Robert Hampton

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3rd March 2014

Together We Are Made
Posted by at 1.01pm | 1 response | Trains

Two Together PhotocardAmidst all the opprobrium that gets hurled at Britain’s railway network, there is one truth that is universally acknowledged: the cost of travel for groups of people often compares unfavourably with the car.

The problem is one of efficiency: a car costs more or less the same to run whether there is one person or five inside it (unless one of your passengers is really fat). On the other hand, the train companies (and bus companies, and any public transport really) expect everyone other than infants to hold a ticket for travel. When travelling on undiscounted tickets, a journey can become prohibitively expensive, even for two people.

Recognising this, in recent years the TOCs have introduced a bewildering amount of special offers for small groups. Depending on your destination, you can choose from Merseyrail’s Family Day Ticket, Virgin Group-e, Northern Duo, GroupSave, and probably a whole load more that I’ve missed.

The only truly national discount offering for this market, until now, was the Family & Friends Railcard, which has existed in one form or another since BR days. £30 will get you a card entitling the holder to 1/3 off adult fares, and 60% off child fares, for a whole year. It’s nowhere near as generous as it was under British Rail’s benevolent nationalised monopoly, when kids got a £2 flat fare, but there are still some amazing savings to be had. One example: an Off Peak Return from Liverpool to London is £79.70 for one adult, but with the railcard, two adults and two children can make the same journey for a total of £135.50 – less than the price of two full adult tickets.

Of course, you have to take a least one child with you, and that causes obvious inconvenience. Usually the little brats are not content to just hang around at the station while you go off to the pub or whatever, and you have to drag them round with you. Then they’ll want to stop at McDonalds for a Happy Meal, and then later get an ice cream which will probably drip all over your expensive shoes. Bah.

Luckily, there is now another option for those without a convenient child to hand: the Two Together Railcard (insert small fanfare here) which launched today. For just £30, two named people can get 1/3 off their train fares for leisure travel – effectively, two tickets for 132% of the cost of one ticket. Using the Liverpool-London example again, the Off Peak Return ticket for two people would cost just £105.20 – saving £54.20.

This product was trialled in the West Midlands area a few years ago so that ATOC (the umbrella organisation for the UK’s passenger railway companies) could gauge the response. After the trial ended in May 2012, it all went quiet for a while, and people started to assume that the Railcard had been abandoned. Then, however, there was a flurry of activity at the end of February – rumours floated round on internet forums, the web site went offline in preparation for a relaunch, staff briefings were sent out, and some stations accidentally put the posters and leaflets up too early – oops!

So why now? Although there is no requirement for the cardholders to be married or related in any way, I think ATOC have recognised that an increasing number of couples simply don’t have kids, and the new Railcard is an attempt to reflect changing times. I think there is also an attempt to cash in on the “pink pound” – a lot of the publicity surrounding the trial featured same-sex couples of ambiguous relationship status. Well, maybe not that ambiguous – how many straight men would wear a snood like the guy below?


Yeah, they’re clearly bumming.

It’s a difficult balancing act for the train companies. They want to encourage new people onto the trains, but at the same time avoid losing too much revenue from people who would travel anyway, but can now switch to buying discounted tickets (this is why, despite popular request, we will probably never see a truly national railcard that anyone can buy).

To try and avoid too much revenue abstraction, there is one fairly unambiguous restriction on the card. It is not valid at all for any journeys starting between 0430 and 0930. That’s stricter than most of the existing national Railcards, but a necessary evil to avoid commuters cashing in. Perhaps related to this, Virgin’s “Railcard easement” – where holders of Off Peak tickets purchased with a Railcard discount can use any Virgin train (even peak services) – does not appear to apply to the Two Together Railcard.

Another point to note: the discount is available only for the two people named on the card, with photos of each person needed for ID purposes. As the £30 card cost can often pay for itself in one or two journeys, I can see some people buying more than one card to cover different combinations of travellers at different times.

So, in summary: it’s another Railcard that people can forget to bring with them on their journeys and get into long arguments with ticket inspectors about. I look forward to hearing about the first passenger to get a penalty fare for misusing it – “No-one told me the two people had to travel together! Due to a perfectly understandable oversight I forgot to bring my wife with me.”

Overall, this is excellent news for leisure travellers on Britain’s railway. I got a lot of use out of my 16-25 Railcard and really missed it once I became too old to buy one. Short of marrying someone who works on the railway and has a Staff Privilege card, this is probably the only way I’ll get to save money on train journeys until I turn 60 (or get a crippling disability). Now all I need to do is find someone willing to enjoy/endure lots of long train journeys with me…

The Two Together Railcard can be bought online or from most staffed railway stations on the National Rail network.

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One Response
  1. Comment by P. Z. Temperton
    3rd March 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Spent decades waiting for something like this, and now it’s too late, as the boyf and I are now old, and have Senior Railcards.