Most people believe that they can board a train without a ticket so long as they purchase one en route or at the end of their rail journey. The rail companies encourage such attitudes by being willing to sell tickets to passengers in these circumstances.
However, it is actually a criminal offence to board a train at a railway station without a valid ticket for your journey when the station has ticket-selling facilities such as a ticket office or a ticket machine. (If the station lacks these facilities, no offence is committed, but a passenger must purchase a ticket as soon as is practical.)
The offence is contrary to Railway Byelaw 18(1). The actual words of the byelaw are: -
“In any area not designated as a compulsory ticket area, no person shall enter any train for the purpose of travelling on the railway unless he has with him a valid ticket entitling him to travel.”
The maximum penalty for violating the byelaw is a fine of up to £1,000.
There are two further exceptions to the byelaw. It is permissible to board a train without a valid ticket if a member of railway staff gives you permission to do so or if there is a railway company sign stating that you may do so.
In the absence of these exceptional circumstances, the passenger must be in possession of a valid ticket.
The offence is one of ‘strict liability’ . This simply means that it is the responsibility of the passenger to possess a valid ticket. His or her intentions are irrelevant. It is no defence to a charge of violating railway byelaw 18(1) to say that one meant to buy a ticket from a member of staff on the train or when one disembarked at the journey’s final station or to say that one had often done this on previous occasions. (It is worth remembering that it is at the discretion of the railway company how it deals with these matters and whilst they are usually flexible, they can invoke railway byelaw 18(1) if they feel it is appropriate.) It may be good mitigation to cite these factors in court, but it is not a defence.
The railway companies often prefer to prosecute passengers for breach of this byelaw because it is not a difficult charge to prove in a magistrates’ court. They simply have to confirm basic facts of ticketless travel and can ignore a passenger’s intentions.
It is well worthwhile then to take the trouble to purchase a ticket before you commence your rail journey – if it is possible – so that you do not have to explain yourself to a Revenue Protection Inspector. For many of our clients such encounters are when they first learn of the existence of railway byelaw 18(1).