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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Start selling tickets further in advance say passengers

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With less than three months until the start of the summer holidays, Campaign for Better Transport and rail passengers are calling on train companies to change the way they sell advance tickets to encourage more people to travel by rail.

The transport charity wants to see the ‘official booking window’ – currently 12 weeks ahead of travel but could be less depending on where you purchase your ticket – changed to 16 weeks to encourage more people to take the train rather than fly or drive.

To enable this to happen, Campaign for Better Transport is calling for Network Rail’s deadline for publishing timetables to be extended from 12 to 16 weeks, and for all train companies and ticket retailers to start selling all tickets at least 16 weeks in advance.

Michael Solomon Williams from charity Campaign for Better Transport said: “With less than three months until the summer holidays begin, holidays, hotels and event tickets can be booked, but many train tickets simply aren’t available yet. Having such a small booking window makes planning train journeys harder than it needs to be and is reducing rail’s competitiveness with other modes of transport like flying and driving. It’s time all train companies and retailers offered passengers a bigger booking window so that people can plan their travel further in advance knowing they are getting the cheapest ticket available.”

Booking windows vary widely by train company, ticket type and time of travel, with open tickets available further in advance from certain retailers, in some cases with the proviso of the booking being subject to change once the timetable is confirmed. Out of 20 train companies, Campaign for Better Transport found that only eight facilitate booking advance tickets more than 12 weeks ahead (Caledonian Sleeper, Grand Central, GWR, LNER, Lumo, and Hull Trains, Northern and TransPennine Express). However, on some of these, this is only available on weekday services.

Campaign for Better Transport argues that this inconsistency is creating confusion for passengers, damaging trust in the railways and making rail less competitive with flying and driving at a time when it is vitally important that sustainable travel is made as simple as possible for all.

David Murray from Falkirk, Scotland, is planning a train journey to Norwich in September with two bicycles. He said: “Tickets for the Peterborough to Norwich leg of our journey are not available until 12 weeks before departure and trains only carry two cycles. At the moment we don’t know if we can travel on our intended dates, yet in order to obtain accommodation at the best places it may be necessary to book months in advance. This makes a mockery of environmentally friendly travel and low impact tourism. It is little wonder people drive.”

John LeGrove from Glossop, Derbyshire, said: “The narrow booking window is frustrating and off-putting for folk intending to go on long-distance trips, especially where air travel is a practical alternative.”

Only a handful of train companies and booking websites are currently selling cheaper advance tickets for journeys beyond the middle of July. This means that people planning to attend major tourist events this summer, including the Edinburgh Festival, the Great North Run, Leeds and Reading Music Festivals, England’s cricket matches with Sir Lanka and Australia, horse racing’s St Leger Festival and the Tour of Britain cycling race, could find themselves unable to book their train tickets or having to buy more expensive open tickets.

Jeremy Bartlett from Norwich said: ” Every year I book a holiday cottage early in the year but can’t book a train until much nearer the time. I book the Caledonian Sleeper in advance but can’t book tickets to London to connect with the sleeper train yet. It’s ridiculous. It puts people off travelling by train.”

Whilst domestic rail passengers are restricted by the current narrow booking window, Eurostar and European trains are bookable much further in advance meaning that those planning to travel by train to Europe from the UK, or vice versa, are unable to book their entire journey in one go.

Julia from Scotland said: “I have already booked the Eurostar and my onward trains to Germany, but I cannot book the trains to and from London, so I have to hope that I get a good and cheap ticket. It’s fairly ridiculous – in Germany you can book trains up to 15 months in advance.”

Campaign for Better Transport is calling on train companies to end this inconsistency and make things simpler for passengers. To help extend the booking window and ensure that journeys can be booked up to 16 weeks ahead of travel, the transport charity is calling on Network Rail to better manage repairs and upgrades and set its engineering works timetable at least 16 weeks in advance to enable passengers to plan their journeys and train companies to sell tickets without the need to worry about possible changes.

Image credit: Campaign for Better Transport

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