Train Fares made SIMPLE! (sort of)

Before our recent trip to the Cotswolds I spent at least 10 hours studying the train schedules and fares for trains from the Cotswolds into London. The many types of fares was confusing and I could not easily figure out what fare was best for us. The schedules were confusing too, but as I got to know the area better, they started to make sense. There are only two train lines that go into the Cotswolds.

  • The Southern Cotswolds line goes from London to Swindon, Kemble, Stroud, Cheltenham.
  • The Cotswolds Line goes from London to Oxford, Moreton-in-Marsh, Worcester.

These train lines are good for getting from the Cotswolds to London, but are not good for traveling around in the Cotswolds. More information on Train/Bus schedules for the Cotswolds.

Train travel in England is expensive

An off-peak return on the day of travel is expensive – $80 return per person from Stroud to London and $40 from Oxford to London. Off-peak means you leave after 10am and cannot return from about 4pm to 7pm (peak travel time). $160 for the two of us to have a day in London (and that does not include the amount I would probably spend at Liberty)!! A Standard Open Return ticket, which you can use any time of the day, is well over twice the Off-Peak price.

You can buy advance tickets for 1/4 of the price, but you have to book it for a specific day and train – that never works for us because we are not good at planning ahead.

We ended up driving to Oxford (an hour drive from where we were staying near Stroud) because trains were more frequent (every half hour, compared to once an hour from Stroud), the ticket was half the price of one from Stroud and you could take slow trains back, even during peak hours. Driving back in the pitch black during a big snowstorm, we wished we had taken the train from Stroud!

Train travel in England is expensive, but so is driving. Gas (petrol) is over $8.00 per US gallon. However, you can rent a diesel car that gets 40 – 50 miles per gallon. Since US gas is now almost $4.00 per gallon and a typical mid-size car gets 20 – 25 miles per gallon, this makes driving in the UK about the same price per mile as in the US.

Paddington Station
Paddington Station, London

One set of tracks; many companies running trains

Another confusing thing about the trains is the schedules. The Conservative government of the 80s/90s took the national railway system private and it has been confusing for the traveler ever since. (Thank you Lady Thatcher!) Private companies run the trains, each one with their own routes and schedules. The government maintains the tracks and stations. It still all works as one system but figuring out the routes and fares can be difficult.

At least you can find all schedules and fares for all the trains in one place – National Rail or The Trainline – both websites show schedules and fares, and let you purchase tickets.

New SIMPLE Rail fares

But – all this has changed – sort of. On May 18 2008 the British railway system introduced SIMPLE fares. There are now THREE types of fares (instead of 300). Some are in effect now, others start in September. The fares have not changed, but the types of fares has been simplified so we can all understand it now. The new SIMPLE fares are:

  • ADVANCE: Book in advance for a specified day and train. Limited availability. These new fares take effect May 18 2008.
  • OFF-PEAK: Buy anytime. Buy at the station on the day of travel. Travel time is restricted to off-peak hours which vary by train line. These new fares don’t take effect until September 7 2008.
  • ANYTIME: Expensive!! No restrictions on time or day of travel.

One more variation – for each fare you can purchase in First Class or Second Class. Season tickets and Rovers are still available. Rovers are good for people traveling around one part of the country.

Read more about Simple Fares:

I did a quick check on National Rail and The Trainline for tickets from Stroud to London next month and the Advance ticket fares are simpler. There are a few different prices, but they are all called “Advance”.

Resources

Seat 61 – Britain Train Travel: A great resource for train travel in England and the rest of Europe.

More information on Train/Bus schedules for the Cotswolds

National Rail or The Trainline: Both websites show schedules and fares, and let you purchase tickets.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

One thought on “Train Fares made SIMPLE! (sort of)”

  1. I travel all over the UK and Europe, train can be expensive unless you are prepared to take a few short cuts. London and the South are usually fairly busy areas, because of this travel through London can be much more expensive than a journey through regional towns.

    In fact the Mayor of London has just agreed a plan which will cost billions to install new train lines crossing from west to east London called the crossrail project. A new high-speed line has just opened travelling through London to a new international rail station called Ebbsfleet Internarional in Kent, trains go to France, Belgium and all over Europe. Trains to Paris start from around $120.

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