Peak rail times 'are confusing', Which? suggests

Commuters waiting for a train at London Bridge station
Image caption There is no standard peak time for train journeys, leading to wide differences between operators

Train companies have been accused of confusing passengers by having vastly different rules on what constitutes peak-time travel.

Which? magazine said operators were not providing a consistent message.

Some such as East Coast trains began evening peak services in the afternoon while others had no restrictions.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said most people were able to buy the right ticket and get on the right train without any problems.


The magazine said the East Coast train company and West Coast Main Line operator Virgin Trains began their evening peak in the mid-afternoon. In the case of East Coast, that means the evening peak period lasts four hours.

But Chiltern Railways and Merseyrail had no specific evening peak times.

Which? said: "You'd be forgiven for not knowing if you're coming or going, yet Atoc claims 'four out of five passengers are happy with their journey'."

The magazine said the fact that different tickets had different restrictions was also confusing.

For example people who bought super off-peak tickets were subject to more restrictions than normal off-peak tickets.

Other restrictions vary according to destinations and the train company that is offering the service.

For example, East Coast morning peak services to London end at 10.05 unless commuters have bought a first class ticket, are travelling using an off-peak day return ticket or travel card or have a super off-peak ticket.

But Merseyrail and train company Northern Rail tend to have a set morning peak time - ending at 0930.

Which? also urged commuters to think carefully about where they begin their journey as that also can affect the amount they will pay for their ticket.

'Right trains'

BBC transport correspondent Richard Scott said some train companies have recently been expanding the peak times, squeezing off-peak travellers into smaller time slots.

One argument is that this manages demand by encouraging people off crowded services onto less busy trains. Of course it is also a way to make more money, he said.

By redesignating trains as "peak", this allows train companies to increase fares without needing permission from the regulator.

Edward Welsh, Director of Corporate Affairs at ATOC, said: "The issue is that a record number of people are travelling by trains and there's only so much capacity.

"Each train company has to be able to manage this demand in its own way, because people travel in different parts of the country. And that's the fundamental point which Which? has failed to grasp in its survey.

"You can't compare Merseyrail, for example - which is a local and a commuter service in and around Liverpool - with people travelling on services from Plymouth to Newcastle or London to Glasgow - it's a very different kind of service."

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