diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 23, 2008

Let's take a closer look at the train fare rip-off. Yesterday I looked at off-peak prices, and today it's rush hour travel. What if you have to travel at breakfast time, how exploited are you? Very, in some cases...

Cost of a return rail ticket from London
 50 MILESRush hour
weekday
Off-peak
weekend
Difference
  1)Basingstoke£17.50£16.6090p
  2)Brighton£18£16£2
  3)Arundel£21.70£20.60£1.10
  4)Ashford£22.60£19.60£3
  5)Colchester£23.30£18.80£4.50
  6)Cambridge£25£14£11
  7)Hastings£25.40£22.80£2.60
  8)Milton Keynes£32.40£14.50£17.90
  9)Bedford£33£16£17
10)Oxford£43.10£19£24.10

Stay close-ish to London and fares don't tend to rise hugely at peak times. A few pounds extra, nothing more... unless you intend to travel northwest, that is. Head to Milton Keynes, Bedford or Oxford and your rail fare more than doubles, which is appalling geographical bias. And what of longer distances?

Cost of a return rail ticket from London
 100 MILESRush hour
weekday
Off-peak
weekend
Difference
  1)Bournemouth£41.40£36.80£4.60
  2)Worcester£57.20£41£16.20
  3)Birmingham£75£30£45
  4)Norwich£78£41£37
  5)Grantham£95£28.30£66.70
  6)Loughborough£108£47.10£60.90
  7)Gloucester£125£45£80
  8)Lichfield£126£39.70£86.30
  9)Bath£133£48£85
10)Calais£270£130£140

Ouch. Only two of these peak time fare rises could be described as minor - one to Bournemouth and one to Worcester. Both towns lie within the old Network Southeast area, which may explain why ticket prices are restricted. Travel anywhere else, however, and your wallet's in danger. You'll need to find an extra forty, sixty, even eighty quid for the privilege of sitting in exactly the same seat to go to exactly the same place, just slightly earlier. Again it's rail passengers heading west or northwest who have to stump up the most.

But what if you're able to plan your journey in advance? For my final analysis I've searched for the cheapest Advance fare available next Monday morning, 1st December, departing around 8am and returning around 6pm. And then I've compared these with the turn up and go fares. In some cases the difference is extreme.

Cost of a return rail ticket from London
 100 MILESAdvance
(pre-book)
Anytime
(turn up & go)
Saving
  1)Norwich£24£78£54
  2)Grantham£25£95£70
  3)Bournemouth£26£41.40£15.40
  4)Loughborough£35£108£73
  5)Worcester£41£57.20£16.20
  6)Gloucester£51.50£125£73.50
  7)Lichfield£56.50£126£69.50
  8)Birmingham£57.50£123£65.50
  9)Bath£69.50£133£63.50
10)Calais£140£270£130

OK, I take it back about Norwich. It is possible to get there relatively cheaply, saving two-thirds off the usual rush hour fare, if you don't mind catching a specific train. Advance booking to Grantham saves nearly three-quarters, which is phenomenal. Even taking the fast Virgin train to Birmingham, extortionate as it is, can be done at half price.

So yes, forward planning can save you a packet, although it can also be damned inconvenient. Timed tickets force you to arrive at the station really early, both on the way out and on the way back, because you absolutely definitely daren't miss your bargain train. Advance fares are perfect for those who don't want to waste money and don't mind wasting time. I have to say, that's not usually me.

My commenters recommend booking your rail travel in advance via the National Express East Coast website, which they assure me (unlike the trainline) incurs no nasty booking fee. There are further useful (if farcical) hints here. Oh, and as for impromptu day trips to France... just don't. Not unless work's paying.


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