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Farewell to train tickets

April 2019

Tickets against a steam train
Electronic ticketing is being introduced for train travel everywhere

It had to come of course. First, there were those lovely little oblong hard cardboard tickets with lots of writing all over them; then there were the flimsy paper tickets with vague print on them. Now finally, the trains are going paperless. 

Stations across the country are having smart ticketing installed which will do away with any need for a proper ticket. Instead, you will be able to buy smart tickets online and store them on your phone or on special smartcards for those of us who are still resisting new mobile phones! 

If you have been to some train stations such as the London underground where you can wave your credit or debit card at pads on the entrance gates, then really this new system across our rail networks won’t be that different. 
The news has come from the Rail Delivery Group (the RDG), an organisation that has been set up to bring together all the companies involved in running Britain’s railways. The RDG say that fairly soon nine out of ten journeys will be able to be made with smart or paperless tickets.

Systems with the new technology have already been installed at certain locations including London’s Waterloo, Edinburgh’s Waverley and Gatwick’s airport stations and it seems likely it will be coming to your local station fairly soon.

It should already have been rolled out across the country; just two years ago the Department for Transport said that every passenger will have the choice of travelling without a paper ticket by the end of 2018.

Well this hasn’t quite happened, but the station upgrades are well underway. Another aspect that needed to be upgraded to fit in with the new system was pricing. Anyone who travels by train will know that there are masses of different price schemes for even a single journey. As part of this new ticketing technology, train companies are now working hard with the government to update the rules on pricing. This includes proposals for pay-as-you-go price caps to be introduced and more ticket options at a better range of prices.

It sounds positive but let’s hope this will all be quick and easy to understand as well. Another benefit might be easier compensation. Last year train companies failed to resolve a quarter of a million compensation claims on time. The new smart ticketing system should make all this easier.

Britain is not the first to upgrade its railway network to smart ticketing. Seven years ago Amtrak, the rail system in America, was rolling out its e-ticket programme eliminating paper tickets; and even some railways in India now offer this system. Many airlines and airports now offer paperless boarding tickets; so it was inevitable that our railways followed this path.

However, at the moment RDG say there are no plans to totally eliminate all paper ticketing and there will also be lots of information available to help people move over to the new system.

While this is called progress, as anyone our age knows, it is not worth getting too excited about the idea until it has been proven to work!

If you would like to be reminded of the old ways of buying train tickets, then there is a lovely website all about travel in Britain in the past:

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