Score yourself some cheap train tickets – how I saved £87 on a single journey

I’ve read plenty of articles about saving money on train journeys and thought this wouldn’t apply to me or that the savings would be minimal.

I recently had cause to visit Bristol for the day on business. A quick check of trains on the National Rail site revealed that I’d be travelling on a Cross Country train.  I had to arrive in Bristol before 11am which meant a peak-time departure.

A quick search on Cross Country trains alongside the Trainline site offered me a ticket for £158 (or slightly less if I booked two singles). There are several routes to Bristol – all came in at the same price but the journey time varied from under three hours to nearly four hours depending on the date chosen.

I wondered if it might be possible to get a split ticket – and a quick google search revealed the site https://www.splitticketing.com/

The user interface for split ticketing is bare-bones and a little clunky. Clicking the wrong option (like leave after/arrive before) would show no routes available. Banging in the times and clicking on the proceed button brings up the individual legs of the journey. This site charges you an admin fee based on your saving – and I wasn’t keen on booking specific trains, I like the flexibility to catch a later (or earlier) train if I’m working and don’t know what time I might leave a meeting.

Using the information from the split ticketing site I decided to book my own tickets, hoping I could book individual day-return tickets. Unfortunately, neither the TrainLine website nor CrossCountry Trains would display day-returns when I put in the times of the individual trains but the East Midlands Trains site did (I’ve no idea why since they all appear to use the same software and interface)

I ended up buying three sets of tickets. I split my trip into three journeys, each with a seat reservation where available and for a total cost of £71.10 (selecting the cheapest tickets offered to me for each leg of the journey) and saving me £87

The upsides to buying this way are simple, you save money. If I’d bought the ticket I was offered first I’d have paid more than double the cost of split tickets! I also felt a bit mean not booking through Split Tickets but I didn’t want the ticket options they offered (and as I was claiming my travel back I felt their ‘fee’ could be hard to justify on an expenses claim form!)

The downsides were several. Searching for the same journey on different dates brings up different journey times and ticket splits, so you can’t always be sure you are being given the cheapest route (The route I took should be available every weekday but searching for other dates routed me through Wales adding an hour to the journey and changing the ticket split).

Because I booked three separate journeys, I had three booking reference numbers and had to go to the ticket machine and repeat the collection procedure three times. This resulted in fourteen tickets being printed – the photo at the top of this posts shows the ones I had left at the end of the day. Before my journey, I sorted them in order ready for checking on the train.

I had booked onto a busy route and on the way back my seat reservation was different for each leg of the journey. The train was packed and I sat watching people evicting each other from reserved seats so be aware that you might have to move mid-journey which can be a problem if you are carrying heavy luggage.

Booking a split ticket means that the train has to stop at the stations where you’ve split your ticket. To reserve seats on these trains yourself, you need to know the exact time of the stop where you break your journey so you can reserve your seat on the onward part of the journey after the break. This adds a significant amount of time and effort to the booking process (if you are travelling on a quieter route you can skip this step and save yourself a good deal of grief!)

Would I do this again?  Yes to save over £80, and watching people showing the train manager their tickets, I wasn’t the only one to split my journey to save money.

What this does show is what a shambles the whole ticket booking system is for travel by train. When we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and use public transport, it shouldn’t be so hard to get a cheap train ticket.

My first term time holiday

One of the perks of not being in the classroom any more is the ability to take a holiday in term time. Last week I took my first term time holiday, choosing to visit the Lake District.

Not only was the holiday half the price of our usual August holiday, the Lake District was a much nicer place to be with fewer holidaymakers and empty parking spaces. I can see why parents of autistic children might need to take their children out of school in term time (although heads are divided if holidays can be authorised in these circumstances)

I can’t imagine wanting to go away in the school holidays again!

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The Trouble with Nottingham Trams @nettram

When they extended the Nottingham Tram to Toton and Clifton I was a supporter of the idea.  I like the idea of catching the tram into town. You can park your car and ride in. Like the train you know where the stops are but unlike the train, you don’t need a timetable as the service runs every few minutes. I also like the fact that you can get a discount by using one of the contactless travel cards and you don’t need to queue at the machine to buy a ticket.

I don’t use the tram on a daily basis but I probably use it two or three times a month. My experience of using the tram is the reliability is rubbish and leaves much room for improvement. In the last two months, fifty percent of my journeys have been disrupted. Perhaps one reason for so much disruption due to medical emergencies is that there is only a driver on the train. The design of the network features very little redundancy and a blockage on a route soon has an impact (especially since so much of the route is shared with other traffic)

The worse thing about the delays on the line is the total ineffectiveness of the NET Tram operator to cope with it. When a train doesn’t run a replacement bus service is commissioned with the same destination. When a bus service has an issue it can be routed around the problem. When a tram doesn’t run you are told to hop on a bus and from that point on you are on your own (with no knowledge of the bus timetables, routes or bus stops)

Today I found myself at QMC hospital with a service delay. The departure board appeared to be operating a random number generator as the time to the next tram went up and down as the travellers on the platform waited anxiously for an update (there was a tiny scrolling message at the bottom of the screen but nothing to indicate it would be a problem further down the line here at QMC).

I checked the tram website but it hides the delays/updates information on a tiny bar on the homepage so I missed it. This isn’t good for a mobile site – NET pass this information to your web designers – a menu option would be handy.

Perhaps the worst thing is the social media people telling people to catch specific bus services with little other guidance. Where do these buses go? I’d just tapped my Mango card on the reader – would I have to pay twice? How could I get back to my car at the park and ride car park? Whilst the social media team ignore customer queries, they do find time to respond to positive comments left by customers (which makes you wonder why there are there?)

My faith and confidence in the tram has been further shaken and I’m not alone.  Speaking to others who commute into Nottingham many of them chose to pay more and drive in because doing so is more reliable than the tram. I do hope NET manage to find a solution to their poor reliability if they are to expand and take more cars off the road.

 

Cauda equina update – final edition (hopefully!)

Four years ago I’d had one of those life-changing events that you read about on Facebook.  I’d just undergone emergency surgery for cauda equina – one of my discs had slipped out of place in my spine and was crushing my spinal cord. Fortunately it was caught early and I was rushed in for emergency surgery.

After a week in Derby Royal Hospital, I was discharged from hospital and began the slow rehabilitation back to normality.  Walking was the first battle I won, with nerve damage to the muscles/skin down the back of my legs I had to walk with a stick. A large patient German Shepherd got me walking again and whilst I have reduced sensation down the back of my legs/feet I walk miles, the same as before my condition started.

The second big change was learning to self-catheterise.  The first few times I did this I felt like I was going to pass out (if you’ve seen the length of a male catheter you might appreciate why!) but I learned to do it quickly at home and at work (who had special equipment installed at work).  It’s been a year now since I was discharged from urology as my nerves had regenerated sufficiently that I no longer needed to use the catheters (saving the NHS around £1.50 per visit to the men’s room!)

I still have a rise and fall desk at work but very rarely need to use it in the upright position, and I have an amazing memory foam seat that prevents backache (and it drives me mad when anyone touches the myriad of levers on the underside of the chair as I don’t know what most of them do!)

So why the update – I still get lots of messages from people who have suffered from some kind of spinal/back trauma and either suffered cauda equina or something similar.  I know that your recovery might be slower than mine, or may take a different route but don’t give up.  Hang on in there and keep doing the things you want to, it will get better!

Follow my cauda equina history here