Monday, 16 March 2020

Splitting makes a difference

I’ve written before about just how much I enjoy train travel, so the trip I made to Burton-on-Trent the other Friday, was the perfect excuse to put this enjoyment into practice. I’d taken the train once before to Burton, but that was 22 years ago, and things have changed a lot since then.

Back in 1998, it was a simple case of getting myself to London St Pancras, and then taking the Midland Railway train to Derby. From Derby, a Cross-Country service took me to Burton. From memory, that journey was undertaken using
an Advanced Ticket, which brought the price of the return trip down to a reasonable amount, but today there are a lot more options and different routes available. I discovered this when I began looking at what was available for my recent trip.

Being the wrong side of 60 entitles me to a Senior Railcard, otherwise known as an "Old-Git’s Railcard." The card gives me a one third discount on the price of off-peak rail travel, and what’s more you can use it when purchasing a range of different rail tickets.

This time around, I decided to give “Split ticketing” a go, particularly as it claims to knock a significant amount off the price of even an Advanced Return. “Split Ticket” train travel is where instead of having one train ticket to take you from your departure point to your destination, the journey is broken down into two or more parts, with a separate rail ticket for each section.

Because of the over-complicated pricing structure on Britain’s railways, it is often cheaper to split the journey like this, as the sum of the different parts, is often considerably less than the price of a single ticket for the whole route. If you’re a train buff, you can do this for yourself, but it is far easier to take advantage of one of the on-line companies offering “Split ticketing.”

The software these companies use compares prices across several different routes, and then splits the journey into smaller legs, whilst working out the cheapest price for each stage. There are several companies who offer this service; the one I chose was un-surprisingly called Split Ticketing.”

As is usual now for tickets purchased on-line, I collected mine from my local station. Rather than use one of the machines (you insert the card used to pay for your booking, and then punch in a unique booking reference), I went to the window and asked the booking clerk to print them off for me. With eight tickets – covering each “split section” of the journey, I wanted to make certain that they all printed correctly.

My journey took me from Tonbridge to London Charing Cross, using Southeastern Trains - the usual route into from where I live. My ticket then covered the cost of travel by London Underground, to London Marylebone. From there, I took a Chiltern Line service to Birmingham Moor Street.

I then alighted at Moor Street (don’t you just love the term alight?), and walked the short distance along to Birmingham New Street. From there I boarded a Cross Country train to Burton. I had two tickets for this section of the journey; one covering me as far as Tamworth, whilst the second taking me on to Burton. The split ticketing rules stipulate that the service you catch just has to stop at the intermediate station, and there is no need to leave, or re-board the train.

The return journey was much simpler, involving a Cross Country service to Tamworth, a West Midlands service to London Euston, Underground to Charing Cross and then a Southeastern train home to Tonbridge.

The conditions attached to these types of  booking are quite strict, as the discount rate is based on passengers using specific timed trains. For some reason this covers even the normal commuter services between Tonbridge and London; trains which run quite frequently and where it is not possible to book a seat.

I could have come unstuck here as both the outward 07.42 and the homebound 21.40 services were cancelled. According to the terms & conditions, if your train is cancelled, you are allowed to take the next available train. I thought this over nd decided that it risked me missing my onward connections, particularly on the outward journey so, as I’d arrived at the station in plenty of time, I caught an earlier service.

Technically this broke the rules, but my argument was that as the train operator had cancelled my booked train, why should I have to rush, or even risk missing my connections, by taking a later one; especially when the option of an earlier service was available. Fortunately, no member of staff checked my tickets on these Kentish stages of the journey.

Apart from these two hiccups, both outward and return journeys ran smoothly, and I was able to sit back and enjoy the journeys. Travelling on unfamiliar sections of the network was also a bonus and a real pleasure, as it afforded the opportunity of seeing different parts of the countryside from a new perspective.

For example, the section to Birmingham represented my first trip along the Chiltern Line, and only my second journey ever out of London Marylebone. Marylebone, by the way was the last of London's main line termini to be built and is one of the smallest, opening with just half of the platforms originally planned. The station opened in 1899 as the London terminus of the Great Central Main Line, the last major railway to open in Britain, linking the capital to the cities of Leicester, Sheffield and Manchester.

The train passed through some rather pleasant and attractive countryside, including the Chiltern Hills, before arriving at Birmingham Moor Street, just over an hour and 40 minutes later. Moor Street was a new station for me It is one of three main railway stations in Birmingham city centre, and is a combination of the original station, opened in 1909, and a newer facility with through platforms, which opened in 1987, a short distance from the original.

The two stations were combined into one in 2002, when the original was reopened and restored, and the newer station rebuilt in matching style. Moor Street has become more important in recent years, and the station is now the terminus of many Chiltern Railways services from London Marylebone.  It is now the second busiest railway station in Birmingham.

I certainly found the station attractive, but I couldn’t hang about for too long, as I only had a short time to make my way on foot to Birmingham New Street, the city’s principal train station, in order to catch my connecting train to Burton.

The walk didn’t take as long as I first anticipated, and after passing through a wide and lengthy underpass I found the mirrored exterior of Birmingham’s Bull Ring & Grand Central Shopping Centre gleaming at me from the opposite side of the road.

More railway facts and figures now, New Street is the fifth busiest railway station in the UK and the busiest interchange station outside London, with just over 7 million passengers changing trains at the station annually. In the 1960s, the station was completely rebuilt, with buildings constructed over most of its span.

With passenger numbers more than twice those it was designed for, the replacement was not popular with its users. I have vivid memories of  how restricted it was, and how I once nearly missed my train, just trying to get across and down to the correct platform.  Between 2010 and 2015 a £550m redevelopment of the station took place, and today the concourse shares space with a number of retail outlets, including some well known department stores.

It is certainly has a bright and airy feel to it, compared to the cramped and dingy 1960’s station it replaced. The other Friday was the first time I had seen the station from above track level. I had to change trains at New Street back in November, when I was en route to Shifnal, and my first “Proper Day Out” with the Beer & Pubs Forum group, but the change was literally a short hop across the platform, so I never got to view the re-vamped upstairs concourse.

Whilst on the subject of railway stations Tamworth, where I had to change trains on my way home, is also worthy of a mention. It is an interchange between two main lines; the Cross Country Route and the Trent Valley section of the West Coast Main Line (WCML), and is subsequently constructed on two levels. Two low-level platforms (1 and 2) are on the WCML, and two high level platforms (3 and 4) serve  the Cross Country Route.

I didn’t notice this on my journey into Burton, and it was only when I alighted there that evening, to connect with the West Midlands service to Euston, that I discovered this. I thought it strange having to descend a series of concrete steps, and it wasn’t until a member of staff explained that WCML and the Cross Country Route actually cross over each other here, that I realised Tamworth was a much larger station than I originally envisaged. It is possible, of course that the beer I’d consumed that day may well have played a role in my confusion!

That’s probably more than enough railway talk, but for me the history and practicalities of the lines and the stations I have covered, all added to the interest of the day’s travel. Split ticketing though, certainly worked, but I might try another site next time, as I thought the £8.90 fee (share of saving), charged by Split-Ticketing, was on the dear side
I’m not at all certain when the next Proper Day Out will take place, given the evolving situation regarding Covid-19. Unlike most of Western Europe, the UK government has stopped short of an outright closure of pubs, bars and restaurant, but all non-essential social interaction is to be discouraged, as is all non-essential travel.

Another day out and another long- distance train journey may therefore  be sometime off.


Sheffield Hatter said...

"...the UK government has stopped short of an outright closure of pubs, bars and restaurant, but all non-essential social interaction is to be discouraged, as is all non-essential travel ... another long-distance train journey may therefore be sometime off"

It all depends who defines "non-essential"!

Paul Bailey said...

"It all depends who defines 'non-essential'!" Very true Sheffield Hatter, and in the absence of a policy, or indeed any clear guidelines, I shall go into work tomorrow for some necessary social interaction. I will, however limit that interaction as much as possible.

I'm not sure if that makes sense, or is indeed the correct thing to do, but fortunately there is some work that I will be able to do from home. I just need to call in and collect what I need first.

All will become clearer tomorrow morning. Or maybe not?

PetesQuiz said...

Split Ticketing is a great thing for complex journeys - if we do go to Chester it would save quite a few quid compared to TheTrainLine.

I for one consider a Proper Pub Day Out to be 'essential', but if the pubs are shut from lack of custom it obviously won't happen!

Curmudgeon said...

I first came across this when planning our trip to Oxford a couple of years ago. This reduced the cost from £78 to a much more manageable £42, which of course would now be only £28 with a Senior Railcard. This involved a total of 13 tickets and reservations, even though I travelled by direct through train each way.

It does apply to open day returns as well as specific pre-booked trains, though, and that's often a better option as it gives more flexibility and usually only costs a few pounds more. For example, on our trips to Northampton and Rugby I made a very worthwhile saving by splitting the journey at Rugeley. Stockport to Birmingham is a fair bit cheaper splitting at Stafford, even though all the trains stop there.

Stockport station now won't allow you to collect pre-booked tickets at the counter, so you have to use the ticket machines. However, this has the advantage that the machines issue the credit card-sized tickets rather than the larger flimsy ones.

Etu said...

You remind me Paul, of how I once enjoyed travelling by train rather more than I perhaps do now, although it can still be fun.

However, in September 2017 Mrs. E and I travelled around Italy by rail, having flown to and from Fiumicino. It was an unalloyed joy by comparison, using a properly integrated national rail network, I have to say. The private parts seem to have been incorporated into that quite well too, and benefit from that degree of organisation if anything.

Can this country never learn, from others who do things better?

Etu said...

*Er, "private elements" might have been better.

Paul Bailey said...

Mudge, Tonbridge station booking counter, did actual issue credit-card sized tickets. Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer dealing with an actual person, than with a machine.

Etu, I did a spot of train travel in Italy, as part of my Inter-Rail experience, (Trieste – Venice, plus Venice-Milan). Back in the mid 1970’s, Italian trains seemed rather dated, although they were definitely comfortable. It used to be said by Italians, that getting the trains to run on time was the only decent thing achieved by Mussolini!

ps. "Private elements" definitely better than "parts"!