back to article Rail companies roll out barcode ticket standard

The UK's rail operators have agreed to adopt a national standard for electronic tickets with bar-codes, opening the way for train tickets on mobile phones to be accepted everywhere. Following successful trails with various train companies Masabi has worked with the Rail Settlement plan - the body that cross charges networks …


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  1. Hugh_Pym

    I'll still buy tickets at the station

    because the price structure is so bloody complex that the only way to get what you need is to ask somebody to work it out for you.

  2. Richard


    Do I believe that any cost cutting as a result of this technology will, in any way, be passed on to the rail customer?

    No, quite frankly. No it bleedin' well won't.

  3. shane fitzgerald

    ...and.. what if your phone battery dies 2 hours into your 4 hour trip? Will the inspector have a charger with him?....

  4. John Mackenzie
    Paris Hilton


    Anyone tried to get a Nokia through the ticket slots on the barriers at Victoria (Southern OR Southeastern sides)????

    And imagine being caught in the queue behind someone with a "user friendly" Motorola phone.

    Paris, because she accepts UPC-A and UPC-E bar codes for the rise

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Oh great

    Another way to gouge me for the "improving" services. Since when was 8 less trains in the rush hour an "improvement"? Feck them all (yay, I can say that now it's not a bad word!)

  6. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Rail Disaster

    Chances are the system will fail all the bloody time so to add to late trains and overcrowded, ancient (and very uncomfortable) trains we will have to queue for hours to be allowed in and out of major stations. Pessimist? Me?

    I buy a monthly season ticket so this won't affect me at the purchase point but will affect me on my daily fight out of Liverpool St. As it is half of the barriers won't accept paper tickets and about 1 in 10 peoples Oyster Card fails for whatever reason. Result? 10 minutes to get off the platform this morning. Add in yet another system and I can see the system collapsing!

  7. Neil

    Nothing new

    Chiltern Railways have been using txt2mobile for tickets for ages.... I wonder if they'll be compatible or whether CR will have to revamp their systems...

    The ticket inspector's bar code reader never works from my phone however, and they always end up keying in the number to check it....

    Mine's the one with no ticket in the pocket

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    What happens if my battery dies halfway through the journey? If you're doing 3G data, and going in and out of coverage, you can drain a fully-charged smart phone very quickly...

  9. John Chadwick

    Who does this really benefit?

    Buying tickets on-line isn't, so far as I've seen any cheaper than buying at the station from a human being, despite the adverts, in fact it lands up being more expensive once you've paid the transaction charge. Bare in mind that you can but any type of ticket in person at the station, from anywhere to anywhere.

    The web sites also aren't capable of giving you the cheapest fare options either. Try getting a web site to give you the cheapest travelcard option for outbound after 10am and returning between 16.30 and 19.00 on FCC. It involves issuing two tickets, something the ticket offices do without a second thought, but websites and ticket machines, no way.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    I can see it now

    Honest mister inspector, I really do have a ticket, but the battery in my phone has died.

    Mine is the one with the uncharged Nokia in the pocket.

  11. Gordon Ross Silver badge

    @I'll still buy tickets at the station

    No. The only way to get the cheapest ticket is to work it out for yourself. The people at the station or on the phone just want to sell you a ticket ASAP, not make work for themselves.

  12. Bob

    On-Train Purchases...?

    You could prevent people from buying tickets on the train just as the conductor comes by by checking timestamps. The ticket would have to be purchased before the train leaves the station.

  13. Neil Lucock

    How will this affect anyone?

    The conductor can't get through the train to do tickets half the time. the trains I travelled on on Monday and Tuesday were packed solid (due to cancellations). The guard didn't come out to sell tickets and everyone just got off at Manchester Piccadilly, an hour late but having travelled for free.

    If it's an open standard, how long before someone writes a program to make a counterfeit ticket? Pay £1 and they text you something that will pass muster. Unless the handheld scanner can communicate with a database somewhere and verify each ticket scanned, it would be open to abuse. Any savings will be swallowed up buying mobile phone bandwidth and running server farms.


  14. Big Al

    About time

    The Germans have been doing this for YEARS on the high speed ICE (and other inter-city) services, and very handy it is too.

    In addition to paying by phone, you can pay online and *print* your barcode, and take it with you - reservations included.

  15. Warhelmet
    Black Helicopters


    Mobile phones? God no. It's a vast waste of resources trying to work with anything other than barcodes printed on paper. I've got no problem with people paying for tickets using an e-wallet on their mobile, but I don't really see the point in trying to cater for thousands of different combinations of os and pixel density and colour profiles. Oh, sorry, your black is grey to me. And back lighting?

    e-ticketing works in other scenarios, but it does annoy that the reduction in transaction cost is not passed onto the consumer. True, with air flight, there are some benefits in not having to queue to the same degree with automated check-in but I still get the wombles standing in my way.

    Black helicopter because I suspect it's a better way to travel.

  16. Tony Green

    Behind the times as ever

    Whenever I travel to Belgium, I can buy tickets for journeys I'm planning from the NMBS website and print it out before I leave.

    Funny how so many people take the piss out of that country, yet it's years ahead of us in so many ways (and the beer's better too!)

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Maybe, just maybe

    I can imagine the fine structure has been worked out before the pricing for those occasions when your phone runs flat before the ticket inspector has verified your ticket!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And what happens

    when the train gets delayed by hours and your phones battery dies?

    This is just technology for the sake of it.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Rail ?

    "Rail companies" or "Rail operators" ? This new mode of transport must "chaif" terribly during rush hour. :)

  20. Neil Daniels

    Network-wide Oyster card

    and be quick about it.

  21. KenBW2
    Thumb Up

    @Big Al Re: The Germans

    I can concur that it works great - I did that on a 3-connection journey from Berlin to Leipzig, and then back again

  22. Ben Bradley

    Waste of time

    What a waste of time, money and an all round bad idea.

    Glad to see yet another fare increase to pay for this waste of time research.

    I do regular journeys to/from work, reverse commuting out of London, and its cheaper for me to buy returns from the boundary of zone 3 (my oyster card) every day than a season ticket plus travel card. Some days I'll work from home, and others go in after 10 with Network Railcard so its all quite variable.

    What I've wanted for ages is a way to buy a carnet, like you can in most countries.

    So I buy a book of 20 tickets then I just tear one off when I need to.

    Or just extend the Oyster card system to cover crappy old train lines. So I could buy an electronic carnet on that, as well as my pre-pay TFL and my TFL travelcard.

  23. Rich


    "Where a bar-code reader is used it shouldn't be necessary to perform an on-line verification as the 2D bar code contains authenticated details of the journey paid for."

    Except that if they don't verify online, how do they stop multiple people travelling on the same ticket. Ok, they could have one ticket collector per train, or a local ad-hoc network between the collectors, but you could still travel on different trains with cloned tickets.

    Also, if miscreants carried a mobile phone / WiFi jammer, they could prevent ticket collectors from getting online and hence facilitate their bilking.

  24. MarkMac

    Whats the point?

    I'm baffled. Why are they inventing an entire new technology when one already exists? Airlines have done e-ticketing for years using printed forms. What was wrong with that? And phones are stupid places to store tickets (battery life, screen resolution, accidental damage, memory loss etc). What's wrong with simply extending an Oyster-type card? It'd be trivial to buy your ticket online and add it to your Oyster account.

    Oh but wait - I forgot. This is the /railway/ industry. Every company has to do its own thing and fight for its own little private standards. I'm surprised they've not started changing the gauge again, just to be different.

  25. sam bo
    Paris Hilton

    @John Chadwick

    -Bare in mind.....Gave me the interesting mind picture of a person fully unclothed....I can't bear it anymore , must continue to take my medication.

    Paris, because she's always bare in my mind.

  26. Josh
    Jobs Halo

    Hail Jebus phone

    There better be an iPhone app for this too...

  27. Anonymous Coward

    *** Ring Ring *** It's for you..

    It's Big Brother.....he wants to know if you are enjoying your train trip.

    Meh, just another way for the secret police to keep track of your movements.

    Me: I don't give 'em any personal info if I can avoid it.

    AC of course!

  28. Old Man - Grey Fleece

    Paragraph 2

    "Following successful trails with various train companies" I thought trains used rails not trails.

    Coat ready for the next station.


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About time too

    'over here' you can book your ticket online and print with barcode, or book via the mobile portal (WAP compatible, no Java app needed!) and get the barcode sent as an mms.

    To prevent clone tickets you also need to give a credit/debit card or railcard number at the time of booking and present that card with your e-ticket. Barcode gets scanned, card gets scanned, ticket inspector moves on. Unless you've also cloned your credit/debit/railcard then printing out your e-ticket as many times as you like will get you nowhere.

    "It just works". Typical that someone's finding it necessary to reinvent the wheel though.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This will benefit you as much as Oyster..

    The introduction of the Oyster card (charge card for London Underground) should have given you a clue here. Not only does the system get away with overcharging you (maybe time for an FOI request on the stats here) because you pre-pay (it's harder to fight if they already have your money), but it curiously also "accidentally" omitted to have a feature for fare repay if your journey was delayed for more than 15 minutes - an obligation London Underground has been trying to bury since it was introduced as Customer Charter something like over 10 years ago).

    Note the list of techniques deployed, because you will find the same with trains:

    - staff is not allowed to mention its existence, not just when when announcing severe delays, but in general discussion about it appears to be actively discouraged (based on a straw poll of staff over a week in various stations - I talked to about 6 or 7)

    - the last survey I did (at Victoria) showed 30 separate brochures about the tube, with ONE containing a ONE line paragraph mentioning the Customer Charter - but not what it actually meant, and most positively avoiding the dreaded word "refund"

    - making it exceedingly difficult to claim your money by using a voucher system which thus automatically ensures it delays you even more (retaining tickets at the barrier is also a good trick to hold you up) - and which (to me) does not represent money BACK but rather money HELD

    Just add up how much a single delayed tube will cost LUL and it makes sense - the above has saved them a lot of money. Or, put another way, an awful lot of people missed out on refunds they were legally entitled to - and will so in the future.

    Now, with trains there's another trick. Rail companies are penalised for every delayed train. This means that a single train being late has to be cancelled, that is cheaper in fines than all subsequent trains being delayed. I think a penalty should be on how many trains travel per hour, with variance for peak hours.

    Don't ask what a barcode can do for you - ask how you can get refunds. Because that will tell you how much attention is paid to service quality. So far, no good news..

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Who cares?

    Who wants to use our dirty, slow, crammed, delayed, subsidised and expensive train service anyway? These companies get billions in subsidies, raise prices above inflation, make millions in profit and then go begging for more subisidies. And we pay them! We must be stupid.

    GNER and Virign should be told to get stuffed until you can get a train from Glasgow or Newcastle to London with a reserved seat, taking a maximum of 3 hours (2 would be better) and costing around £40 one-way for a next-day booking.

    They can do it in France FFS, why can't we?

    Oh, and I know this will put Ryanair et al out of the domestic flight business - but who cares? Aren't we meant to be going green anyway? We could also do a way with that silly 3rd runway at Heathrow and the new London airport.

    Labour disgust me - all they do it tax us until we bleed so they can give it to their cronies or make their pals lords. Not that the Tories are any better. Corrupt to the core the lot of them.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm all for adopting new technology but I can see what I think is a very real problem with this.

    The train operating companies will use this as an excuse to close down ticket offices citing, even expecting people to go online to access a website and then be expected to print a barcode off.

    And people will get on trains having now way to obtain a ticket and then be fined for it too.

    I predict that is this technology is adopted, it's going to hit older people (such as my deary 75 year old mom).

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Do you think the barcode will incorporate the date of travel and route?

    Do you think it will be encrypted?

    Do you think we can hack it and create our own barcodes without paying?

    For the purposes of any law enforcement agencies watching I am not advocating the breaking of the law, purely a discussion aimed at acadamic interest....(for my PhD you understand...)

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Barcode is just a number.

    Why not just write the number down on a bit of paper?

    Why does it have to be a barcode?

    You could even phone up for that from any phone, buy your ticket from an Indian and note the number down.

    What's all this bar code bollocks about?

  35. CJ
    Thumb Down


    This is the part that bothers me...

    "Masabi's Java application stores the customer's credit card details locally, so the user just keys in the three-digit code from the back of their card along with origin and destination, and the ticket is bought and delivered over SMS or data connection where available."

    I don't want my CC number stored on my phone, or sent via SMS or 3G/GPRS or wifi or whatever when I don't know if or how it's encrypted.

  36. Jimmy Floyd
    Thumb Up

    Eh! Eh! Calm down

    My God - you lot are a bunch of miserable bar-stewards, aren't you?

    Like Neil said, Chiltern Railways have been doing it for a couple of years for their advanced tickets and it works really well. Being advanced, you can't buy them over-the-air before the inspector reaches you. The bar-coding works, the ticket inspection works, the system just basically ... works.

    Of course, Chiltern are a decent rail company where things generally do just work. I'd hate to see what a hash some of the other London-based railway cretins would make of it...

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Wrong idea

    Any system based on prepayment means that its likely you'll pay more than you need.

    Oyster has the only "proper" concept, which is that you always get charged at the optimum rate for wherever you've been, and no possibility of being charged for a ticket you weren't able to use -- such as a return ticket you didn't need because somebody gave you a lift home, or a full week's season ticket for a course that was cancelled on the first day.

    Any other method is in effect fraudulent overcharging and the use of it should be prohibited by law.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SMS Tickets

    We have a system here in Helsinki where you can buy a local transport ticket by SMS - there's also a system for the long distance trains too, but that's another discussion.

    The problem with the SMS system is that the ticket is valid one hour (or 1 hour 10). You must buy your ticket BEFOREHAND, meaning that you will lose some of the validitiy time.

    The other problem is that the timestamping of the ticket does not always match "real-time" or more usually the time on the ticket inspectors' watches. This becomes a nice source of revenue. You can make a complaint about this but it will always be decided against you.

    Don't even try to use science or back this up with documentation about the problems in the HKL ticketing system, SMS messaging, timestamping etc because a) you'll still be fined and b) they'll call the police and you'll be accused of "behaving aggesively to an official".

    Don't tell Waqui Jacqui about the above...she'd love that!

    But seriously if any of these tickets are time dependant at a granularity smaller than a day then you'll get problems - and the train company a nice revenue stream :-)

  39. TeeCee Gold badge


    According to a current TV advert, that would indicate that you are short, four legged and covered in wool.

    Is this correct?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC: problem

    >Do you think the barcode will incorporate the date of travel and route?

    Actually, it might just be a number with no data on it at all.

    When you buy a ticket a centralised database is updated with the number. Ticket inspectors get a synced copy of this database before they start each round. Any ticket not in the database isn't valid.

    The database on their walkabout thingies need only contain valid tickets for the train they're checking - at most a few thousand numbers. Because it's a simple number you could upload millions from the base station in seconds - the base station has a normally replicated database. The ticket machine wouldn't need to be on-line, but it would need to be updated at each station - a quick plug in would do it.

    When the inspector updates the system records used tickets so copied tickets will likely get caught at the next check. Obviously the handheld would know if it had checked the same ticket already. The database would spread the knowledge that the ticket is clipped.

    Not really hackable although you could steal someone else's ticket if you got the database.

    Still don't need barcodes though although it would mean that you can check ticket faster.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Why not a network-wide Oyster?

    Because Oyster is micropayments technology, and sometimes rail tickets are anything but micro-transactions.

    Yeah, your daily commute make be 4 or 5 quid return, but if people start putting enough money on a prepay card for a *weekly* commute (eg London<->Glasgow) then you've effectively got people to start carrying the equivalent of £100 to £200 cash with them.

    A lost Oyster card is like losing a tenner. Losing a £100 card would be a right b*gger.

  42. A J Stiles

    Still bollocks

    The old APTIS machines were ahead of their time, and the only thing really wrong with them was that they were reckoned to be incompatible with chip-and-PIN (not even a bad thing, in and of itself).

    The money this is going to cost would be much better spent on electrifying every kilometre of track; and while this is happening, introducing trains which can run on diesel or electric power (the diesel engine already turns a generator which powers electric motors, because a clutch rated for the kilowattage of a railway engine wouldn't last a journey; so it really becomes a problem of matching the 25kV/50Hz supply to what the train motors are expecting and adding a change-over switch).

    But no doubt the NIMBY brigade would complain about this.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New Dawn

    So how do you claim travel expenses if you dont have a paper receipt? Honestly Mr Taxman I went to Scotland and back first class every day :)

  44. Bob H

    Mates rates

    Oh dear...

    So they decided to implement a system which completely ignores the massive effort which has gone in to building the Oyster card system, and have missed the fact that most new phones are equipped with Transflash slots which can be used like an Oystercard, or that Barclaycard Visa have release the same technology embedded into their cards.

    The fact that TfL have been campaining for ages to get the train companies to accept Oyster more generally also seems to have been missed by these companies. This strikes more of mates rates than a real attempt to unify and modernise the payment for public transport.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    @Who cares?

    "Who wants to use our dirty, slow, crammed, delayed, subsidised and expensive train service anyway? .... Labour disgust me - all they do it tax us until we bleed"

    I'm confused by your right wing demagoguery - the railways are rubbish because decades of govts (mostly Con) refused to invest small amounts when that would have done the trick. Now they need to spend lots of money - but passengers won;t wear the huge price hikes involved, and then whine about the tax rises required instead.

    Perhaps instead of party-politics, your posters could come up with a plan to make the railways clean, fast, spacious, on time and cheap, without spending any money. I'll wait with great interest for /that/ gem of free-market wisdom.

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