Trip to New York ‘cheaper than Preston-London train fare’

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This might be the age of the train, but fed-up passengers argue it is putting an increased strain on their bank balance.

Reports that you can now have a five-day break in New York for the price of a return rail fare between Preston and London have heightened concerns that ticket prices have gone off the rails.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Here are six holiday destinations that are cheaper than a return rail ticket between Preston and London

Not only are they eye-wateringly expensive - almost seven times more in comparison to wages than some other European nations - but the bewildering array of prices means millions of travellers could be paying far more than they need to.

“Passengers are getting ripped off,” stormed Christian Wolmar from the campaign group Railfuture. “The pricing is completely incomprehensible.”

While it is possible to get to Euston from Preston for only £21 one-way - if you can get one of the limited number of bargain basement tickets and don’t mind taking the late train and changing mid-journey - it is more likely to cost much more.

West Coast mainline train

West Coast mainline train

Booking a seat on Friday to travel today, there were nine different ticket prices ranging from £172 down to the cheapest at £21 for a standard single, depending on what time your train left Preston. A first class single was £240 all day.

A study by the Department of Transport last year found more than two-thirds of passengers admitted to being unclear about the perplexing variations in pricing.

But while many just turn up and pay up, the more astute have started to get their own back on the train companies by ticket splitting - breaking up the journey into individual segments and buying a ticket for each one.

Savings of up to 87 per cent can be made according to the website, Trainsplit.com.

On a journey from Preston to London, buying separate tickets between Preston and Crewe, Crewe and Stafford, Stafford and Rugby and Rugby and Euston could save travellers more than £70.

One teenager, shocked when he was asked for £47 for the cheapest train ticket from Sheffield to his home in Essex, found a cheaper route taking ticket splitting to the extreme - by going via Berlin.

Jordon Cox, who is regular contributor to the bargain-hunting website MoneySavingExpert.com, spent £4 on a train to Derby, £4.20 on a bus to East Midlands Airport, £11.83 on a Ryanair flight to Berlin, £5 on a return train into the city centre, £9.54 on a Ryanair flight to Stansted and £8 for a bus home. Total cost £44.07, including a £1.50 Currywurst for lunch.

“It turned out that flying out to Berlin, spending seven hours exploring the city and then flying to Stansted and getting a bus home was cheaper than a single train journey in England,” he said. Rail prices in the UK have been rising at three times the rate of wages since 2010, according to the Labour Party, bringing in £9bn a year to the rail industry.

Some season ticket holders are paying almost £2,000 a year more to travel to work than they did in 2010. The cost represents as much as 13 per cent of their monthly wages, compared to just two per cent in Italy, three in Spain and four in Germany.

Flights, on the other hand, have been taking a nosedive due to competition between airlines. This year a flash sale by Ryanair means up to one million seats are being offered for just £9.99.

One carrier, Qatar Airways, has been offering a return flight from Manchester to Australia for £514, just £12 more expensive than a Virgin Business return rail fare from Preston to London. Campaigners are not just calling for lower fares, but also a simpler ticketing system for travellers to navigate.

“It should be easier for passengers to to find the cheapest rickets for their journey,” said Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? “It’s absurd that the train companies are still making passengers do all the hard work to find out how to get the cheapest fares.”

Alan Fantom, from the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association, said: “One of our biggest bug-bears is the disparity between services coming into Ormskirk and those going on to Merseyside. Travellers get much better value in Merseyside - and better trains - than in Lancashire. And it’s similar going into Greater Manchester. With so many stations not having ticket offices anymore, passengers have to get their tickets on the train. And, if the service is full and the conductor is trying to get round everybody, they don’t have the time to make sure everyone gets the cheapest ticket.”

In last year’s General Election campaign, David Cameron pledged to put a freeze on train fares if the Conservatives were elected. Campaigners fear that promise may have followed him out of the door of Number 10 this week.

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