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Why are walk-on rail fares from Ipswich so high? Train expert Paul Geater explains

PUBLISHED: 16:44 16 October 2018

Mainline train at Ipswich Station Platform

Mainline train at Ipswich Station Platform

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You can save £16 on a walk-on fare to from Ipswich to London if you know your way around the complex ticket system.

If you split your ticket at Manningtree Railway Station you don't have to leave your seat  just make sure the train stops here! Picture: SU ANDERSONIf you split your ticket at Manningtree Railway Station you don't have to leave your seat just make sure the train stops here! Picture: SU ANDERSON

This week Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has highlighted the high cost of rail fares from the town to London, partly due to the fact today’s rail fare structure is totally outdated and a relic to the 1980s when British Rail divided itself into three sectors: InterCity, Regional Railways and Network Southeast.

At the time there was a lobby in East Anglia to ensure that the main line through Ipswich to Norwich remained InterCity. Travellers were desperate to retain the dining car and the prestige of being on an InterCity line. However that prestige came at a cost.

The regional boundary was, absurdly, drawn at Manningtree – so from that station south travellers are charged “commuter prices” while from Ipswich north everyone pays “InterCity” prices.

That situation has remained in place despite privatisation – fares are still effectively set by the government, not individual rail companies.

It’s a situation that acts against the interest of the casual traveller who fancies a day out in London – but it is possible to save considerable amounts of money if you’re a regular leisure traveller who knows how to play the system (and it’s all perfectly acceptable with the rail companies).

Because with London being just over an hour away from Ipswich, a trip to the capital shouldn’t have to be an adventure planned long in advance – it should be available to people on a casual basis who wake up one morning and fancy a day out in the capital.

Split the tickets and buy a rail card

If you buy an off-peak saver ticket from Ipswich to Liverpool Street station it costs £42.20 whichever day of the week you go. But if you’re travelling at the weekend you can cut the cost to £35.80 if you buy a day return from Ipswich to Manningtree for £6.60 and a supersaver from Manningtree to London for £29.20.

If you make leisure trips to London more than three times a year, you might consider buying a Network Railcard – anyone can get one, whatever their age – for £30 a year.

That knocks a third off the ticket cost for the Manningtree-London portion of the ticket, bringing it down to £19.30. A walk-on fare from Ipswich to London falls to £25.90.

There are similar splits available for almost any train that crosses the old sector boundaries. An off-peak ticket from Colchester to Norwich only saves you 20p if you split at Ipswich, but from Witham there is a saving of £3.80 by splitting a ticket on a trip to Norwich.

You don’t have to move from your seat – just ensure that the train you’re on stops at the station for the split (and there are very few trains from Ipswich to London that don’t stop at Manningtree).

Book early

Of course there are cheaper deals if you book well in advance – and they are superb for longer trips. It’s possible for two people to have a day out in York with a Two Together railcard for little more than £50 from Ipswich – but many heading to London don’t want to be forced to use a specific seat on a specific train.

What happens if you decide you want to stay a bit longer once you’re in the capital?

The current system is a minefield for those who don’t know how to get best value out of their tickets. It badly needs an overhaul and a new fare structure is hopelessly overdue.

But in the meantime it’s worthwhile taking a few minutes to find the best deal before you set off for the station!

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