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Why everyone under 40 should be entitled to a railcard

The cost of taking the train is getting out of hand. Are discounts the answer?

Ella Doyle
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Ella Doyle
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It’s no secret that train travel is fucking extortionate at the minute. Any of us trying to get home for Christmas know exactly how eye-wateringly pricey tickets can get, seemingly no matter when you book them.

And sure, it’s been this way for some time, but now you’re looking at upwards of £200 for a journey from London to Edinburgh. And then you’ve also got to factor in the risk that it might get cancelled half the time (this year actually saw the most industrial action on the railways since 1989, so you’d be forgiven for being cautious when booking). 

So thank God that amid all the chaos, we still have railcards – well, those of us below 30 have them. That tasty 30 percent off that never goes amiss for those who might have a little less disposable cash to play with. The thing that takes the edge of the very large dent you’re about to make on your wallet at checkout.

Railcards used to be a privilege afforded to only the 16-to-25s and the over-60s. But then in 2018 they realised that 26-year-olds were just as broke as 25-year-olds, and introduced one for the 26-to-30s. These all give you one third off rail fares for a year after you pay a one-off £30 fee. None of them can be used during peak times, so they’re not great for commuting, but they’re a life-saver for those long-haul train journeys.

But in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, it’s no longer just young people feeling the bite. In March this year, when train ticket prices rose at the highest rate in nearly a decade, transport minister Wendy Morton recommended that passengers who were worried should buy a railcard. But relying on these passes doesn’t work when most of the population can’t get one (obvs). So is it perhaps time to extend the railcard for even more people who definitely need it, and make one for the under-40s?

They could certainly do with it. In the UK, the average salary for those aged between 22 and 29 is £24,600. Then it’s £30,865 for those in their 30s, £33,477 for those in their 40s, £31,358 for those in their 50s and £27,508 for the over-60s. Obviously, we’re talking about the whole of the UK here, so these figures are pretty broad on their own. But even taking them with a pinch of salt, there’s not much in it, from age bracket to age bracket – certainly not enough to warrant a 30 percent increase on your rail fares on your 31st birthday.

And if the over-60s are getting discounted travel, shouldn’t the under 40s be considered too? They’re only earning about £3,000 a year more on average (less than £200 a month), and they’re more likely to be having kids and trying to buy houses and all that too. 

Basically, we’re all fucked. But it’s important to note that it’s not just about money: people also really want to get the train. The alternative, which is often short-haul domestic flights, is really bad for the environment. And even amid the soaring costs of train travel, more than half of London-Edinburgh passengers opted for the train over the plane this year. The number of Interrail passes sold also hit a record high: around 600,000 over the past year (more than double the figures three years ago). We literally love taking the train.

But if we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it. And you can bet that people will sidestep their hatred of flying when facing a cost-of-living crisis – especially if they’ve got to pay full price. And with the likes of RyanAir and EasyJet re-launching ridiculously cheap domestic flights, trains are going to want to keep us on board. So sure, let’s vouch for more railcards. But really, train fares just need to be cheaper. Much cheaper.

ICYMI: this university is the first in the UK to go fully vegan.

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