The Rail Industry Proposes Radical changes to the Fares System

Most people that I talk to think that train fares are too complicated, and feel that its really difficult to know when they are getting the best deal. Let’s face it, it is a challenge to find the best fare for rail travel and can often involve a convoluted process to buy a ticket in parts to save money (if you can be bothered!). The Rail Delivery Group has carried out a substantial research project that proposes huge change to the rail fair system that will benefit everyone.

The Rail Delivery Group have spoken to 20,000 people across the UK, plus over 60 umbrella organisations representing 300k organisations, authorities and individuals. These proposals to change the rail fares system, which the Rail Delivery Group now wants to work with Government on, put the needs of customers at the heart of change and focuses on what people really want from rail fares. They meet a commitment made by the rail industry when launching its consultation to bring forward proposals that are revenue neutral, meaning no change in average fares or taxpayer support.

Rail Industry Proposes Radical changes

The consultation, delivered in partnership with independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus, found that eight in 10 people want the current system changed, with respondents calling for a fairer, more transparent and easier to use experience.

My experience of Train Travel

I use the train a lot to travel into London, normally once or twice a week in my self-employed world. I always do my best to arrange meetings for 11am or later to ensure I can take advantage of cheaper fares. If I travel before 9:30 my train ticket a return from Knebworth to Kings Cross is £19.60. If I wait until after 9:30 this drops to £14.30. If I need tube travel as well, I will use the central London system and tap in and out using my debt card, two tube journeys will cost me £4.80. I know its cheaper to do this than to buy a Travel card which sets me back an eye watering £26 before 9:30 and £22 after 9:30.

Alternatively, I can travel after 10am I can use my Network rail card (this costs £30 a year to purchase this card) to get a travel card for £14.30 which will include train travel and tube travel for the whole day. How complicated is all of this to ensure I get the cheapest price for a train ticket!? No wonder people want change and a simpler and fair system for train fares. A tap-in, tap-out pay as you go system across the whole country could make this simpler and cheaper for people currently buying weekly season tickets, but travelling fewer than five days a week.

I have also invested in a friends and family railcard for any leisure journeys with my family. Again, this costs £30 for the railcard that will last for one year. This gives you a third off any adult journeys and child journeys provided you are travelling as a group. To be honest with you I never know if I am better off using the Network Rail card or the Friends & Family card and often rely on the ticket office staff to help find the cheapest fare. The system definitely needs reform!

Rail Industry Proposes Radical changes
The family are incredibly excited to head to London on the train.

A Huge public Consultation

Here is a summary of the Rail Delivery Group’s consultation findings, split into commuter, long distance/leisure, with recommendations for all customers.


Travelling from outside London in to the capital or elsewhere could benefit from the kind of weekly capping system currently available for journeys within London. With pay-as-you-go pricing and a ‘tap-in tap-out’ system, commuters that currently buy weekly season tickets could save money when they travel fewer than five days a week or are able to travel off peak. This supports changes in working patterns, with part time working and self-employment having increased by over a third in 22 years. 90% of consultation respondents wanted consideration (definitely or maybe) of price capping.

This sounds great. I used to commute into London three or four days a week at rush hour and had to queue to buy a physical ticket every day. Travelling for three days meant it was cheaper to buy daily tickets than a weekly. This pay-as-you-go tap in and out system will mean no more daily queuing for tickets. And the best price is charged no matter how many days you commute into London.

Long distance and leisure travellers

This rail travel group could see demand spread more evenly across the day, potentially reducing overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services. Updating regulations around peak and off-peak travel would mean ticket prices could be set more flexibly, spreading demand for a better customer experience. This would be supported by a wider range of on the day fares. 78% of respondents wanted consideration of fares that encouraged empty seats to be filled.

I would absolutely travel at time when trains are emptier if it meant better ticket prices. I often travel to see family in Penzance, Cornwall and can never justify the price of the train versus the cost in petrol. If prices were lower, I would much rather spend the six-hour journey watching the world go by on a train than driving the 320 miles.

All customers

All customers could have more options and no longer need to commit at the time of buying their outward journey to the time of day when they will return, instead mixing-and-matching different types of single tickets, and making changing travel plans easier. 74% of respondents wanted consideration of fares based on the amount of flexibility required.

Here are some highlight statistic of the results from the consultation. These are very overwhelming in support of reform being needed.

  • more than eight out of 10 people (84%) want to see the fares system reformed. Fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) thought reform was unnecessary
  • around nine out of 10 people (88%) want changes to how tickets are sold
  • seven out of 10 people (68%) think the cost of fares should reflect the time of day they are travelling
  • eight out of 10 (78%) felt that encouraging the filling up of unused seats should be prioritised
  • a similar proportion (81%) want to be able to buy tickets using online accounts

Rail Industry Proposes Radical changes

Best Fare Guarantee

If the proposals are developed and adopted, they could enable the industry to offer a ‘best fare guarantee’, so that customers would be assured that they would always be paying the lowest fare available where and when they buy it, which meets their needs.

A reformed fares system would also help make the most of technology like online accounts, smartcards and smartphones to make ticket buying simpler, so that customers are shown fares which match their needs while screening out irrelevant choices that cause confusion.

Here is a neat summary stating clearly the findings and the proposals from the Rail Delivery Group

Customer type What they wanted What we’re proposing
Commuters Fares designed so that it is unnecessary to buy multiple tickets to get the best journey fare.

Smart or electronic tickets, with the potential for ‘price capping’.

Fares based on loyalty to regular travellers.


Our proposals allow for weekly price caps, so that people pay for what they use.

Our proposals allow for consistency of logic in how fares are created.

Our proposals enable smart technology to give customers the fares that meet their needs and provide incentives for different types of travellers.

Leisure and business customers


Fares based on time of booking.

Fares based on the amount of flexibility required.

Fares based on encouraging travel to fill up empty seats.

Fares which provide savings for certain groups in society.

Fares that reflect both the outward and return journey time of travel.


Our proposals allow people to pay a fare based on the trains they use, with the ability to mix and match peak and off-peak fares. On long distance and regional journeys, prices better reflect demand throughout the day, helping to fill empty seats.

Our proposals allow for targeted discounts, including protected groups who currently have railcards.

We recognise the need to protect access to affordable, on the day travel. Our proposals reflect this but allow for much greater opportunity to save money by offering a better range of fares both booked in advance and purchased on the day, with greater flexibility to change plans for people booked on a specific train.


This is a collaborative post with the Rail Delivery Group. To read the full detail of the report please click here.

Rail Industry Proposes Radical changes


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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

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7 Responses

  1. We are regular train users and have a family and friends card which does save us a lot of money, it would cost us a fortune without it. I think train fares are way too high and it’s especially annoying when you can’t even sit down. When you’ve paid that much a seat would be nice. We have often had to either sit on the floor or on the luggage racks when there were no seats. At times like that, I’m glad I haven’t paid full price. There is a lot more to consider as well as pricing such as luggage space and providing more carriages. Travelling back from Bournemouth one year a lady was struggling with a massive suitcase trying to find a seat and somewhere to put her luggage, she’d paid over £200 in fares for her family and spent most of the journey wandering up and down the aisle.

    1. The friends and family card does make a saving but its still alot to pay isnt it? I feel like £14 for a 30 min trip on train to and from London is a lot of money! And agree I HATE not getting a seat.

  2. This is a really interesting article. I’ve written a number of posts too about the state of our rail network, increasing fares and poor customer experiences. The system is in desperate need of reform. Let’s hope any changes implemented actually work.

  3. I’d welcome anything that simplifies the current hideously complicated system. I use a combination of ticket splitting and a network railcard when I head into London, but am always trying to weigh up exactly which time and whether to go for a travel card or not. Love travelling by train but the pricing us a nightmare!

    1. I feel the same, every trip into London is a different combination of times, should I go overground and walk, so I have to get tube. Use network railcard or not!!

  4. As a frequent train traveler, I fully support the Rail Delivery Group’s proposals to reform the fares system. The current system is too complicated and confusing, making it difficult to find the best fare. The consultation findings show that eight out of ten people want change, with respondents calling for a fairer, more transparent, and easier-to-use experience. The proposals put the needs of customers at the heart of change and focus on what people really want from rail fares. I particularly like the idea of a tap-in, tap-out pay-as-you-go system for commuters who travel fewer than five days a week, as it will simplify ticket buying and potentially save money. The proposals also suggest demand spreading more evenly across the day for long-distance and leisure travelers, potentially reducing overcrowding by up to a third on the busiest services. Overall, these proposals could enable the industry to offer a ‘best fare guarantee’ and make ticket buying simpler through online accounts, smartcards, and smartphones. I urge the government to work with the Rail Delivery Group to bring forward these proposals and deliver a simpler, fairer, and more transparent fares system for all travelers. #RailFaresReform #SimplerFares #FairerFares #EasierToUse #TrainTravel #RailDeliveryGroup #GovernmentAction #CustomerNeeds #TravelExperience

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