How Long Should You Have To Queue For Your Train Ticket?

If you are a regular train traveller, you may have heard of the Penalty Fare Rules that set out the rights and responsibilities of train companies and passengers when it comes to Penalty Fares.

There is also a much less well advertised policy document that provides further information about the expectations placed on companies running a Penalty Fare scheme.

What Is the Policy About Length of Queues?

Section 4.12 & 4.33 of that document set out what the Strategic Rail Authority expects regarding queues to buy a ticket:

  • Passengers should not have to queue for more than 5 minutes at peak times and 3 minutes off-peak.
  • Before introducing a Penalty Fare scheme, the train company must sort out any stations that exceed this length of queue.
  • They must have arrangements for telling Revenue Protection Officers (RPOs) when long queues build up at ticket offices.
  • RPOs should be aware of when long queues built up at a station and should use discretion towards passengers who boarded there, i.e. not charge a Penalty Fare.

Does This Mean You Can Board With a Ticket If the Queue Is Too Long?

I would suggest being very cautious about doing so.  The above guidelines do indicate you should not get a Penalty Fare if you board without a ticket when the length of queue failed to meet the expected standards.  But they also say: “Under normal circumstances, passengers may still be charged a penalty fare if they join a train without a ticket, even if there was a queue at the ticket office or ticket machine.”

So, it depends how robust you are as a person and how strongly you feel about this issue.  You may well end up receiving a Penalty Fare.  There is, of course, no obligation to pay up straight away.

What you would probably end up having to do is:

  • Appeal the Penalty Fare through the normal appeals process.
  • This may well be rejected, in which case you will probably have to take the case to court.  Although, threatening to take the case to court can cause train companies to back down.
  • You will need evidence that the queue was unreasonably long, so it would be in your interest to demand CCTV evidence from the train company from day 1 – before they delete it! – and also records of lengths of queues from that ticket office.
  • Even better, gather your own evidence by using your phone to record the time you had to queue and the interaction with the RPO.
  • You may find that by refusing to pay the Penalty Fare, they also try to prosecute you for fare evasion.  A history of regular payments for tickets may help to support your case that you are someone who normally pays for tickets and was unable to do so on this occasion.
  • It is worth contacting the train company as soon as you board the train to explain why you could not buy a ticket and ask them to send staff to you to sell you a ticket.  This will help to demonstrate your intention to buy a ticket and makes it more difficult for them to claim you were fare evading.