£350 to Zagreb? The Real Scandal’s £321 from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston

Never mind the rail fare to Croatia, look at our standard fares!

I’m with Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales for shunning the £90 flight in favour of the train option. Besides the obvious ecological advantages, the plane doesn’t give you enough space to catch up on work. Even on the shortest of routes, the view from a train window is infinitely superior.

On inland public transport, compared with medium haul flights and driving, you tend not to lose sight of your immediate surroundings. Cliched it is to point this out, you can watch the world go by, and see a thousand possible stories weaving along your favoured bus/rail/tram route.

Whilst the Evening Standard and other newspapers have been mildly infuriated over her choice of transport, we lose sight of our domestic scandal. The price of standard walk-on rail fares in the United Kingdom versus the attractiveness of cheap flights. The fact that for another £19 on the peak hour rail fare from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston, you could travel by rail from London St. Pancras International to Zagreb. And even less if you opt for a 3-bed economy sleeper rate between Paris and Munich.

Why does this seem freaky compared with the flight between London’s airports? Low cost airlines have brought air travel closer to the working classes. In the space of 25 years, fares have fallen in real terms, though extras like baggage charges seldom feature in the operators’ hyperbole.

Only 30 years ago, before the opening of the Channel Tunnel, a European rail trip didn’t seem too unusual. A trip to France would have meant the Newhaven Harbour train for the Dieppe ferry. By rail, a trip to Jersey meant a short section (literally) through the centre of Weymouth before boarding a Channel Islands ferry. UK based rail operators, right up to 1983’s privatisation of Sealink, saw cross-Channel ferries as part of their service. Likewise with Irish Sea and North Sea crossings.

Rail and ferry, or rail via a straight connection under the Channel Tunnel, is probably less dispiriting than trying to catch up on paperwork in a sterile departure lounge. The environment and the camaraderie of rail encourages interaction among fellow passengers and staff. Most importantly, you can walk around for a few minutes from one part of the train or ferry to stretch your legs (try doing that on a Boeing 737). Some of these aspects alone are priceless.

If in Natalie’s position, I would give my right arm for a no-holds-barred European train trip over a flight to Zagreb any day. In fact, I would give my right arm for a seriously long rail trip in the UK if our fares weren’t so expensive.

Here’s further proof!

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Appendix A: Air and rail fare comparisons:

Please note that most mileages may be approximate.

  • Manchester Piccadilly – London Euston (183 miles 52 chains): £321 (Anytime Return fare, up to the time of travel);
  • London St. Pancras International – Paris Nord (282 miles): £69 (standard return fare);
  • London St. Pancras International – Zagreb (1,064 miles): £256.50 (three changes: Eurostar return; 3-berth economy; Deutsche Bahn return);
  • London Heathrow – Zagreb: £164 (seven day return fare, British Airways, direct flights);
  • Manchester Airport – Zagreb:  £271 (seven day return fare, Lufthansa/Lufthansa CityLine – change at Munich, departing tomorrow);
  • Manchester Airport – London Heathrow:  £96 (seven day return fare, Aer Lingus for Virgin Atlantic, direct flights departing tomorrow).

Appendix B: Rail fares per mile:

  • Manchester Piccadilly – London Euston (Anytime Return): 87.7p;
  • Manchester Piccadilly – London Euston (Off-Peak Return): 21.7p;
  • London St. Pancras International – Paris Nord: 12.2p;
  • London St. Pancras International – Zagreb: 24.1p.

The above figures prove that two things. One is the exorbitant price of peak hour rail fares from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston, a staggering 87.7p for a standard Anytime Return. Another, is how air fares seem to be more attractive, in spite of the inconveniences of checking in, checking out, and finding public transport to and from the airports.

Though we may quibble about the Manchester to London train fare, the off-peak option is more palatable at £79.70 for a walk-on Off-Peak Return. Which is reasonable enough if you’re willing to leave Manchester after 10am and London Euston outside morning and evening peaks. Therefore our cheaper (though still pricey) fare is a more manageable 21.7p per mile.

Appendix C: The Great Saddleworth Rail Fare Scandal:

On another note, count yourself lucky if you see no need to catch the train from Marsden and Greenfield. Though cheaper on a day trip, consider yourself well and truly stung if you wish to purchase a period return fare, as they don’t exist! Off-Peak and Anytime day returns and single fares exist though. Therefore, the following fares between the two points are as follows:

i. Single and return fares:

  • Single fare: £5.80;
  • Anytime Return: £6.90;
  • Off-Peak Return: £6.20;
  • Two Anytime Single fares: £11.60;
  • Single taxi fare: £17.60;
  • FirstDay ticket (along 184 bus route): £4.00.

ii. Fare rates per mile:

  • Single fare: 96.7p;
  • Anytime Return: 57.5p;
  • Off-Peak Return: 51.7p;
  • Two Anytime Single fares: 96.7p;
  • Taxi fare: £2.93 (or 73.3p per head if four people are travelling);
  • FirstDay ticket: 33.3p.

The cheapest fare of all is available on First Greater Manchester’s 184 service from Manchester to Huddersfield which serves the same two villages. Not least the fact that passengers could continue their journey into Greater Manchester on any of FirstGroup’s services.

Whilst our fellows were decrying Ms. Bennett’s desired mode of transport, count yourselves lucky that London to Zagreb wasn’t 96.7p per mile one way. The fare would have been a staggering £102,888 – enough for an Anytime Return to Saturn!

Had the Greenfield to Marsden single fare been set at the same rate of the Manchester – London peak hour rate, it would be £10.52. Conversely, if the off-peak return was set to the same rate per mile as its London equivalent, the fare would be a more manageable £2.60! Had the Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston fare been set to Marsden rates, you would be looking at £189.22.

It’s clear that our fellows in the West Riding of Yorkshire are being ripped-off big style. It is claimed that the Greenfield to Marsden section is expensive as it forms a dead zone between Metro West Yorkshire PTE and Transport for Greater Manchester. Some may cite the maintenance cost of Standedge Tunnel.

Many sources claim that the six mile section between Marsden and Greenfield is the most expensive railway line in Britain. That is far from the truth as that honour belongs to Heathrow Express. An Express Saver costs £34.00 return, which is £1.42 per mile for the journey from London Paddington to London Heathrow Airport. Plus they have no peak restrictions, though charge passengers more for paying the conductor-guard.

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Oh, and before anybody else criticises the cost of train travel to Mainland Europe, look at the state of Britain’s rail fares! Secondly, some people prefer not to fly into Germany, France or Holland. They may prefer more ecologically sound transport like trains, coaches and bicycles. They may be feared of flying or prefer to take in the scenery.

S.V., 21 November 2014.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Phil Longdon says:

    Be careful following this line of argument, as Fare gaps between modes and areas are endemic, and often inexcusable:

    Reddish to Manchester off-peak return:

    heavily subsidised rail £2.40 to Piccadilly and free from there to Shudehill
    commercial bus (203) £4 + £1.60 (Metrolink) if you need to get to Shudehill.

    Air fares per mile are always cheaper from London. Demand from London is false due to travel agents co-ercing passengers to fly via London, rather than direct from Manchester. Businesses force their reps to do the same (see bogus arguments about Heathrow expansion benefitting the North); media companies offering prizes of holidays/flights from London only etc. etc.
    Last Summer I looked at going to Frankfurt. Economy return from Heathrow £89, Economy Return from Manchester £508+ (both Lufthansa)


    1. Hi Phil,

      If you travel from Reddish North to Manchester Piccadilly and return during the evening peak (on a weekday), the return fare is now £4.40. This, following changes to weekday evening peak restrictions, narrows the gap between the Bus and Tram option. Even at Anytime rates, it is still cheaper than the 203 and Tram combo.

      Seconded on the idea of London air fares being artificially low, to encourage maximum usage of the capital’s airports. I don’t agree with it, though I can see why given the amount of incentives offered.

      Bye for now,



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