Train ticket inspection in UK before the digital age

ticket inspection for train journey

Before the digital age, the only way to check that passengers had paid for their train travel was for a railway employee, called a ticket inspector, to manually check every passenger’s ticket at the start and end of a journey, with random checks on the train. This page describes and illustrates the system.


By the webmaster based on her early recollections with additional research and firsthand contributions

Ticket inspection at the start of a train journey

To get onto a railway station platform, we had to show our travel tickets or platform tickets to a member of station staff who would be standing in uniform at the platform gate. There was usually one or more of them on duty - although this wasn't always the case. Sometimes the tickets were snipped to confirm that they had been seen. Automatic barriers were years away.

1940s train ticket inspector checking a passenger's train tickets as he enters a platform at a large city rail terminus

Train ticket inspector checking passengers' train tickets at the beginning of a journey at a large major station. The gate is half closed to force passengers to enter in single file.

Ticket inspection at the end of a train journey

To leave the platform at the end of a journey, we had to give up our tickets to a ticket collector who stood at the platform gate. I never understood how tickets could be inspected properly when hoards of passengers streamed on and off a busy train, but some passengers certainly were called back, so there certainly was some cheating.

1940s train ticket inspector checking and collecting passengers' train tickets as they leave a platform at a large city rail terminus

Ticket collection at a large major station

1940s ticket collector checking and collecting passengers' train tickets at the end of a journey to a small rural station

Ticket collection at a small rural station

ticket inspector inspecting tickets on an early first-class train

Train ticket inspection on a first class train

All but the last image are enhanced and colourised crops of screenshots from old black and white films.

Platform gates: half open, fully open or shut?

The gates to platforms in mainline stations were half-closed for passengers entering, as shown in the above photo. This ensured single file and prevented anyone bypassing the checking process. The gates were fully opened for passengers leaving the platform, so minimising the crush of so many passengers leaving together - and there were normally two inspectors, one at each side. Platform gates were completely closed where there was currently no service.

Douglas Adam

Ticket inspection on trains

Tickets were not normally checked on the train although there were random inspections.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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