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Train tickets’ peak rate stretches after 11am

Passengers confused by different peak travel times

Crowded train station

Compensation for train delays varies widely between train companies

It’s no surprise that rail companies charge more for peak-time travel. But Which? research suggests that some train companies are charging peak fares well outside the busy times of day.

Major operators Virgin and East Coast start their ‘evening peak’ at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. East Coast’s evening peak lasts for four hours from 14.57 to 18.59. To qualify for super off-peak fares, you cannot travel during this period on Mondays to Thursdays. On Fridays. however it stops at 18.15. 

Virgin’s evening peak lasts from 15.01 to 18.44, while others, including Chiltern, c2c and Merseyrail, don’t have an evening peak at all. Our graphic, below, shows how different rail companies define their peak times from London.

Multiple peaks

Some companies make it very confusing. For instance, East Coast’s morning peak to London ends at 10.05. Unless, that is, you’re travelling first class (07.59); or with an off-peak day return or travelcard (09.54); or you have a super off-peak ticket (11.17). 

Others are more straightforward – Merseyrail’s morning peak ends at 09.30, as does Northern’s at Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing whether you’re coming or going, yet the Association of Train Operating Companies claims that ‘four out of five passengers are happy with their journey’. 



Key: a From London Euston only b Merseyside only c Only super off-peak tickets and cycles not permitted d East Midlands Trains and South West Trains e Some services f Except services to Lancaster and northwards and North Wales g Includes super off-peak, Monday to Thursday. 

No evening peak: Arriva Trains Wales, c2c, Chiltern, First TransPennine Express, Merseyrail. Graphic excludes open access operators.

Are you confused by peak times or fed up with paying too much at certain times of the day? Whatever your experience, join the debate at Which? Conversation.

Free expert advice

For free Which? advice on train tickets, read our cheap train tickets guide. It shows how to get the best deals on tickets, peak or off-peak, how to claim compensation if your train is late – and the results of our investigation into train ticket selling, when we were sold a more expensive fare than we needed to pay 27 out of 50 times. 


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