A new National Railcard for people of working age will be unveiled on Monday, marking a new campaign by Britain’s train operators to lure motorists from road to rail.
The “Two Together” card will give a one third discount on most train fares for those who travel as a couple. The names and photographs of both passengers will appear on the card, making it non-transferable. Holders need not be related, and the new card is expected to be popular among businesses where colleagues often travel together.
The £30 annual cost of the card can be saved in just one round trip for two between Birmingham and London – though, as with most railcards, discounts do not apply to many peak morning journeys.
On Britain’s most expensive rail trip – a first-class single from Penzance to Thurso – a couple will save £350, though the present problems at Dawlish in Devon mean that they will have to travel by bus for some of the journey.
Rail campaigners welcomed the new scheme. Labour’s last Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, said: “The Two Together railcard is a brilliant innovation and I welcome it strongly. It will make rail travel far more cost-effective for a large swathe of people, and it will get lots of travellers out of their cars and onto the trains. It has my wholehearted endorsement.”
The first British railcard, for students, was launched 40 years ago. It offered half-price travel, and swiftly brought about a decline in hitch-hiking as young people switched to the train.
The standard discount has since dwindled to 34 per cent, while the number of railcards has proliferated. There are now discount cards for families, the over-60s, members of the armed forces and disabled travellers, as well as a plethora of local schemes from Devon and Cornwall to the Highlands. But most passengers aged between 26 and 59 have hitherto not qualified for cheap tickets.
In contrast, rail passengers in Germany and Switzerland have long been able to buy cards that provide substantial discounts on trains. There have been repeated calls for a similar system in the UK. The new card goes some way to addressing these demands. But solo travellers – who are excluded from the cut-price scheme – have reacted angrily.
Steve Lyden-Brown, founder of the Single Tourist Action Centre, told The Independent: “This amounts to a penalty for people travelling on their own.”
The Two Together card was first trialled three years ago in the West Midlands, with only residents with specified postcodes able to benefit.
The nationwide roll-out is aimed squarely at motorists, according to the rail expert Mark Smith, who runs the website Seat61.com: “The new railcard is very significant, because it strikes directly at the one known weakness of rail: namely, that if I want to go to, say, Manchester on my own, the rail fare might be competitive with driving. But the moment my wife and I both want to go, the car costs exactly the same for the two of us, but the rail price is doubled.”
The railcard’s stringent conditions are designed to encourage couples to switch from car to train but without jeopardising existing ticket revenue. Mr Smith said: “A national railcard available to single travellers would lose money big time from existing regular rail users. From a commercial perspective you actually want to do the exact opposite: provide introductory discounts for new users trying rail, without discounting your existing revenue.”
The new railcard coincides with figures showing that the number of people at Britain’s busiest stations increased last year. The busiest was Waterloo in London, where more than 95 million journeys started or ended. Teesside Airport was the quietest, with just eight passengers all year. The station is served by only two trains each week.
Europe’s rail network may have an important link restored in the summer, with Greece reconnected to the rest of the Continent. It is rumoured that a Belgrade to Thessaloniki train will run from early June to late September.
The ‘Two Together’ card: What you need to know
Q. How do I get the card?
A. First, find someone you want to travel with. You must both be over 16. Each of you needs a passport-sized photograph. Next, fill in the form at a staffed station. Or apply online at twotogether-railcard.co.uk. An annual card is the standard railcard price of £30.
Q. What are the benefits?
A. One-third off many Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak, Super Off-Peak and Advance fares across the National Rail network for two people travelling together. The card also includes airport express services, and ferry-inclusive journeys such as trips to or from the Isle of Wight.
Q. And the time restrictions?
A. The card is not valid for “walk-up” tickets (ie Anytime or Off-peak) on morning rush-hour trains. It is believed the restriction will apply on all trains due to depart between 4.30am and 9.30am, Monday to Friday. You can still get the discount on these trains if you book Advance tickets.
Q. Can either of us travel alone or with other people?
A. No. The discount applies only when you travel together. Any variation, such as only one of you making the return journey, invalidates the tickets.
Q. Can I buy more than one Two Together cards?
A. Yes, and many people will, even for a one-off journey. Take a standard London-Birmingham off-peak round trip: £50.50 per person on Virgin Trains, so £101 for two. The Two Together fare, plus the cost of a new railcard, is £96.70, which saves enough for a cup of tea each en route.
For full details of the new railcard, see bit.ly/2Trailcard