A Southeastern train.
In a plan to change Britain’s rail system, return train fares are to become a thing of the past, with new proposals to scrap them to be announced by Transport Secretary Mark Harper within days.
Harper is set to reveal plans this week to swap return fares with “single-leg pricing”, in which the price of two single tickets will equal the price of a return.
Harper is also expected to share plans about the Great British Railways (GBR), a new public body, which will place the operation of track and trains under the same roof for the first time.
Why are return train fares being scrapped?
Many people believe train fares are too high and the rail industry is made up of an out of date fares system.
The idea was first revealed by Boris Johnson and his transport secretary Grant Shapps in May 2021, but the plans failed to take off due to fear from other Tory MPs that it amounted to “nationalisation through the back door”.
Ex-British Airways boss Keith Williams first introduced the plan during a review of the rail system after the 2018 timetable debate.
Williams felt that fares were a mess, costs were too high and the objectives of Network Rail which oversees tracks, and operators who control trains, were opposed rather than unified.
Williams suggested creating a “guiding mind” for the train industry that he compared to the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine.
What will happen?
There will be just three kinds of tickets:
Anytime singles, which can be used on any train and are generally more expensive
Off-peak singles, which is what this plan is largely about
Advance singles, which as always are for specific trains and usually sold more cheaply than off-peak tickets
Will fares go up or down?
They will most probably decrease, with single fares reduced by nearly 50% to exactly half of the current return fare. However, people who make routine return journeys should not see a difference, except for the annual fare increase, which this year is up 5.9 per cent.
The change is hoped to be “revenue-neutral,” meaning the total raised from travellers remains the same – or “revenue-positive” hoping more people will be attracted to the railway.
When will this happen?
So far, plans haven’t been announced but they could be replaced within a couple of years.