Posted 5th February 2024 | 5 Comments

Monday essay: Westminster Railways strikes again

A new offer of cheap rail travel was launched on 23 January, with the jaunty title of the ‘Great British Rail Sale’.

It is a long time since the organiser of this announcement, the Department for Transport, permitted the phrase ‘British Rail’ to be used in connection with the modern railway, but it had to happen in the end.

The Sale itself ran from 23 to 29 January, and offered ‘over a million discounted tickets’ to ‘destinations across England and Wales, as well as on cross-border trips into Scotland’, for journeys between 30 January and 15 March.

It was surely rather strange that such an offer should come from a government department at all. In the old days the Ministry of Transport (as it then was) would never have done such a thing on behalf of British Rail, which may have been a state-owned corporation but was mostly allowed to run its own business – up to a point. So while the British Railways Board may have been forced to negotiate (often in vain) for capital funds, ministers and civil servants never sold tickets on its behalf.

On the other hand, we are pleased to report in the February edition of Railnews (published Thursday) that legislation authorising Great British Railways is apparently going to make a first, timid appearance (for ‘pre-legislative scrutiny’, whatever that may be) in the present session of Parliament, but in the meantime our industry might as well be called Westminster Railways, and be done with it.

It is certainly Westminster Railways which is behind the latest silly attempt to reorganise ticketing on LNER, which is (of course) state-owned.

The new deal, which starts today, abolishes such things as ordinary off-peak returns, and makes it necessary for passengers to book ahead (even if only by five minutes) for anything except full-price Anytime travel. Booking ahead also means a compulsory reserved seat. If you don’t like the position you have been given by a blank bulkhead, facing backwards, tough luck. So much for the walk-up railway.

If HM Treasury (which is the underlying controller of Westminster Railways) had sat up all night trying to work out how to put people off from travelling by train, it could hardly have done better than this.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Joel Kosminsky, London

    How extremely irritating to discover this "Rail Sale" weeks after it closed. I do not recall (and I'm not aware of travelling around London and the surrounding area with my eyes shut) any adverts for this offer, which appear to have some dubious 'facts' about fare savings, as earlier highlighted here. Not 'Westminster' but 'Worstminster'.

  • strawbrick, Watford

    To quote the web-site tps://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-great-british-rail-sale-returns-discounts-on-over-a-million-rail-tickets, published on 20 January 2024, I now realise that "Passengers will have from 23 to 29 January 2024 to claim up to 50% off selected advance and off-peak rail tickets, through the Great British Rail Sale", in other words the offer closed before it was referred to on this site.
    In response to the query "Who mentioned Penzance or Portsmouth?" I would again quote the web-site:
    "Popular journeys passengers could claim savings* on tickets for include:
    Route Standard price Sale price
    Portsmouth to Penzance £43 £21
    Birmingham to Bristol £30.60 £15.30
    Manchester to Leeds £8.60 £4.30
    Leicester to Sheffield £7.30 £3.60"

    [I fear I hadn't paid sufficiently close attention to the DfT's nonsense, but thank you for the clarification.--Ed.]

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    Ed: See the other comment (strawbrick, Watford) re Portsmouth to Penzance pricing.
    [And please note my response.--Ed.]

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    The article states "The Sale itself ran from 23 to 29 January". It also states "The new deal, which starts today" referring to LNER, which doesn't run services anywhere near Penzance or Portsmouth.

    [Quote: ‘It is certainly Westminster Railways which is behind the latest silly attempt to reorganise ticketing on LNER, which is (of course) state-owned. The new deal, which starts today, abolishes such things as ordinary off-peak returns ...’ One sale, one deal (the deal started yesterday, the sale on 23 January). Both in one essay. Bargain!--Ed. (PS: Who mentioned Penzance or Portsmouth?]

  • strawbrick, Watford

    The Government web-site states that this will run from 30 January to 15 March 2024 and that, e.g.
    Route Standard price Sale price
    Portsmouth to Penzance £43 £21
    I have just looked on the National Rail Journey Planner for fares for travel on this route on Wednesday 7th February. The quoted fares for the 24 hrs for a Standard Adult ticket range from £89.00 (Advance single) to £185.60 (Anytime Day Single) both before any Railcard discounts).
    No sign of the quoted £43, nor the sale price of £21, nor any indication of where I can find the "Sale" Tickets...

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