I couldn’t agree more that using the train operators’ own websites – and doing so for each section of a longer, multi-operator journey – can pay huge dividends.
The franchised train operators, supposedly operating in competition, are all members of ATOC and only faintly promote the fact that each of their websites can sell tickets on all routes.
This leaves sites like ‘the trainline’, which charges booking fees and card fees, and has no access to many of the fares which can only be bought from the operating company’s site direct, to fill the marketing space available for one-stop shops.
So, if you’re travelling on any operator and want an advanced, discounted ticket, use their own website. If you want a flexible ticket, use any franchised operator’s site – such as Virgin’s, East Coast’s or First Great Western’s – and avoid the fees and charges levied by the likes of the trainline.
Two tiny things relating to one of the posts above – Chiltern and London Midland are absolutely not ‘Open Access’ operators; they are full franchises. Only operators like Wrexham & Shropshire, Hull Trains and Grand Central are Open Access, notwithstanding the fact that, in some cases, their principal shareholders also hold other franchises.
The other point is that Virgin Trains (actually, operationally, Stagecoach plc but with a Virgin shareholding that permits branding) haven’t invested billions at all. The Pendolino trains, by far the greatest non-infrastructure investment and which cost £480m, are owned by Angel Trains and simply leased to Virgin Trains.