE, and Regional. That seemed to be going well at the time… Probably about the right amount of centralised simplification compared to special deals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have full integration between rail, bus and metro in Brum you can board any bus or metro service and buy tickets for the day that will take you onto rail services within the West Midlands County. If you have a rail ticket you add the PlussBus ticket which gives you unlimited travel on bus and metro for 1 day. There are also 1 week, 28 day & Annual tickets from Transport for West Midlands which allow travel within whatever zone you want with either bus or metro or both added throughout the West Midlands County. There are also more flexible tickets which are issued on Swift to be used on Bus & Metro and the West Midlands Rail Network. Swift Pay As You Go is not accepted on the rail network however it is a bus and metro product whose IT system is not compatible with National Rail in the same manner as TfWM Concessionary Passes cannot be scanned on Transport for London buses however TfWM Concessionary Passes which offer free off peak rail travel do scan on ticket barriers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whilst I agree there is (good) integration in the West Midlands in terms of ticketing, it is completely untrue in respect of connectivity and timetabling. If rail is to grow its market, it desperately needs to stop “silo thinking” and recognise that the journey doesn’t end at the destination railway station and continues, often attempted by bus. It is not a proper “network ” if all modes aren’t truly integrated.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I personally do not agree with comments your Mr Hodges as there is full mukti modal connectivity in the West Midlands County every single railway station supported by TfWM has bus connections from it from 6.30 am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday & the TfWM website & app provides comprehensive journey planning between bus, rail and metro For example my local station Rowley Regis has the TfWM funded 231 that links the station direct to Blackheath & Halesowen , nearby Old Hill has the 14A also funded by TfWM & Langley Green the 12/A. If you would kindly provide examples of where coordination is not working within the Transport for West Midlands operating area between the hours of 6.30am and 6.30pm Monday to Saturday I will kindly address them.


          1. Whilst I accept that there are bus services that go close to train stations, it is the ease of those connections in terms of waiting times that concerns me. From my perspective, connections between trains and buses has deteriorated at both Solihull and Yardley Wood, particularly in the evenings. Recent experiences include watching a 76 go past as I was half way up the ramp at Yardley Wood (daytime); frequently waiting 20 minutes for a bus back to Shirley from Solihull in the evenings (it used to be 10). Returning from Coventry > Shirley recently I tried connecting at International, but gave up and went to Marston Green. Evening connections at Yardley Wood with the 76 (more important now there are fewer trains) became so tight it wasn’t worth bothering about. Fewer buses use Solihull Station now, reducing convenience to passengers. So sorry, I do stand by my comments but accept that other places may be better served in terms of seamless travel.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Transport for West Midlands will be providing the 76 service as a socially necessarily tender in the evenings & Sundays from January 3rd 2023. As the times and operation in the evenings will no longer be set by National Express West Midlands the new timetable has been drafted to provide better coordination with the Snow Hill lines rail service. The tender hasn’t yet been awarded so the sucessfull operator has not yet been confirmed. If the service fails to provide better connections in the New Year TfWM should be contacted not the operator as they will be directly responsible for it for any amendments to be made in the operation of the 76 from Yardley Wood Station.


            2. Bus service departures from Solihull Railway Station have been reduced because of the redevelopment of both the Railway Station & Bus Stands. On completion of the redevelopment which is being undertaken jointly by TfWM, Chiltern Railways, National Rail & Solihull Council the bus services will be part of a Enhamced Quality Partnership agreement which will better coordinate both the commercial services of National Express West Midlands & the subsidised services of Transport for West Midlands to improve the Interchange between rail & bus. Any increase in local rail service frequency is currently outside of the scope of TfWM. The forthcoming BSIP for Solihull will also enhance bus services within the Borough.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Higher peak fares are not only there to manage demand, but also because commuters and business travellers historically were willing to pay more for their journey. Post-COVID this effect is probably less (because of working from home and ZOOM meetings) but still applies. Getting rid of peak fares would require higher off peak fares (from people with more alternatives to rail), unless the Treasury stumps up more subsidy (which it won’t), and would reduce overall ridership.

    I think the logical structure would be:
    – Anytime (ie fully flex)
    – Off peak (flex at certain times)
    – Advance ( restricted to a specific train and quantity controlled).

    Having said this, many of the differentials between fares did not make commercial sense pre-COVID and make even less sense now. In particular 25 years of uncontrolled Anytime long distance fares have driven them up to crazy levels on some routes, while Offpeak fares have been controlled. These, in effect, cap the level of Advance fares and lead to huge differences between lowest and highest fares on the same train. Differentials make sense depending on the degree of flexibility people are willing to sacrifice, but the scale of them often defies any commercial logic.

    Single leg pricing (primarily abolishing Offpeak Returns) is probably the most important reform as it gives people more options to use different ticket types in each direction, but the revenue impacts are hard to predict (my former employer tried to do this for DfT 15 years ago) and scare Treasury.

    More easily achieved is tidying up validity restrictions (many of the differences have no commercial logic) and getting rid of operator specific tickets (except for train specific Advance tickets which by definition restrict use to a single operator).

    I don’t agree with you about charging for seat reservations. Airlines have to guarantee every passenger a seat – they only charge extra for seat selection. It is reasonable to include a seat reservation for everyone buying in advance.

    Part of the problem with low seat utilisation at peak times and weekend crowding is because many timetables are still designed round a demand pattern that no longer exists. The starting point should be to operate a standard “offpeak” timetable all day, every day, then use pricing to control demand to the capacity available. Once this has been done, one might consider extra trains at the busiest times (if a business case can be made) and fewer trains where demand is low (even with cheap fares).

    I strongly agree with what I think is your central point – a bold commercial initiative is needed to sort out a mess which is partly the consequence of 25 years of inter-TOC competition plus a degree of historic control by DfT. There is no commercial logic to this in a world where Government takes the revenue risk. As you say, getting Treasury to see the opportunity and take the risk is “challenging” (ie won’t happen without strong political commitment). But there is still a lot of tidying up of the system which could be done incrementally.

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      1. In that case, what would be the standard rate for distance? In some areas, the £ per mile is very low – Taunton to Exeter St David’s, a distance of 30 miles cost £14.50 return for an adult at 10:00 on a Friday: 48p per mile.

        Other areas have a higher £ per mile due to the demand – Reading to Paddington, a distance of 36 miles, for the same time costing £24: 66p per mile.

        I recall British Railways using the flat-rate to calculate the standard fares, the result were some routes having ridiculously higher fares than more direct ones. No wonder BR scrapped them not long after!


        1. Single = 33p/mile
          Return = 45p/mile
          Season = 36p/mile
          Seem reasonable figures to me. Ideally lower if the government fancies actually funding public transport properly.


            1. That wouldn’t work very well – a London to Birmingham ticket (112 miles) would essentially cost less than £37 single, £50.40 return and £201.60 season. Looking at that, I’d say overcrowding would ensue!!


            2. You can currently get a Super Off Peak Return (via High Wycombe) for £36. Peak long-distance trains aren’t that busy any more, in part because the price of Anytime tickets is so extortionate that people crowd out the Off Peak services instead. This is why Virgin abolished peak restrictions on Fridays. I’d certainly price the Off Peak Return at that rate, even if the Anytime return needs to be (say) 80p/mile (still much lower than the current Anytime rate).

              Once HS2 is open we could have 3,000 seats per hour in each direction between Curzon Street and Euston, on top of the seats available on stopping services. Compulsory reservations (as per TGVs) will stop overcrowding (rather than just yield managing it).

              If we are serious about public transport, we need to stop pricing off demand, instead improving our railway to meet it and get people out of their cars and out of planes.

              Incidentally, here’s a walk-up fare with terrific VFM: London to Dublin, £54.90 single. Less than 17p/mile.


  10. It all depends on the ‘flat rate price’ is decided. We have made many journeys by train rather than by car or coach purely because of discounted fares. I have train tickets for a journey costing £70 return, equivalent coach fare was £ 130.


  11. Interesting figures here, and perhaps I am not bright enough to work out that a revenue drop from c£10.5 to £8 billion/80-85% passenger retention after Covid (quoted), looks more a 76-77%, but perhaps I am splitting hairs. But certainly now know why I avoid rail travel at weekends!

    There has to be some simplification, as clearly the present situation is ridiculous, the Brighton line pricing nonsense surely the worst example. Whilst agreeing that most lines should abolish Operator specific tickets, I think there would a problem created on the North Western line from London (Euston), as many people would crowd onto Avanti (stupid name!) trains rather than London North Western.

    As most have observed, and clearly borne out by figures, the “peak” is now much diminished in most parts of the UK (although not all), and there really could be some massive savings in both stock and staff by working a Saturday type timetable in many parts. Which may bring a smile to the Treasury, and reduce hostility to other sensible changes as outlined.

    Cannot resist mentioning that whilst privatisation was indeed the brainchild of “Tory” John Major (Margaret Thatcher sensibly wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole), it was enthusiastically embraced by the Blair/Brown regime who didn’t alter one single thing. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True (about Sir’s Tony and Gordon)but Lady Thatcher touched BR with the sectorisation pole which could be seen as a stepping stone to privatisation and probably the rail aim of creating sectors,a bit like NHS Trusts were probably part of Sir John ‘s other plan to turn the NHS into the VHS (Virgin Health Service!)?But as you point out New Labour didn’t change anything.


      1. Let’s not forget that British Rail, before sectorisation, wasn’t exactly a bastion of customer focused innovation and commitment to service.

        I’m sure that Roger isn’t advocating the dead hand of nationalisation comes in but that there has to be some ability to simplify and rationalise the current position.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Under British Rail before rail privatisation at my local railway station Rowley Regis we had a basic half hourly service between Kidderminster & Birmingham & no Sunday Service since the railways were privatised and worked in partnership with Centro & now TfWM we have 4 trains an hour to Brum with West Midlands Railway daily and direct services to London Marylebone with Chiltern Railways. I personally would not welcome any return to a so a called state run “British Rail” under any circumstances but would welcome our local rail network being completely devolved to Transport for West Midlands.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Except that British Rail didn’t have as many passengers, did it? Let’s face facts – for all the faults of the current system (and there are many), the reality is that British Rail squandered the funds in the post war modernisation plan, and was frankly awful in the 1970s by which time annual passenger numbers were bouncing around 700-800m p.a.

        It was a terrible experience to travel on some archaic class 101 or hang around at some decaying terminus.

        You clearly are utterly opposed to private sector involvement in the railways. It’s fair that you, and others (including Roger) point to the faults and flaws in the current system. That is your right, and it is clear that how things are currently being managed by the TOCs and DfT needs simplification. However, it would be manifestly wrong to try and paint the BR world as being halcyon days when they most definitely weren’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. There has been commendable growth in West Midlands (c.13m passenger journeys in 1995/6 to c.65m in 2019/20) but it’s not alone. The North West went from c.25m to c.105m in the same period.

        So there’s a place for both local coordination and commercial input but clearly some standardisation and simplification is required, but not likely from the mandarins on the DfT.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I do think that there is a place for operator-specific tickets for InterCity vs Regional and commuter services such as LNER vs GTR, Avanti WC vs LNW, GWR(HS) vs GWR(TV), provided local services have sufficient capacity. We do need to prioritise longer-distance passengers on the InterCity services. Not sure that LNER and Avanti vs TPE is as helpful, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chiltern Railways own tickets are very popular from Worcestershire, The Black Country & Birmingham direct to London Marylebone. They are much cheaper and reliable than Avanti & my last ticket earlier in the month for a meeting in the City was £6.40 each way on an Advanced Train Specific ticket from Chiltern consequently any suggestion to remove the current pricing structure would be total madness in time of fiscal constraint and would simply price many of the rail network when these tickets fill capacity at off peak times.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think that advance tickets are quite the same thing, Richard. AP tickets are helpful for spreading out demand – they have a place as long as the flexible fares are in themselves reasonable.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well if I wantt to arrive in London early on the direct 06:52 from Rowley Regis for an early meeting I buy in advance a Travelcard from Chiltern Railways for use on TfL services at a cost of £30 it can only be used on Chiltern Railways but is excellent value and has no evening restrictions except the 16:15 Mainline service which is just business class.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. There are or were plans to simplify things. We were going to have Great British Railways maybe we still will, Governments announce thing and then nothing happens
    Reminder as well that most of the railway infrastructure is state owned and Network Rail is state owned as are a couple of the TOC’s

    The Great British Rail plans is to bring most of the rail network (TfL and NI Rail I think are excluded) under one organisation who would set fares and services levels etc

    I think one can see it as similar to TfL Rail


  14. Imagine suggesting a world where car drivers buy fuel that can only be used in the off peak or can’t be used on motorways or is restricted to London you would be a laughing stock. But thats what happens on the railways. The reality is part of the pricing mechanism is to force passengers off trains that aren’t big enough or frequent enough to meet identifiable demands.
    I recently travelled to Brighton on a Sunday afternoon and asked for a single from the Booking Clerk at London Bridge to say aren’t you coming back and was left mistified when I replied I’m coming back across country by bus using a Discovery ticket that allows me sit in comfort using any operator. He replied you can use either operator with tickets on train!
    As for journey to Brighton. Caught Thameslink, only to be told train cancelled south of 3 Bridges due to no driver. Alighted at E Croydon and stood on following Thameslink all the way to Brighton.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a brilliant idea Peter outside the Metro Mayor areas in England you only have to go 1 stop on the trains outside our TfWM area and it’s like entering the third world. Hagley our next station although it is a very affluent area home to World Cup England star Jude Bellingham; and despite what the press have been saying unlike Jack Grealish he is not from Brum as we are; the facilities are so basic and there are limited options for the vast TfWM ticketing scheme. Within the Metropolitan areas it should be devolved & in Wales and Scotland.
      In England the Metro Mayor’s should have responsibility for local rail but elsewhere a coherent approach is really needed .


  15. If only S W Railway would introduce cheap tickets away from London, as SWT did sometimes. Why can they not try filling off-peak trains to Bournemouth or Exeter or Salisbury in quiet weeks? and why can one not get cheap tickets to Yeovil and come back from Weymouth so that I can take buses in between? ie a day out ticket, facing away from London to protect their revenue.? SWT did this once.
    SWR have a new half-day or “evening” ticket now, but it has no publicity at all at stations. Like Stagecoach and its lack of interest in encouraging passengers, SWR also does not publicise anything at all at stations. Who manages SWR?.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m a little cynical about the 75% spare capacity figure. There are some automated systems for passenger counts but in my experience rail is quite bad at understanding where the demand is.

    One small example: For years SWT operated an hourly Sunday service via Hounslow to Waterloo using 4 coach trains. (As compared to eight coaches every 15 minutes Monday-Saturday). It was routinely full and standing half way along the route yet every suggestion the service should be increased was met with a reply that there was ‘no demand’.

    Demand at such non traditional times often seems to come as a surprise. At best I suspect the 75% figure is an educated guess


  17. The average train is 25% full. Imagine an airline running like that! Off-peak should go way down. Maybe £8 peak vs £4 shoulder vs £1 off-peak. And a simple per-km fare, with no rail cards, advance, etc. The alternative is culling many mid-day trains, say 1 per 2 hours rather than 2 per hour outside peak hours.


  18. I heavily disagree with getting rid of return tickets – the economics of two singles can push the cost of travelling higher, so this removes the discount incentive on a return as in some cases (according to Trainline) returns cost 5p more than a single. Return tickets also simplify ticket purchasing as this would involve more queuing at ticket offices/machines. You argued in the past to be against the abolition of the London Day Travelcard, but you’re not voicing concerns about abolishing return tickets, which doesn’t make sense. KEEP THE RETURNS!


      1. If that is the case then I’d expect to see TOCs realise they’ll face a downturn in revenue. Supposing that a ticket between two stations cost £10 single and £15 return, halving the return ticket would ultimately cost £7.50 single, which is all fine and dandy for most… until it’s pointed out that £2.50 is lost for every single-price ticket, so up goes the price!


        1. Taking a theoretical (but not unrealistic example) where the current position is:
          Peak single £100
          Peak Return £200
          Off peak Return £60.00
          Off peak Single £59.50
          Advance Single somewhere between £20 and £59 in the off peak and up to £99 in the peak depending on uptake and how long in advance you book

          Following Roger’s suggestion, the off peak Single would be £30. The effects would be:
          – no change for people who want to make a return off peak journey and need some flexibility
          – a big reduction for people wanting an off peak Single
          – the top rate of off peak Advance tickets reduced by nearly 50%
          – a much bigger incentive for people using peak returns to buy 2 singles at the last minute, one of which might be off peak depending on when they actually get to the station.

          In order for this to help the railway’s finances you have to believe that the number of extra passengers would be sufficient to offset the reduction in average fares AND that there is enough capacity on the train to accommodate them all without severe overcrowding (or that the total revenue would rise enough to pay for more trains). Doesn’t seem very likely to me! My guess is that reducing off peak fares is broadly revenue neutral – you get the same revenue from more people (though there might be some revenue loss from people switching from peak returns). There would also be some revenue benefit from making the system easier to understand

          I think the right solution is to abolish the Off peak Return and set the Single fare somewhere between £30 and £60 to balance demand, revenue and capacity. The tricky bits are (a) establishing what the right level is and (b) convincing Treasury to take the risk that we’ve got it wrong!


          1. Simplicity and cheapness is one thing, and ultimatley the end goal is to make rail fares understandable to passengers, but it cannot be denied that forcing everyone to purchase single tickets is going to add extra hassle.

            Imagine a scenario where a passenger hasn’t been paying attention to time when arriving at a station to return home, then realises that their next train is due to depart with minutes to spare. In a world where return tickets are issued, they can simply slot their ticket through the barrier and board the train in time. In a world where single tickets must be purchased, they’d have to queue for a TVM or office (which may be out of order for the earlier or be closed/non-existent for the latter), in which during that time they’d miss their departure. It might be a non-issue for a busy city station, but matters more at a less frequent one.


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