Online rail ticketing is getting there

11 May 2010 by BusinessTraveller

“UK rail passengers who book online will soon have the convenience of print and home and mobile phone ticketing,” predicts Robin Wells, executive chairman of web design firm Assertis which powers new rail site

And not before time. The process of booking a train ticket online lags behind the experience afforded by an airline system. No wonder then that just 15 to 17 per cent of rail travellers buy online compared with 50 to 90 per cent of their air counterparts.

Online booking is something the rail industry cannot neglect. Says Wells, “The train firms (TOCs) want to move passengers online because their ticket desks can’t handle queues at busy times and because the cost to deliver [issue the ticket] is lower. But the reason more passengers aren’t booking online is because the systems are hard to understand. The difficult part for many customers is trying to discover whether it’s cheaper to book a single or a return.”      

So to woo more passengers online, has a different display compared with most existing websites.

Says Wells, “We are trying to make the process more user friendly. When you hover your cursor over a fare you can see which fares are available and which fares apply to each train.”  

Nevertheless user experience with is still not as smooth and informative as some sites in mainland Europe, notably the Swiss Rail version simply called

Wells agrees. “The Swiss system is considered the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the rail industry. But it does handle fewer trains and passengers and being a single system [ie one TOC in Switzerland compared with 20 in the UK]  there are not so many options and fares to display. That is why it can deliver better service.”

What will change in the UK is the ability of firms like to allow passengers to print out their tickets in their office or at home. Tickets will also be sent to a passenger’s mobile phone which is then scanned at a station barrier or on board the train.                                       

Says Wells, “Wrexham and Shropshire [which operates out of London Marylebone]  has adopted mobile phone ticketing because it’s a small TOC with few staff so the cost is relatively low. Larger TOCs have held off because the costs are higher. But it can only be a matter of time and I would say that mobile phone ticketing will take off in 12 to 18 months’ time.”

“Likewise we expect print at home ticketing, offered by a couple of TOCs, to be eventually rolled out on a line by line basis.” 

At the present time, is a consumer site. It is also the only site allowing passengers to earn Air Miles when booking rail tickets.  

Corporate facilities, enabling companies to better manage their spend, will be available towards the end of the year.

For more information visit

Report by Alex McWhirter

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