First class rail travel hits high on cheap fares

Marion Dakers
MORE train passengers than ever are travelling first class, as advance bookings and bargain upgrades helped attract 11m to the top carriage in 2012.

First class journeys rose almost seven per cent on 2011, and have soared 64 per cent since 2003, when the Association of Train Operating Companies’ figures begin.

The rise of first class travel has slightly outpaced the overall growth in UK rail traffic, which is up from 1bn journeys in 2003 to a record 1.44bn last year.

Savings made with railcards and weekend deals to upgrade for £5 have proved particularly popular, according to Atoc. Two million of last year’s first-class trips were made on a railcard.

Train operators credit some of the rise to deals on advance tickets, where first class fares paid for three months in advance can be cheaper than a standard ticket bought on short notice.

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said that while the UK’s advance tickets are among the cheapest in Europe, it is often difficult for customers to find the best deals. “There is a real lack of transparency about how many of these cheaper advance tickets are available on specific train,” he said.