Over half of all official advice given to passengers about rail tickets is incorrect, according to an investigation by a watchdog.
Passengers looking to find the cheapest ticket, either from a clerk at a station or from National Rail Enquiries, the telephone helpline, were recurrently given the wrong information about how to save money. In some cases passengers could have ended up spending over 100GBP more than they needed to.
The investigation by Which? found the structure remained difficult, and confusing despite frequent complaints from passenger groups.
In some cases staff didn’t even know some money-saving fares existed, it appeared.
Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, says: “Train operators seem blind to the fact that their ticketing systems are too complicated – if people who do this for a living can’t find the cheapest fare, what hope do passengers have?”
“We’d like to see much clearer signposting to help passengers find the best deals available, whether they’re buying tickets online, over the phone or at a station.”
The study involved covert researchers visiting railway stations over the whole of England asking for tickets for 15 different scenarios, including basic trips and more complicated multiple journeys. Each scenario was repeated five times at different stations and five times at National Rail Enquiries.
Station clerks gave the wrong advice 59pc of the time; National Rail Enquiries gave inaccurate information 43pc of the time.
Station clerks often struggled with questions about cheaper or slower routes, giving the right answer on just three out of forty occasions.
The complex fare structure of train journeys has been the irritation of passengers for a long time. Three years ago found that on some routes there were 30 different fares for a single journey.
The study pointed out that passengers were even more infuriated to be given incorrect advice at a time when ticket prices have been increasing far faster than inflation. Since 1995 train tickets have gone up in price by 47pc above the rate of inflation.
Alexandra Woodsworth, Campaign for Better Transport’s public transport campaigner, said: “Train passengers shouldn’t have to work so hard to find a decent value fare. There is little point in having cheap fares on offer if the system is so complicated that even ticket office staff can’t help you find them, and it certainly doesn’t make up for the extremely high prices at the other end of the scale.