In January I went to Milton Keynes from Penrith. The ticket machine at Penrith offered me a single choice of return off-peak ticket, shown in the picture below. 

The train manager on the London train was happy with my ticket. The ticket inspectors at Euston were happy with my ticket when I boarded the train to Milton Keynes. I got a lift back to London so didn’t use the return from Milton Keynes.

The next day when boarding the train back to Penrith I was told my ticket was not valid. Apparently, despite the ticket being marked ‘any permitted’ route, in the eyes of the Virgin ticket book going via London was not a ‘permitted route’. In Virgin trains speak ‘any permitted’ route does not mean ‘any route is permitted’, but that ‘any permitted route is permitted’ (sic). Of course!

None of these routes was via London and naturally I should know that. However, nowhere does Virgin Train information specify this fact. Indeed, when I pressed the additional info button at Penrith (see picture 2) it said that I cannot arrive in London before 10.05. Surely this would make no sense if my ticket was ineligible to travel to London?

After a long argument with the ticket inspector I was about to miss my train. The floods had returned and the trains were delayed between Oxenholme and Penrith, so I said I would run for my train and if necessary buy another ticket on the train. However, I was pursued down the concourse by a Virgin member staff saying that they would call the police if I did not come back. After a standoff on the train I relented and returned to sort the issue out.

In the end the issue was resolved amicably with another member of staff, I bought a ticket to Milton Keynes for a journey I had done the day before (no really!). He upgraded me to First Class without charge for my co-operation and I bought him a box of chocolates – Celebrations -because a peaceful resolution is always worth celebrating.

With time to spare waiting for the next train I found a police officer and asked if they would really have come to sort out my ticket troubles. He said that if I am prepared to buy or have bought a valid ticket, and prepared to give my home address there is little they can do. So the Virgin Train staff member would appear to have been blowing hot air and threatening to call the police for something in which they have no role. I am not impressed!

So back to why Virgin Trains (and other operators) use the term ‘any permitted’ when it does not mean ‘any route is permitted’ but in fact ‘any permitted routes is permitted’. The ticket machines are perfectly capable of making clear which routes are and which aren’t permitted, as picture 3 for Watford Junction shows – there is a route via London and not via London. 

I am not the first person to discover that train companies use ambiguous language. This has been discussed by similarly baffled commuters and even in the Telegraph.

I have asked Virgin Trains to change their ticket machines when I complained that they needed to make clear that tickets to Milton Keynes from the north of England are not allowed to go via Euston. I have also asked for an apology for the fact that I was threatened with the police for using a ticket that gave no indication that I was not allowed to go via London, and that two Virgin staff had been happy with prior to this incident.

I emailed about all these things on 7th February and I now have a case number VT-070216-0317. More than a month later I have heard nothing more. So it’s time to publish this blog.

Joe Saxton