A “great British rail sale” is being launched on Tuesday with more than a million tickets available at up to half price, including tickets from London to Edinburgh for just £22.
The Department for Transport said that the discounts, which apply to off-peak tickets for travel between April 25 and May 27, were a response to the cost-of-living crisis.
Launching the sale Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said “For the first time ever, operators across the rail industry are coming together to help passengers facing rising costs of living by offering up to 50 per cent off more than a million tickets on journeys across Britain.”
Other discounted routes include London to Cardiff which will be available for £25, down from £47, and Manchester to Newcastle at £10.30, half the usual price.
First step to cut cost
Transport campaigners welcomed the move but warned that it should be a first step to cutting the cost of rail travel.
Norman Baker, from the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), said: “I hope the take-up of this offer will attract people on to trains and actually end up generating extra money for the Government. It can show the Treasury that the way to increase income is to cut fares, not to keep ratcheting them up and driving people off the railway.”
While rail travel is heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, the sale is taking place on a commercial basis and does not involve any extra government spending.
It may also draw travelers back to the railways following plummeting numbers during the pandemic.
The fall in passengers led the DfT to spend billions of pounds to keep the rail network afloat. Government funding during the 2020-21 financial year alone was £16.9 billion.
Last month, passenger numbers reached 80 per cent of their pre-pandemic peak.
While they are on an upward trajectory, the failure to reach pre-Covid levels, driven at least in part by continued working from home, is a drag on rail company finances.
In a video to mark the launch of the sale, Mr Shapps said: “We’ve had two years of living life virtually, it’s time to get real and visit our beautiful country.”
The CBT also called for a “wholesale rejigging” of fares to reflect new working patterns and an “end to massive annual fare rises”.
Largest fare rise
While so-called flexible season tickets were launched last year, commuters found that on some routes they worked out as worse value for money than on-the-day tickets.
This year saw the largest rail fare rise in nine years, with prices across the board increasing 3.8 per cent.
Fare increases are usually tied to inflation and with RPI running at 9 per cent, passengers could face a crippling increase in 2023.
The DfT said fare cooperation between rail or[eratorswouldbemorelikelyinfuturewiththereformscontainedinthe“Williams-ShappsPlanforRail”[eratorswouldbemorelikelyinfuturewiththereformscontainedinthe“Williams-ShappsPlanforRail”
That program will see the end of the franchising system, with English and trans-UK trains brought under the unified branding of Great British Railways (GBR), and franchises replaced by concessions in which the Government will collect fares and pay operators to run trains.
The reforms also aim to better integrate the operation of track and trains by giving GBR control over the tracks and abolishing Network Rail.