UK Train Fares – The Highest in Europe?

London Midland 350 at Rugeley Trent Valley

Rail fares are in the news again, with the annual announcement of above-inflation fare rises for the new year. The usual headlines emphasise how British rail fares are far higher that equivalents in most other countries. But given the complexity of British fare structures with astronomical peak-hour prices on prime business routes and extremely cheap bargains that are only available when booked weeks in advance, it’s not quite that simple.

The Man in Seat 61 has analysed a range of different journey, and concludes the real story is a lot more complex.

So the next time someone says (or you read) “Britain has the highest rail fares in Europe”, you’ll know this is only 15% of the story. The other 85% is that we have similar or even cheaper fares, too. The big picture is that Britain has the most commercially aggressive fares in Europe, with the highest fares designed to get maximum revenue from business travel, and some of the lowest fares designed to get more revenue by filling more seats. This is exactly what airlines have known, and been doing, for decades. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself, check some UK train fares at…

But all this is academic if you actually want to make a specific journey rather than a hypothetical one.

If, for example, you need to travel from Reading to York in three days time, the fact that the peak hour fare from London to Manchester is eye-wateringly expensive or you can get a really cheap ticket to Cleethorpes on a Wednesday in November isn’t relevant. All that matters is the tickets available for your journey. And in my case the cheap advance tickets never seem to be available for the times I need to travel, and the cost of an off-peak return is a three-figure sum.

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