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A FIT OF PEAK

04-01-2010

New Street track

Travellers using the region’s rail network may find themselves paying more than they expected from today. Dave Woodhall delivers a warning.

Anyone paying for day tickets on local trains may be in for a shock, as new restrictions covering the times travellers can use off-peak tickets come into force. Since as long as I can remember, off-peak fares have meant you can travel any train after 9.30, until the end of the day’s scheduled timetable. Not any longer.

‘Off-peak’ now excludes trains leaving stations in central Birmingham – New Street, Moor Street Snow Hill, Jewellery Quarter and Five Ways) between 4.35 and 6pm Monday-Friday. This might sound a minor alteration, but you can bet it will inconvenience many day trippers, and in particular plenty of shoppers who will be coming into the city centre for the day and returning home during these times.

Get the train from Acocks Green to Moor Street last week and it would have cost £2. The same journey at the new peak time will cost £3.40. For many people that might be the difference between catching the train and using the car.

Hardly the best way to promote the environmentally-friendly modes of transport we’re being encouraged to use.

For London Midland’s passengers travelling further afield, the changes will mean additional expense to what are already some of Europe’s dearest rail fares. A return from Hereford to Birmingham, for example, will now cost £14.70 at off-peak or £16.60 on a later train. Not a massive difference, granted, but all those £1.90s add up.

These changes haven’t received a great deal of publicity, certainly not as much as the overall 1.1% fare increases which the train companies trumpeted recently. They come on top of Virgin’s recent announcement that their definition of off–peak is altering and are part of a pattern of gradually pricing walk-up customers away from the trains.

The idea of buying pre-booked or season tickets may be sound in theory, but in practice many of us have neither the advance knowledge nor the ability to plan our train travel. We rely on being able to arrive at the station, but a ticket and get on the train. If this option is too expensive, or too complicated, we’ll use alternative modes of transport or just stay at home.

I’ve championed Chiltern and their method of cheaper, easier train travel for years. Last week I went from Solihull to London Marylebone with them; the walk-up fare was £19.50. On Saturday I could go to see Villa at Wigan. The Virgin walk-up fare from New Street, a journey of roughly the same time, will cost £35.90.

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