Railway fares for many north-south journeys plummeted as an unintended consequence of a new ticket test.
LNER, the government-operated rail operator on the East Coast main line, has introduced new low-cost, off-peak tickets that require no advance booking.
At the moment they only cover tickets between London and three key cities: Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
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But because of gaps in the UK’s arcane rail fare system, millions of travelers on completely different lines can benefit from it, regardless of whether they are traveling from Sheffield to St Albans or Carlisle to Coventry. No need to book in advance, “split tickets” or do something complicated: just ask for the right ticket.
The new fares also allow travelers on the West Coast main line to legally circumvent the usual peak restrictions, reducing the cost of a peak train from London Euston to Manchester by 58%.
These are the key questions and answers.
What has changed?
At the time of the privatization of the railways in the mid-1990s, John Major’s government sought to protect train travelers from excessive fare increases by imposing a set of rules and requirements.
As a result there are countless anomalies “integrated” into the pricing system. The railway industry has long expressed its desire to switch to “single-way prices”, as practiced by low-cost airlines: each journey has its price, independent of any other element.
Finally, a serious process is underway between London’s King’s Cross and the three key stations on the main East Coast line: Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Since January 2, a number of complexities have been swept away. The only tickets on offer between London and these cities are singles, in three versions: Anytime, Advance and Super Off Peak. (Nobody was able to tell me why the word “Super” precedes Off Peak, but it doesn’t matter.)
You already know Anytime (let’s call them Super expensive but completely flexible) and Advance, which are always one-way tickets. The new and exciting aspect is the possibility, outside of peak hours, to get to a ticket office or a car and buy a good value one-way fare.
An off-peak single from or to Leeds now costs £ 58.35; Newcastle, £ 72.85; and Edinburgh, £ 75.75. These rates, which came into effect on January 2, 2020, are almost 48% lower than those on New Year’s Day. Collectively, I call them “East Coast economic”.
Basically, they are “walk-up” rates which do not require advance booking and are not limited by capacity.
It’s great for those cities, but I’m traveling elsewhere.
As long as you are taking a long-distance train journey by taking at least two of southern England, the Midlands, northern England and southern Scotland and you need a flexible ticket, then there are excellent chances that you can save money with a cheap of the East Coast.
The most noticeable savings are found on the main East Coast line, which connects London King’s Cross with Yorkshire, Tyneside and Edinburgh. Almost any trip that involves a non-peak one-way ticket will be made cheaper if you wish. From Wakefield, Doncaster or Retford to London, buy the Leeds-King’s Cross ticket. From York, Darlington and Durham, you will need the cheap Newcastle East Coast; and from Alnmouth, Berwick and Dunbar, it’s the ticket to Edinburgh.
The same principle applies to every single station on the East Coast main line, from Finsbury Park (the first stop north of King’s Cross) to Mussleburgh (the last station before Edinburgh). You can change trains as many times as you want and use any railway operator on the line, including Great Northern, Thameslink, Grand Central, Hull Trains, CrossCountry and ScotRail, as well as the LNER itself. And, subject to non-peak restrictions, you can make some stops during the trip, for example, take a break for lunch in York and tea in Northumberland on the road from London to Edinburgh.
So I can use the ticket on other railway companies – what about other lines?
Yes. Surprisingly, LNER and the Department of Transportation (DfT) did not choose to impose any routing restrictions on test tickets. You probably expected them to specify “only the East Coast main line”, but instead your ticket will say “Route – any permit”. This generosity opens up a cornucopia of possibilities, but the main advantages are for two railway operators: East Midlands Railway from Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to London St Pancras, and Avanti West Coast from southern Scotland, north-west England and West Midlands to London Euston.
On the East Midlands line, any one-way travel from Leicester and North London stations will be at least £ 10 less if you purchase a cheap ticket to the East Coast of Leeds-London. On many intermediate trips – for example between Chesterfield and Luton – the best deal will also prove. The parts of these trips covered by Thameslink and CrossCountry are also fine.
On the main west coast line, any journey between stations from London Euston to Carstairs in Scotland is covered by the ticket for the east coast of London-Edinburgh.
Basically, this offers the biggest savings of all, as it removes the normal evening peak restrictions from London Euston to Stockport, Manchester, Warrington, Wigan or Preston.
So if you buy a ticket from London to Edinburgh using 18:00 from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly and a notional connection from there to the Scottish capital on TransPennine Express, there is no problem using it to get around the normal one-way fare of £ 180 for Manchester: save 58 percent.
How can I book a ticket to the east coast?
Just like you would any other ticket: go to a station’s booking office, buy online or through an app or book by phone. You must purchase a ticket for the trip you are using as a “cover”, ie between London and Leeds, Newcastle or Edinburgh, rather than the trip you intend to do.
You don’t need to mention a specific train or get a seat reservation, but you can do it if you wish.
I’m concerned about non-peak restrictions – what are they?
The strongest restrictions apply to travel on the line to and from Leeds. During the week, the first one you can get to London is at 11.31am, whether you start in Leeds, Wakefield or Doncaster. This is the only restriction facing south.
To the north, there are two annoying blackout spells. It is not possible to travel on trains scheduled to leave London before 9.06, or between 15.00 and 18.59. It is important to note that London time is crucial; you may board a Peterborough-Leeds train after 19:00, but what is relevant is the moment he left King’s Cross.
London’s other terminal stations have slightly different timetables and the safest way to travel is to use the National Rail Inquiries website. If he mentions the “Eastie cheapie” for the notional trip, for example from London to Edinburgh via Manchester, then you can use it.
If you have a lot of time, you can identify the restriction code for your proposed trip (which will look like 1K or 9D) and have fun exploring all the permutations. Or you may want to go out more.
Can I use my Railcard?
Yes, subject to the usual time restrictions of the card, as well as the non-peak criteria. The strictest rules prevail, so even if a trip is allowed by your train card, if the fare conditions for your trip exclude it, you cannot use an East Coast budget.
Does it have anything to do with “split tickets”?
No, they do not require any of the usual kerfuffles that require the purchase of multiple tickets to take advantage of the anomalies in the tariff system. But for destinations beyond Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh you can definitely use split tickets to reduce the cost of travel.
The profits from the “ticket split” are immense: the 10 am walk-up fare from London to Aberdeen will cost £ 178.40 if you ask for a pass, but almost £ 50 less if you buy one in Edinburgh and another from there . You don’t even need to leave the train.
The new system will also incentivize seemingly irrational travel. Instead of taking a CrossCountry via the train from Bristol to Leeds, the impetuous but flawless traveler should head first to Reading on GWR (for which a separate ticket is needed) and change for Birmingham and again for Leeds.