UK train passengers could save millions using 'ticket split' app, claims French firm

Simon Calder

Rail passengers could save hundreds of millions of pounds effortlessly by exploiting anomalies in train fares, a French-owned firm is claiming.

Travellers with time on their hands have long been able to cut the costs of many UK rail journeys by buying more than one ticket.

The fares structure that was “baked in” at the time of rail privatisation in the mid-1990s makes it worth notionally splitting a journey into two or more segments, even though the traveller stays on the same train.

One popular “split” between Bristol and London have even acquired a nickname. The “Didcot dodge” saves almost 40 per cent on a peak-time ticket.

But cutting GWR’s £109 one-way Anytime fare to £66.40 requires some work on the part of the passenger, organising two separate tickets: one from Bristol Temple Meads to Didcot Parkway, and another from there to London Paddington.

The traveller must also check that the chosen train stops at the station where the split takes place. In the case of the Bristol-London service, only half the trains call at Didcot.

Competition between ticket-splitting websites is intensifying, with Chinese-owned TrainPal competing with TrainSplit and others.

Now Loco2, owned by SNCF (French Railways), has integrated “ticket-splitting” software into its website and app. Unlike the National Rail and Trainline systems, Loco2’s “Pricehack” technology automatically compares the through fare with the cheapest deal available.

“You’ll travel at the same time, in many cases on the same trains – and sometimes even the same seat – but for very much less,” says the company.

However, the service comes at a price: Loco2 adds £1.50 to the Bristol-London fare, and £6 for bookings over £100, in addition to the commission it earns on selling tickets.

The traveller can avoid the fee by making separate bookings with GWR, but Loco2 believes that passengers will be happy to pay a small amount for the convenience. It says its technology could save up to 50 per cent on 200 million train journeys each year.

Aurelie Butin, the firm’s director of product and service, said: “Loco2 has invested in bringing split ticketing to the masses, enabling incredible savings but integrated into the normal, simple booking process.”

Mark Smith, the rail expert who runs the website, said: “Until now, split ticketing has been a bit of a faff for anyone trying to do it, and, unlike some other split ticketing sites, Loco2’s Pricehack works with advance fares too.”

Virgin Trains, which is soon to lose its franchise on the West Coast main line from London Euston to northwest England, has already announced a “price-guarantee app” that has similar functionality, but will not be ready until the end of the year.

Both moves are likely to increase pressure on the government to reform the fares system. Virgin Trains said its technology could save travellers £1bn a year, representing about one-11th of the total fares revenue.

Paul Plummer, chief executive at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “Passengers across the country want to see the wheels turning on fares reform.

“Work-around solutions are not enough – bringing decades old regulations up to date is the only way to deliver easier-to-use, more flexible and better value rail fares for all our passengers.”