Oxford-Scotland fares in late May/early June

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I'm planning a possible journey from Oxford to Stirling and back in a couple of weeks (which if it goes ahead will be my first Anglo-Scottish train journey, and only my second long-distance one of any kind, since pre-Covid). The not-London Off-Peak Return costs £165.90 according to brfares.com, so that should be the maximum that I have to pay. However, NRE is showing either no fares at all, or stupidly expensive ones -- going out on Saturday 29th May and back on Saturday 5th June, the best it offers for most of the day is two singles adding up to £350 (sometimes I can get the £183.40 Any Permitted off-peak to appear at the top of the screen, but without trains on which it is available in both directions). Using Trainsplit, flexible fares are still over £200, with Advances a bit less but still more expensive than the normal off-peak fare.

If I try Fridays 28th May and 4th June, NRE finds one train in each direction on which I can use the off-peak return, and no fares at all on most others. Trainsplit finds various flexible options slightly below the off-peak price, and Advances a bit cheaper again, but mostly only if I select the 'cheap' option, and there seem to be more changes than usual.

(Oddly, both NRE and Trainsplit seem to have a tendency to send me from Edinburgh to Stirling via Croy).

I presume this is to do with compulsory reservations and social distancing, plus for the Saturday journeys engineering works reducing the number of trains, but it very much gives the impression to the intending passenger that they aren't welcome back.

Moreover, I don't understand why Trainsplit would offer, for example, three separate off-peak returns split at Leamington and Newcastle and adding up to £225.00 instead of a through ticket at £165.90 -- surely all seats are either bookable with any valid ticket, or not available at all.

Presumably I could just buy an off-peak return with no reservations and take my chances, as long as I avoid LNER, but with Inter-City TOCs mostly at least theoretically requiring reservations (what is TPE's current policy?), that might be risky around a bank holiday weekend.

Can anyone add any useful information on what's going on or how best to deal with it?
 
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yorkie

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Moreover, I don't understand why Trainsplit would offer, for example, three separate off-peak returns split at Leamington and Newcastle and adding up to £225.00 instead of a through ticket at £165.90 -- surely all seats are either bookable with any valid ticket, or not available at all.
What is the exact itinerary you are offered at this price?

What happens when you turn splits off (you can do this with the new site at new.trainsplit.com)?

It could be that the itinerary does not follow a permitted route on one fare?
 

Haywain

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I think there is perhaps a lack of appreciation that a bank holiday weekend will see a combination of high passenger numbers and limited capacity resulting in difficulty obtaining ‘cheaper’ tickets for long distance journeys.
 

FQTV

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I'm planning a possible journey from Oxford to Stirling and back in a couple of weeks (which if it goes ahead will be my first Anglo-Scottish train journey, and only my second long-distance one of any kind, since pre-Covid). The not-London Off-Peak Return costs £165.90 according to brfares.com, so that should be the maximum that I have to pay. However, NRE is showing either no fares at all, or stupidly expensive ones -- going out on Saturday 29th May and back on Saturday 5th June, the best it offers for most of the day is two singles adding up to £350 (sometimes I can get the £183.40 Any Permitted off-peak to appear at the top of the screen, but without trains on which it is available in both directions). Using Trainsplit, flexible fares are still over £200, with Advances a bit less but still more expensive than the normal off-peak fare.

If I try Fridays 28th May and 4th June, NRE finds one train in each direction on which I can use the off-peak return, and no fares at all on most others. Trainsplit finds various flexible options slightly below the off-peak price, and Advances a bit cheaper again, but mostly only if I select the 'cheap' option, and there seem to be more changes than usual.

(Oddly, both NRE and Trainsplit seem to have a tendency to send me from Edinburgh to Stirling via Croy).

I presume this is to do with compulsory reservations and social distancing, plus for the Saturday journeys engineering works reducing the number of trains, but it very much gives the impression to the intending passenger that they aren't welcome back.

Moreover, I don't understand why Trainsplit would offer, for example, three separate off-peak returns split at Leamington and Newcastle and adding up to £225.00 instead of a through ticket at £165.90 -- surely all seats are either bookable with any valid ticket, or not available at all.

Presumably I could just buy an off-peak return with no reservations and take my chances, as long as I avoid LNER, but with Inter-City TOCs mostly at least theoretically requiring reservations (what is TPE's current policy?), that might be risky around a bank holiday weekend.

Can anyone add any useful information on what's going on or how best to deal with it?
The £165.90 fare is a ‘CrossCountry & Connections’ one, so it relies on (apparently) an itinerary that uses their services exclusively between Oxford and Edinburgh, and vice versa.

The current timetable doesn’t offer many opportunities for that, but if you look at 14:39 from Oxford, change Birmingham and Edinburgh, arriving Stirling 22:48, it works.

Coming back: 09:11 from Stirling, change Edinburgh and Birmingham, arrive Oxford at 17:14.

From a quick check, it’s bookable on the CrossCountry website and Trainsplit with no issues. It doesn’t appear to be anything directly to do with busy trains or capacity - just the current timetable.
 

Watershed

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The £165.90 fare is a ‘CrossCountry & Connections’ one, so it relies on (apparently) an itinerary that uses their services exclusively between Oxford and Edinburgh, and vice versa.

The current timetable doesn’t offer many opportunities for that, but if you look at 14:39 from Oxford, change Birmingham and Edinburgh, arriving Stirling 22:48, it works.

Coming back: 09:11 from Stirling, change Edinburgh and Birmingham, arrive Oxford at 17:14.

From a quick check, it’s bookable on the CrossCountry website and Trainsplit with no issues. It doesn’t appear to be anything directly to do with busy trains or capacity - just the current timetable.
I have no idea where you get that from? It is a plain Off-Peak Return, route not via London. There are no TOC restrictions whatsoever. The route restriction, in combination with Bank Holiday engineering works, means that OP's best option likely involves taking XC as far as Edinburgh. But it's not mandatory for them to do so.

I suspect this is an issue related to the availability of seat reservations. OP could of course simply buy their ticket on the day, at a ticket machine, but they would then be at risk of being unable to travel if the normally theoretical 'reservations compulsory' policy is enforced on XC.

it very much gives the impression to the intending passenger that they aren't welcome back.
Unfortunately this is very much the case! The industry has not made any real effort to make it attractive, or even just easy, for people to start using the train again.

Prices are high in many places, and 'reservations compulsory' policies are causing problems all over the shop. It's difficult to see how passenger volumes can come close to fully recovering with this attitude.
 

Haywain

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surely all seats are either bookable with any valid ticket, or not available at all.
It can be the case that a single seat is not available for the whole of a longer journey while seats are available for shorter segments of the same journey. I have no idea whether this would apply in this case.

The industry has not made any real effort to make it attractive, or even just easy, for people to start using the train again.
The industry is hamstrung by the government's advice to both the general public and the train operating companies, around use of public transport by the former and the insistence on enforcement of social distancing by the latter.
 

Snow1964

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I think there is perhaps a lack of appreciation that a bank holiday weekend will see a combination of high passenger numbers and limited capacity resulting in difficulty obtaining ‘cheaper’ tickets for long distance journeys.

From today the capacity rules have been changed on buses (now able to use all forward facing seats, not just window ones).

What I am not getting is why the railway is still restricting tickets so heavily, actually it’s only some Operators, other Operators are happy to allow trains to be full and standing.

So we have a situation where a fare is now set by an Operator who may be applying ticket restrictions to a journey that partly involves travelling on another operators train.

The sooner we go back to releasing cheap tickets at least 12 weeks (including weekends) in advance the better. Until that happens I tend to agree that it seems they don’t actually want passengers to travel even if it discourages them permanently. Refusing to sell advance tickets for travel in school summer holidays is a serious turn off to people potentially returning to making leisure journeys by train (Scottish school holidays end in about 13 weeks), it is presumably a take the car instead policy
 
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Watershed

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The sooner we go back to releasing cheap tickets at least 12 weeks (including weekends) in advance the better.
It would probably take something on the order of 6 months to return to those timescales, even if you decided to start today.

Currently the industry is confirming timetables and releasing tickets 6 weeks in advance, predominantly because of the concern that lockdown timetables may be reintroduced at short notice (rendering previous work pointless). Until that possibility can be eliminated this situation will likely continue.
 

Snow1964

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It would probably take something on the order of 6 months to return to those timescales, even if you decided to start today.

Currently the industry is confirming timetables and releasing tickets 6 weeks in advance, predominantly because of the concern that lockdown timetables may be reintroduced at short notice (rendering previous work pointless). Until that possibility can be eliminated this situation will likely continue.

That’s a silly argument as they were selling tickets in February 2020 based on no lockdown. So now making presumption will be another when Government has said not planning any doesn’t make any sense.

Surely the default full timetable wont take any strategic work as it is planned about 18-36 months ahead, so already exists (even if not actively in use)
 

Haywain

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That’s a silly argument as they were selling tickets in February 2020 based on no lockdown
Your argument is extremely silly, considering that in February 2020 lockdown wasn't a concept that anyone was considering. But even then there were many TOCs that were failing to achieve 12 weeks.
 

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I realise that a bank holiday weekend combined with social distancing requirements on trains may cause a capacity problem (and I certainly wasn’t expecting any cheap Advances), but:

a) I was a bit taken aback to find almost every available seat taken 2 or 3 weeks beforehand, given comments like this about empty trains within the last few days – I wonder whether all those seats really are reserved or if there’s a glitch in the system; or maybe it’s this:
It can be the case that a single seat is not available for the whole of a longer journey while seats are available for shorter segments of the same journey.

b) It feels like an uncomfortable glimpse of the dystopian future that the compulsory reservation brigade appear to wish for (to be fair, I presume most of them don’t want to make rail travel that impracticable, but their favoured policies still risk causing it).

c) I don’t understand why seats are available at higher prices. The £350 return is explicable, as it’s made up of an expensive Advance via London one way and an even more expensive first class Advance, obviously not using a seat that would be available with the standard off-peak return, the other way, but that doesn’t explain the odd results that I was getting from Trainsplit.

To answer the questions from @yorkie on the last point, I get offered the 3-part split that I mentioned with this itinerary:

Out (Sat 29th May):

07.39 Oxford-Birmingham NS (XC)

09.03 Birmingham NS-Darlington (XC)

12.06 Darlington-Edinburgh (LNER)

14.20 Edinburgh-Stirling (SR)

Return (Sat. 5th June):

10.41 Stirling-Edinburgh (SR)

12.00 Edinburgh-York (LNER)

14.44 York-Birmingham NS (XC)

18.04 Birmingham NS-Oxford (XC).

The £165.90 off-peak return should be valid on all those trains, so I don’t see why it isn’t offered.

If I do the same search with splitting turned off, almost the same itinerary (changing at Newcastle, dep. 12.40, instead of Darlington) comes out at £600 – that’s a first class Anytime return, route Any permitted. (Even if there were no standard class seats available, it should at least offer the not-London first off-peak return at £433.60).

I would have hoped that Trainsplit could cope with
It can be the case that a single seat is not available for the whole of a longer journey while seats are available for shorter segments of the same journey.
-- doing so for Advances is part of its raison d'être. I’m wondering whether maybe it gets confused when reservations are compulsory on flexible tickets.

Am I right in thinking that @SickyNicky is one of the people behind Trainsplit? Maybe he will have some idea what’s going on.
 

infobleep

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It would probably take something on the order of 6 months to return to those timescales, even if you decided to start today.

Currently the industry is confirming timetables and releasing tickets 6 weeks in advance, predominantly because of the concern that lockdown timetables may be reintroduced at short notice (rendering previous work pointless). Until that possibility can be eliminated this situation will likely continue.
Are all train companies now doing 6 weeks? I thought some were allowing bookings further ahead and others shorter. Obviously some weekends aside, due to engineering works.
 

yorkie

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Out (Sat 29th May):

07.39 Oxford-Birmingham NS (XC)

09.03 Birmingham NS-Darlington (XC)

12.06 Darlington-Edinburgh (LNER)

14.20 Edinburgh-Stirling (SR)
Standard class is "sold out" between Derby and York, that's the problem


If I do the same search with splitting turned off, almost the same itinerary (changing at Newcastle, dep. 12.40, instead of Darlington) comes out at £600 – that’s a first class Anytime return, route Any permitted. (Even if there were no standard class seats available, it should at least offer the not-London first off-peak return at £433.60).
The FSR routed Not via London is not being offered by most (if not all) booking sites.


Are all train companies now doing 6 weeks?
No
 
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Standard class is "sold out" between Sheffield and York, that's the problem
But in the combination of tickets suggested by Trainsplit, that part of the journey is covered by a Leamington-Newcastle standard class off-peak return.
 

yorkie

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But in the combination of tickets suggested by Trainsplit, that part of the journey is covered by a Leamington-Newcastle standard class off-peak return.
When I tried it, it was covered by 1st class Advances.

I think it would need someone with the right tools to spend some time thoroughly investigating this, but it'll either be some sort of data issue or a reservation availability issue, in fact my bet would be a combination of both (reservations for the standard fare and a data error for the FSR fare)

The LNER site shows everything blanked out except for Anytime 1st Returns.
 

Watershed

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Just in case the OP has any fears about that service actually being overcrowded between Derby and York - this is exceptionally unlikely. Most XC Voyager services are now double sets, however reservations are mostly only issued for half of the train (coaches A-F, which can be at either end of the train). Therefore there will in all likelihood be twice as many seats remaining in the non-reservable part of the train.
 

Paul Kelly

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however reservations are mostly only issued for half of the train (coaches A-F, which can be at either end of the train).
When I traveled between Reading and Birmingham 4 weeks ago the train was a double Voyager and there were reservations in both portions on both the outbound and return journey, admittedly more reservations in coaches A-F though. But I could book a seat in any coach using the TrainSplit seat selector.
 

Haywain

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The £165.90 off-peak return should be valid on all those trains, so I don’t see why it isn’t offered.
Booking a through ticket on a train with compulsory reservations requires a seat (one specific seat) to be available to reserve for the whole journey being undertaken. If there are seats available for sectors of the journey but not the whole journey, the booking will not be able to be completed.
 

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Booking a through ticket on a train with compulsory reservations requires a seat (one specific seat) to be available to reserve for the whole journey being undertaken. If there are seats available for sectors of the journey but not the whole journey, the booking will not be able to be completed.
Just one of the disadvantages of compulsory reservation (although one that could in theory be mitigated with a reservation system that allowed changes of seat). I had thought that Trainsplit would get round that, but I suppose that if each piece of a Trainsplit booking is in effect a normal booking, then it can probably only offer a change of seat at split points.

After much searching of options on Trainsplit, I found that if I travelled both ways on the Fridays rather than the Saturdays, I could get a non-split Any Permitted 'super off-peak' return, not exactly cheap but better than most of the other options (various splits offered very marginally cheaper journeys, but at the cost of more changes with some fairly tight connections). This was for an itinerary departing fairly early, for which I wouldn't expect the not-London fare to be available on a weekday because of the 2V restriction; the Any Permitted fare only takes that restriction if you use XC via Birmingham, and the itinerary in question gets me to Birmingham on GW and XC.

However, I realised after I'd made the purchase that the normal restriction on the ticket which would apply instead of 2V was 9F, which says 'Outward travel: Not valid on trains timed to depart:...London Euston after 04:29 and before 09:05...', which might appear to rule out the 10.15 Birmingham-Edinburgh, on which my itinerary takes me, as it leaves Euston at 08.43. However the unpublished restrictions for 9F in fact have time restrictions only from a list of named stations, and the only listed stations where that train stops are Euston and Milton Keynes (the latter after the cut-off time) -- this appears to be a case where the behind-the-scenes rule used by the booking systems is more lenient than (at least one interpretation of) the public statement. Given that I have an itinerary obtained in good faith (I didn't think of the issue until after I'd booked) from a recognised booking site, can I assume that I will be able to travel as planned without any problem?

There's also a separate issue with Avanti reservations, but that's probably best described in the other thread.
 
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