Poor advice means some passengers are paying well over the odds for rail travel, says Which?
In our investigation, just half of the 50 questions we put to station staff and the National Rail Enquiries (NRES) telephone helpline were answered correctly.
If customers had followed all the advice, they would have been £1,263.60 worse off.
Bad advice was given for the cheapest fare for a single journey between London and Grantham by both station staff and NRES.
For a ticket bought on the day of travel, both NRES and a King’s Cross station clerk quoted GNER’s £44.50 fare, ignoring a Hull Trains service that leaves 10 minutes earlier and costs just £20.
Six questions about breaking journeys en route were generally answered well, with station staff scoring full marks.
However NRES made a real howler when asked if passengers could travel from Southampton to Bristol, then on to Birmingham later the same day. A through single should cost £48, but it quoted separate fares for each leg, pushing the fare up to £91.
Some of the most costly misinformation was given for journeys where season tickets should have been recommended. Passengers making a return journey between Swindon and Penzance twice in the same week could buy a Freedom of the Southwest Rover for £70. But both NRES and station staff quoted £67 per journey, making £134 in total – nearly double the cheapest price.
Which? also checked out ‘the earlier you book, the cheaper the ticket’ claims of five train companies (One, Virgin, First Great Western, Midland Mainline and GNER) and found that it was not always the case.
The NRES website, however, proved to be a much more reliable source of information, answering all questions put to it correctly. However it isn’t possible to use the NRES website to plan a route where a journey is broken or to plan multiple journeys over time
Malcolm Coles, Editor, which.co.uk, said: ‘The NRES website provides accurate information, so why can’t station clerks and those manning the NRES helpline?
‘Staff training needs to be improved. In the meantime, we’ve devised a checklist so that customers don’t have to rely on a second-rate service.’