Travelling by rail can either go one of two ways - passengers can experience peaceful journeys through the countryside or carriages crammed with hundreds of people hopping from city to city.

It’s one of the quickest ways to get around the UK but often train fares can be expensive if you don’t have the likes of a railcard to help you out.

But have you ever wondered what can happen if you don’t have a ticket in hand before you board a train?

Whether you are purchasing one at a ticket office or through the Trainline app, this is why it is crucial to always have one before the start of your journey or you could be stung with a hefty penalty to pay.

Is it illegal to board a train without a ticket in England?

East Midlands Railway (EMR), TransPennine Express, London North Eastern Railway (LNER), Southeastern Railway and Northern Rail are just some of the companies which state on their websites that you cannot board a train without a ticket or you may be issued a Penalty Fare.

National Rail explains: “A Penalty Fare is an exceptional fare charged if you do not comply with the normal ticket purchasing rules without good reason. It is not a fine.”

Therefore, it is classed as “civil debt” and not criminal activity.

For example, Northern Railway says: “If you board a Northern train without a ticket or ‘Promise to Pay’ notice at a station where ticket purchasing facilities are available, you may be liable to pay a Penalty Fare.

Oxford Mail: Did you know how much a Penalty Fare can cost you?Did you know how much a Penalty Fare can cost you? (Image: Jonathan Brady/PA)

“From 23 January 2023, the minimum Penalty Fare is changing from £20 to £100, plus the price of the full single fare applicable for your intended journey.

“However, if the fine is paid within 21 days, this is reduced to £50 plus the price of the single fare applicable.”

Penalty Fares can also be issued if you:

  • Are unable to produce a valid railcard for a discount ticket
  • Are 16 or over and travelling on a child-rate ticket
  • Travel beyond the destination stated on your ticket

When can you travel on a train without a ticket in England?

Different rules will apply to train companies in England but LNER states that although it’s an offence to board a train without a ticket, the only exceptions to this are:

  • If the ticket office is closed
  • If a self-service ticket machine that accepts cash isn’t working and the ticket office is not open or there is no ticket office
  • If you're unable to access our ticket retail facilities as a result of a disability
  • If you’re entitled to concessionary fares without a Railcard, such as permanent wheelchair users

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It adds: “In these circumstances you can buy any ticket available on the train, on the day of travel, including any Railcard discounts that apply.”

Please note different regulations may apply to separate train companies, such as Transport for London (TfL) services which have a different Penalty Fare system.

National Rail comments: “Penalty Fares issued on TfL’s rail services the Elizabeth Line and London Overground are in accordance with different regulations.”

More information can be found on the TfL website.