Train Tickets Explained

Post length: 688 words, just over 3 minutes.

Read the update to this post to cover the new style (2015/2016) tickets.

Since mid 2008 I have been saving my train tickets. In the last year or so I have collected them together into a database. That meant I had to spend some time working out the data you get on a UK train ticket:

Standard ticket

There are a couple of small variations to this which I have noted below, but as a general rule most tickets looks like the above (numbered notes are explained below). A major variation on the ticket layout, however, is the London Day Travelcard — a ticket valid on both national rail services into London as well as TFL services in the capital. Most of the information is the same but some of it’s in a slightly different place. There is also some slightly modified validity data.

London day travelcard

Below is an example of the bottom orange bar from a ticket booked online and collected at an automated ticket vending machine. This service is called Ticket on Departure (ToD). In these cases the ticket shows the surname of the person who booked the ticket along with the customer transaction record number, often referred to as a collection reference.

Ticket on Departure

Further Notes

  1. Ticket type: the type of ticket this (and any related tickets) is. Ticket type covers details relating to validity times as well as if they ticket is a return or if it is issued by a specific train operator. It’s often technical description of what you buy at the counter — single, return, advance, etc.
  2. Railcard used: if a railcard was used to purchase this ticket, it’s indicated here. In this instance a Young Person’s (16-25) railcard was used. Any of the railcards listed on this site would be noted here.
  3. Single station, or group of stations: this little asterisk (*) indicated if the station name refers to a single station or a group of stations. If it’s a group of stations the ticket is valid to or from one of the stations in the group (but not between them).
  4. Route restrictions or requirements: and restrictions on the route this ticket can be used for. For some tickets travel is only valid via a specified station, or is not valid via a certain station (this can be the case when there are multiple routes to a destination and one passes through a large city; in this case it’s often cheaper to get a ticket which avoids this area).
  5. Ticket type: another expression of ticket type. Often this is a more simple explanation of the ticket type. For returns this is often “2-part return” indicating there’s a separate ticket for both out and return journey.
  6. Ticket validity period: when the ticket is valid in relation to the start date. Most of the time outward tickets of a 2-part return and single tickets are valid only on the day printed on the ticket, and the return portion some time after that (for flexible returns one day, one month, etc., for advanced purchase often on the stated day only). There can be some variation in validity periods for special types of ticket. This area of the ticket explains what the period is.
  7. Payment method: how this ticket was paid for. There are a number of ways of paying for a ticket: cash, credit/debit card, warrant, etc., this show how the ticket was paid for. (M: cash; X: credit/debit card; W: warrant.)
  8. [Blank]
  9. Issuing point number: the desk, terminal or machine which issued the ticket. Each point of sale has a unique number on the network, and this number indicates where the ticket was bought or collected from.
  10. Journey direction: if this is an outward journey, a return journey, or just a single journey.

Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with any organisation involved with train ticketing and I cannot help with any ticket or rail related problems. All the information I’ve included here I have worked out myself from use of the network and analysis of my tickets. I would be delighted if anyone has any additional information relating to UK railways tickets that they want to contribute.

Posted on Thursday 25th October, 2012 at 1:55 pm in Obiter dicta.
It was tagged with , , , , , , , , .


[…] and easier to understand.” With this in mind I thought it was time I updated my previous post explaining what you see on the British train […]

Posted on 25th Jan 2016 at 9:03 am by » Train Tickets Explained 2016.


Bit of random question – do you know what ‘C’ as payment method would be?

Many thanks

Posted on 5th Jan 2017 at 4:05 pm by Tina.

There are only two types of payment I can think of which aren’t covered by the three here: cheque and National Rail vouchers (issued as compensation, etc.). Of these two cheque would be the logical one, but they are not accepted very much by the train companies any more (those who do only accept company checks, and often for season tickets and things).

So that doesn’t help a huge amount — I don’t know for sure, but that would be my educated guess. I’ll try and find out.

Posted on 5th Jan 2017 at 4:34 pm by Jonathon.

The * in station names is actually used to prevent station names being lengthened by over-printing if they’re shorter than the maximum number of printable characters.

Posted on 28th Sep 2017 at 1:12 pm by Thomas Wood.

Jonathan – thank you for making this available. I’ve had 2 delayed and badly disrupted journeys in the last month via Norwich; the online claim asked for numbers and references, but offered no way of identifying them on the tickets. You did. Thank you.

Posted on 23rd Jan 2020 at 5:52 pm by T Harron.

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