Train travellers should be able to more easily pick the cheapest fares for their journey under proposals for a shake-up of ticket prices, it has emerged.

Over the next few weeks, rail bosses are to meet Government officials in a bid to make lower prices more transparent to passengers.

The plan is to introduce a new way to book tickets similar to that of so-called 'airline' booking, which lets you choose the precise time and date of travel to make maximum use of discounted and off-peak fares.

Jacqueline Starr, managing director of customer experience at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – a body acting on behalf of train operators – said talks had already begun with the Department for Transport to try to pave the way for changes.

She says: "The rail industry can do more to make buying a ticket less complex and confusing for passengers. We want to help people get the best possible information and to be confident that they are buying the right tickets for their journeys."

Martin Lewis
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How it could change

Choosing a train ticket – and, more specifically, picking the cheapest one – can cause huge confusion for train travellers, even for those who consider themselves seasoned commuters.

For example, a customer who currently books a train fare that begins in peak rush hour but involves a change of trains when it is no longer peak travel time, still has to pay a high price that doesn't reflect the lower costs involved in part of the journey.

This would change with a switch to an airline-style booking system. Here, when picking flights, customers can choose each stage of their journey according to price and time with the cheapest travel options – including journeys which take longer or have a much larger number of stops – highlighted clearly.

The proposed changes to rail travel would introduce a similar system; all prices, including those where a journey starts at peak time but ends outside it, would be displayed.

Also, the plans would aim to ensure that a through route would not be more expensive than the cost of making a number of individual journeys to the same destination.

Why better pricing may be on the way

The move towards more transparent pricing follows an investigation by The Times newspaper which found millions of passengers were paying more than they needed to reach their destination.

On two-thirds of cross-country routes it tested, the cheapest fares were not available on nationalrail.co.uk – the National Rail Enquiries online service. Instead, passengers were only able to uncover them using a rival service such as trainsplit.com, it found. On average, the passenger saving was more than a fifth – or £26.

Since last year, rail operators have had to clearly label ticket machines so that passengers know that they only sell a limited range of tickets. The signs must also indicate that a range of cheaper fares can be purchased at ticket booths. However, a separate investigation by The Times found that more than half of 63 ticket machines in London did not do this adequately.

Stephen Joseph, of the Campaign for Better Transport, says: "Any measures to address the problem of complexity is good news. We desperately need reform to simplify the system."

The proposals largely require Government approval. A spokesperson for the Department for Transport says: 'Rail passengers should always be able to get the best deal and the industry must work harder to make this a reality.

"We will be getting RDG and consumer groups together shortly to design an event for the autumn that will identify improvements that can be made quickly across the network. We want to ensure that passengers have access to the information they need to be able to make an informed choice about their ticket."

Cheaper train fares on the way with planned ticket overhaul
Rail bosses are to meet with Government officials in a bid to make lower prices more transparent to passengers

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