A Year of Train Travel

Published on 1 March 2010 in , , , ,

Back in 2004 an era came to an end when my Young Persons Railcard expired. To celebrate this monumental moment of growing old, the year before I’d decided to save up all my rail tickets for the year and see how much money I saved. As the blog post at the time revealed, the answer was £47.75.

I looked back at that blog post in January 2009, but it wasn’t the £47.75 saving that caught my eye but how many railway journeys I’d done. Excluding my travelling in Greater London – of which there is a fair amount, and none of it recorded by myself – I’d done just 14 journeys (6 return trips and 2 singles – throughout this piece I’ve classed a return ticket as covering two journeys.)

A Years Worth of Train Tickets

I wondered how things had changed, so decided to do a bit of an experiment. I decided to keep all my tickets from travelling on the national rail network, and see where I’d go. The full data is available for perusal if you so desire.

Once again, travelling in London would be excluded as I wouldn’t have a record of it – although as it’s all by Oystercard, I’m sure Transport for London have it and I’d love to see it! Also not included would be the actual number of trains involved or anything too detailed. I’d just keep the tickets and glean all the information from that.

But what would they actually reveal?

The Wonga

Back in 2003/2004 there was a mere 14 journeys. In 2009 I did 40.

There were other differences – distances were greater, and the costs involved… well… Back in 2003/2004 if I’d bought every ticket at full price I would have spent £141.80 – an average of £10.13 per journey.

Fast forward to 2009 and I spent £920.65 (well, including £50 paid for by work.)

That might look a lot, especially when added on to the £1208 for my annual Travelcard, however there’s a couple of factors involved:

  1. I don’t own a car, and the cost of owning even a small car is around £3,500. If I owned a car, I’d need my Travelcard on top of that as hey, there’s no way I’m driving to work in London! And the car would probably take on some other journeys I do by public transport and are already paying for with my Travelcard
  2. the amount includes travelling to holidays and, for our Ireland trip, some travel during our holiday. All our holidays last year were in the British Isles and we used no planes or hire cars.

The whole lot offers an average price of £23.24 per journey. That’s slightly skewed by three (more) expensive sleeper trips – if we take them out of the mix, the average comes down to £14.58. The flip side is that five sleeper trips came out at £82.01 each way – although you have to bear in mind that sleepers are part train, part hotel!

Pie chart showing the proportion of tickets at particular costs

Averages don’t show everything however so I decided to take a look at price bands for each return journey (including things like upgrades.) The stats show that 35% of all journeys came in at under a tenner. Flip side is that 15% were over £100 – again these were the three sleeper train journeys. Incidentally by far the most expensive sleeper journey was actually in standard class… Anyway, over half the journeys cost under £30.

The Wonga per Journey

If I was really geeky I’d do some sort of cost per mile kind of calculation for each journey. However I couldn’t be bothered on working it all out. However I thought I’d look at it for the longest journey, the shortest journey, the cheapest and the most expensive.

For this I used a tool which calculates distances between railway stations in the UK – I presume it uses an “as the crow flies” calculation rather than an accurate trip along the rails!

The shortest journey was Putney to Staines at a distance of 12 miles. The cost was £3.10 making it also the cheapest journey – thus killing two birds with one stone. Thanks to the Gold Card discount, it came in at 26p a mile.

The longest journey was, without a doubt, London Euston to Aberdeen. This is 396 miles and with the return ticket cost being £136 (first class sleeper) came out at 34p per mile. Given this journey also included overnight accommodation and was first class, this is a very good rate of return I think!

Another sleeper journey claimed the prize for the most expensive journey. At £171 for 331 miles, it worked out at 52p a mile.

Incidentally, the costs do include travel in Ireland – at the time the exchange rate was roughly £1 to €1, so this is what I’ve assumed in my cost calculations.

What will you do with the money you’ll save?

Google Chart

As mentioned, I have an annual season ticket and this gives me a third off train travel in the South East after 10am on weekdays and all the time at weekends. 35% of journeys involved that Gold Card discount. Below we’ll see that 45% of my journeys were made in the South East, meaning I qualified for the discount most of the time I travelled in the Gold Card region.

One ticket was a Group Save, which is where you get three or four people travelling for the price of 2 if travelling in the off peak period.

And one train ticket was bought using a BBC staff discount (as it was part of a return trip, I’ve classed it as half a journey.) Scotrail offers a discount on first class single sleeper tickets to BBC staff. It’s part of the BBC’s drive to encourage staff to take the sleeper rather than fly. The deal was done for business use, however is also available to staff for leisure purposes and can be used on any of the Caledonian Sleeper routes – including the lovely Fort William route. And no, none of your licence fee is involved.

Advance tickets were used in 27.5% of journeys whilst normal walk on fares were another 25% – covering any time and normal off peak fares. And then there was one journey with that super cheap sail/rail thing to Dublin.

Again, this surprised me slightly – I expected the advance tickets to be higher in proportion. However again that’s about perception. I was thinking most of my journeys were “big ones” – crossing the country. However as I travelled more in the South East than any other area, clearly I was more likely to get either normal tickets or tickets with a Gold Card discount.

Across the year

So what’s the spread of journeys per month? Well lets have a nice chart to show it.

Bar chart showing distribution of journeys per month

Now isn’t that pretty?

Looking at that, I did at least one return trip a month – somehow managing to be both more and less than I was actually expecting.

More because, for various reasons, I hadn’t felt like I’d done a particularly huge amount over the year, and less because I probably had suburban London train usage in my mind when considering how many trains I’d been on.

Two notable months were February and November – both coinciding with trips to Edinburgh and Dublin respectively.

Why? WHY?

Yes, why?! I mean it’s all very well saying you’ve done at least one round trip a month, however why was I doing them?

Pie chart showing reasons for travel

Turns out there’s six camps. And most of my train travel is related to getting out of London and going walking. In fact I did six day hikes and three hikes that were over several days (part of the North Downs Way, the West Highland Way and the Cumbria Way.) That lot accounts for 45% of all my train travel.

If I wasn’t hiking I was at weddings or wedding related situations (well, okay, a stag do.) That’s pitiful at 15% though. A mere 10% was “other” and 5% was work related – one trip, which shows how little I get out of the office! Well, okay, they let me go to TV Centre every now and then but I can get there by foot!

This makes me look like I never go out unless its to walk, however I do most of my going out in Greater London so that gets paid for under my Travelcard. I don’t often just go out and visit a town or city. He says having had a day out in Brighton the other week. But that’s 2010 and therefore doesn’t count.

We’re on a train to…

So where did I go? Well another chart can show us.

Pie chart showing location for each trip's destination

Not surprisingly the destination for most trips was in the South East of England – 42% in fact. North West England and Scotland did very well covering 16% each – Scotland scored highly thanks to high profile visiting of Catherine’s brother, Catherine’s brothers wedding and a trip to do the West Highland Way.

Then there’s Ireland which came out with a 21% share mainly thanks to going on holiday there. I did debate about including it in these stats, but in the end decided to keep them in. It was train travel after all.

A Class Act

Pie chart showing the class of ticket

Now we’re getting into more pointless stats. 20% of journeys were made in first class – hark at me. Of the eight individual journeys in first class, five were advance first class tickets and three were from Weekend First Upgrades.

Of those five proper first class journeys, three were actually sleeper journeys, and, ironically, all cheaper than the standard class journey I did earlier in the year! Believe me, if you can get a good deal for first class on the sleeper, it’s well worth it!

I’m also a bit of a fan of the old Weekend Upgrade. With bigger seats, generally quieter carriages and free tea and coffee, it’s often worthwhile doing on longer journeys.

And your point is?

So what have we learnt?

We’ve learnt that an expensive first class sleeper ticket to Aberdeen can provide a comparable cost-per-mile rate to that of a short hop suburban journey in the South East.

We’ve learnt that going first class is nice, and that I did a lot of walking when I actually got off the train.

And most importantly, we have ascertained that actually I’m a bit of a stats bore and that I like creating graphs using the Google Charts API. And isn’t that the main thing?