Just a big map of the cost of a return ticket from London to almost everywhere else in the country

Some ticket machines. Image: Getty.

As a Londoner, and cheapskate, who occasionally has the spur of the moment impulse to get on a train, it recently occurred to me that there might be a more methodical way of finding affordable day trips than throwing random place names into National Rail Enquiries until a return ticket that won’t empty my entire bank account appears.

Having previously tinkered about with the timetabling data provided by the Rail Delivery Group, it occurred to me that I might be able to get the associated fares dataset to spit out a price list of all the day return tickets from London and use that as prompt to find exciting new cheap day trips. So I did, and then I put it on a map.

This map doesn’t include advance tickets. It uses the cheapest route I could find* between London Terminals and the destination on either an off-peak, super off-peak or anytime return, depending on which kinds of ticket are actually available on that route. And it comes with absolutely no guarantee by either myself or CityMetric that you can buy a ticket at this price – not least since if you’re reading this in 2025 it’ll long since be out of date.

With those provisos, here it is:

 

So, what can we learn from this?

1. The best value per mile destination from London is… Wrexham!

A bargain at only 25p per mile. That’s Wrexham General, not Wrexham Central, which despite being an 8 minute walk away is a shocking 52 pence per mile journey from the capital. Rip off Britain!

2. The furthest you can get from London for under a tenner is… Balcombe!

Why not go and visit the farmhouse that stood in for Arthur Dent’s house from the BBC TV version of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy? I bet they’re definitely not tired of people taking photos of each other lying down outside of it!

More directly CityMetric relevant: it’s near the Ouse Valley Viaduct, which is a pretty good viaduct.

3. Furthest you can get for under 20 quid is… Peterborough!

The ‘worst place in Britain not to have a car’ according to a 2014 survey. Why not spend a day not having a car in Peterborough to try this out?

And for only 30p more you can go to Sheerness! “I once rode my unicycle from South London to Sheerness on Sea, on the Isle of Sheppey. I’ve never been anywhere so bleak,” says someone on the forums of singletrackworld.com, instantly selling me on the idea of going to Sheerness.

4. Birmingham and the general vicinity are quite good value, it turns out

Look at all those places you can get to for only just over £30 return. Wait until my girlfriend finds out where our next holiday is going to be!


5. There seem to be tickets available that aren’t actually usable

I couldn’t actually find any trains running on the route listed for Water Orton and Coleshill Parkway, “LNR and XC only”. So if you do manage to buy one of those tickets, working that out is a puzzle for you and you alone.

6. You can save quite a lot of money by walking a mile

See the aforementioned Wrexham General/Wrexham Central ‘discrepancy’: cheapest ticket to Central: £40.50; General: £86.90.

Getting to London Road station, a mile from Brighton, costs £28.50, while you can get to Brighton for just £12.20!

This of course doesn’t factor in different journey lengths, required changes, etc. Maybe it turns out you actually value your time!

7. Brighton really is a bargain – it’s the cheapest bit of seaside you can get to from London!

It and Southend are the only bits of beach accessible for under £15. But if you’re feeling a bit more flush, £35 will get you to and from more or less anywhere on the coast between Southampton and Harwich.

8. You’ll need to drop at least £120 to get to Scotland.

For that you can get as far as Kirkconnel, halfway between Dumfries and Glasgow. Admittedly it wouldn’t be much of a day trip anyway, since after a 5 hour train journey there you’d have about an hour before the last train of the day back. Well, unless spending 2 hours at Carlisle station waiting for a 2am sleeper train is your idea of fun. Which if you’ve read this far is a possibility!

Apologies to anyone who isn’t from London and complains on Facebook about everything I write being about London until I block you. Maybe if you share this post loads on social media, I’ll make a map of the cost of train tickets from YOUR boring hometown.

*The system is extremely complex, so no doubt there are some quirks I’ve missed. Thanks to the kind people of railforums.co.uk who pointed me in something approaching the right direction when I got totally lost.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.