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By Malcolm Timperley on

Just the ticket?

How have train ticket prices varied over the years? Our fantastic volunteers took to the archive to find out.

A visit to NRM’s Search Engine facility allows anyone to access what is arguably the world’s most extensive railway library and archive. Those who can’t make it to York for whatever reason can hire a researcher by using the Inreach team, a small group of volunteers who carry out research as requested (for a reasonable fee of course – all proceeds to NRM). The queries we receive are many and various…

1997-7059 Poster Manchester Victoria

One of our recent requests was to calculate how fares have changed during the lifetime of the railways. Thankfully a forensic-level study wasn’t needed, but on the other hand something more than just a back of an envelope job was. Specifically, we were asked to look at how a typical ticket price has varied over the years. To do this a number of years were examined; looking at the fare for every single year would have been very time-consuming, and it’s unlikely that full information would be available anyway, so fares were checked at 10-year intervals, although for periods known to be inflationary (e.g. the 1970s onwards), this was reduced to 5-yearly. The price of a basic single ticket for Third Class was calculated; this was redesignated Second Class in 1956, subsequently further renamed Standard Class. To try to make an even comparison, in each case the basic Ordinary ticket price was used, as would be paid by a passenger who arrived at the booking office intending to travel there and then. Advance purchase and discounted tickets, whilst always a cheaper option, were excluded; although these have become a significant proportion of the tickets bought as the years have passed, we felt it was important to compare like with like.

London to Manchester was the route used for comparison. This was done for convenience as for many years in the 20th century the exact price of a ticket on this journey was quoted in Bradshaw, which also stated the price in pence per mile pertaining nationally at the time. Bradshaw used the Manchester to London route to illustrate how fares were calculated from pence per mile, the basis of rail fares for over a century. For many years, where there was more than one route between two places, the price was calculated from x pence per mile using the mileage of the shortest route. For example, there were four routes from London to Manchester, the shortest being from London (Euston) to Manchester (London Road, now called Piccadilly),  so this line was used to set the price for all four routes. Where we couldn’t find a quoted fare it was calculated from the price per mile multiplied by 183, the mileage from Euston to Manchester. Prior to 1914 1d per mile pertained; inflation was minimal throughout the preceding Victorian period and prices were virtually stable. In 1968, the price per mile formula was abandoned, and various prices applied in subsequent years, but to maintain the comparison this same route was chosen again.

Bradshaw ceased publication in 1961, after which date the National Fares Manuals were consulted, although the ATOC Avantix Traveller Fares Info was used for 2006 and the First Transpennine website for today’s prices. This is what we found (prices before 1971 have been converted to decimal currency):-






15/3 = 76p



£1 2s 10.5d = £1.14



£1 3s 0d = £1.15



£1 4s 2d = £1.21



£1 17s 6d = £1.87



£1 17s 6d = £1.87


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1997-7059 Cheap railway tickets


A Purchasing Power Calculator, which uses the RPI, shows that 15s 3d (76p) in 1914 had the purchasing power of £63.89 today(!). Whilst this is by no means a cut and dried result, it still contrasts with today’s price of £160.50. How and why our currency came to buy so little is another question, well beyond the scope of the NRM’s Inreach team…


You can find out more about our Search Engine library and archive facilities on our website.

5 comments on “Just the ticket?

  1. Hello, I started work in london’s Lincoln Inn area and used to catch a train each day from Staines Southern region to Waterloo and return.I started 50 years ago 19th August 1968. Could you please tell me what my weekly travel card cost back then The first train out was 7.15 am and my return home was 17.15pm, I do remember that 7/6 was added if I wanted to travel the underground to Chancery lane tube station. Can you help?

  2. I visited England in May of 1971 and bought a five-city train ticket. The ticket allowed me to visit my choice of five cities (out of 7-10 cities?). I was 16 years old, and had taken the last three weeks of school off from Liege, Belgium. I had just read “Stonehenge Decoded” by Gerald Hawkins, so one of the cities I chose was Salisbury. Does anyone have any information on this five-city train promotion? Was it part of the British Railway Pass offered to tourists? Anyone know what cities were available? Thank you, in advance, from an old man with fond memories 🙂

  3. I understand that adults paid 1d per mile prior to 1914, but were there concessions for children? I’m trying to work out how much it would have cost for a family of two adults and five children (all aged 13 and under) to travel from Yeovil Junction to Durham in 1875 – I’m guessing that they crossed London by horse-tram.

  4. Hello, was just wondering if anyone had any idea how much a train ticket from Leeds to kings cross would have costed back in 1986.

  5. I got 2 tickets from 1892 Chicago city railway co. I would like to know if they are worth something

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