Edinburgh-London rail fares: 'Less flexibility' as simplified tickets trial launched on East Coast Main Line

Reduction in ticket types but LNER says simpler fares will make rail travel more attractive
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Fares on the East Coast Main Line have been simplified and are being based on demand in an attempt to encourage more people to travel by train.

A two-year trial overhauling the fares system on the line – one of Britain's busiest – was launched by operator London North Eastern Railway (LNER) on Tuesday. But concerns have been raised that the changes reduce choice and flexibility for passengers.

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The scheme applies to journeys between London King's Cross and each of Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. The number of available standard class fares for those routes has been cut from seven to three.

LNER says it is at the forefront of rail reform and simplifying fares is vital to making train travel more attractive.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.LNER says it is at the forefront of rail reform and simplifying fares is vital to making train travel more attractive.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
LNER says it is at the forefront of rail reform and simplifying fares is vital to making train travel more attractive. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

A new fare named 70-min Flex has been introduced, enabling passengers to travel on other LNER services up to 70 minutes before or after their booked journey.

The only other two available fares are Advance – the cheapest tickets that can only be used on a specific train – and the most expensive fully flexible Anytime tickets.

Among the fares scrapped is the Super Off-Peak, which was generally the cheapest ticket that could be used on several trains at quieter times of day, was not fixed to a specific operator, did not need to be bought in advance and was refundable.

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Mark Smith, founder of train travel website Seat61.com, warned that by comparison, 70min Flex tickets have "a significant reduction in flexibility". He recommended that people travelling from London King's Cross to Edinburgh will get "a better deal" if they buy an Off-Peak ticket to Haymarket – one stop beyond Edinburgh – rather than LNER's new fare.

Off-Peak tickets are a similar price but the refundability "could save you hundreds of pounds on a round trip if your plans unexpectedly change", Mr Smith explained.

He also warned that even if the trial is successful, the system "can't be rolled out network-wide" as there would need to be two different versions for long and short distances, which "complicates things again".

Dynamic pricing has been introduced in an attempt to smooth demand throughout each day by incentivising passengers to travel at quieter times.

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Fares are being made more or less expensive based on the level of demand for each service.

The new fares structure was launched on Tuesday for travel from February 5.

LNER managing director David Horne said: "LNER remains at the forefront of rail reform. Simplifying fares is vital in making rail travel more attractive. Customers tell us they find fares confusing.

"This exciting new pilot is the next step in our plans to overhaul complicated and outdated ticketing options and we look forward to hearing feedback from our customers.

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"We believe that making fares simpler, smarter and fairer, while introducing value for money and modern flexibility, will encourage more people to choose to travel by rail, the most sustainable travel choice."

LNER cited a survey by industry body the Rail Delivery Group which indicated that 35% of people for whom train travel is an option are put off because they find it difficult to find the best fare.

UK rail minister Huw Merriman said: "We are delivering on our commitment to reform the railways, working with operators to provide passengers with simpler and more flexible tickets that better suit their needs."

LNER, which is owned by the Department for Transport, launched single-leg pricing in 2020. This involved introducing single fares around half the price of a return, allowing passengers to mix and match different types of tickets to get better value. Britain's outdated train ticketing system means many return fares are only £1 more than single fares.

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Stewart Fox-Mills, programme director for fares, ticketing and retail at the Great British Railways Transition Team, said: "It is great to see this next step in the simplification of rail fares. This pilot will move the dial towards simpler and better fares for customers."

Simplifying fares is among the proposed tasks for Great British Railways (GBR), a planned new public sector body to oversee the railways.

GBR was initially due to be launched early this year but the required legislation has not been passed and no timeline has been set out by the Government.

Alex Robertson, chief executive at watchdog Transport Focus, said: "The plan to trial demand-based pricing on some LNER routes is a radical change for passengers.

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"Transport Focus strongly supports fares reform and it's right to trial new ideas to see if they work. We look forward to hearing how the trial progresses and will be monitoring that it does indeed deliver better value for money tickets for passengers."

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