Tag Archives: Ely

Split down the middle

I had intended to spend the weekend in the west country. But when I first looked at it there were already a series of problems.
The venue is difficult (though not impossible) to get to by train. And even when I first researched the idea a few weeks ago the cheapest advance tickets were more than the cost of renting a car and driving.
Except that I live in east London and work in the centre where there’s no parking. So I’d have had to fight my way across London in the rush hour and then flog down the M3 and A303 on a Friday night. Not a nice thought.
Getting a train to Heathrow and picking up a car from there might have been an option. But that adds the M25 to the mix, which is not a nice thought either.
And when the weather took a turn for the worse the thought of snow and ice in Somerset wasn’t very appealing either. And that’s before you factor in the risk of getting stranded in Shepton Mallet. So that idea got parked for another time.
I own a small cruiser on the Broads. When the weather’s nicer I spend weekends up there. The moorings were carefully chosen so I can get the train up on Friday evening and back on Sunday night.
This time of year, though, it can get a bit nippy. So better to pop up for the day once every six weeks or so just to check everything is OK.
I did that a couple of weeks ago so there’s no great rush for a return visit. But there’s a few odd jobs that need doing so why not?
As it’s a short notice trip all the cheap advance tickets have been snapped ages ago. So a day return from London to Norwich would be £51.70 thank you very much. I’m not a train nerd, but I assume this fare is set by Greater Anglia. And it seemed rather steep to me.
But wait. There’s engineering work, so I need to go from King’s Cross and change at Cambridge or Ely. If you want an idea of how woeful the mainline service from Liverpool Street is, it’s worth noting that going the long way round only takes 10 to 15 minutes more.
For anyone not familiar with split ticketing all you need to know that if your journey involves two different operators it can often be cheaper to split the ticket in two at the boundary.
A day return from London to Cambridge is £16.50. And a day return from Cambridge to Norwich is £17.30. For a grand total of £33.80.
And I get to travel on exactly the same trains as I would get if I was foolish enough to pay the inflated fare. So that’s a saving of £17.90. Which is a wonderful indicator of how broken our public transport is. And also pleases me because I bet doing it this way means Greater Anglia get a lot less of my money for trying to rip me off.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. On some of the trains from London you need to change in Ely. So what happens if you split the ticket there. £19.50 return for the first leg and £16.40 return for the second, for a total of £35.90. Still cheaper than £51.70, and you might think this is fair enough as there are more miles to Ely than Cambridge.
Except that if you go back and look at the Cambridge to Norwich return it’s valid on direct trains AND ones via Ely. So if I’m going via Ely I’m still better off splitting the ticket at Cambridge. For anyone who’s not familiar with the idea of split tickets, the basic rule is that you do not have to get off the train at the split point. But the train you are on must stop there.
Since all trains from Kings Cross to Ely stop at Cambridge I can buy a split ticket to Cambridge and another one from there to Norwich and decide where I change depending on whether the services are on time or not.
And a little more madness for you. According to National Rail the expensive return isn’t valid on the 1900 from Norwich changing at Stowmarket and Cambridge. The £17.30 return from to Norwich to Cambrige is. How on earth does that work?

Updated to add a note of thanks to @raileasy for pointing out the TrainSplit site, which does all the hard work for you.