Rail Travel after Midnight

This issue appears to have been fixed and so this page is now archived.

According to TfL the Oyster day runs from 0430 to 0429 the following day.  This was chosen because no tube or DLR services were running at that time in the morning.  Yes, there are night buses, but as you only touch in on a bus and the reader is only connected to the Oyster system when back in the depot, there was never a problem with them.  However, several National Rail lines do run throughout the night, or at least a lot later than the tube.  Since National Rail joined the Oyster system a number of people have experienced problems when travelling in the early hours.  They manifest themselves either as a pair of incomplete journeys, or a journey being charged after the daily price cap had been reached.

Eventually I have managed to find a copy of a reply from TfL on the Rail-UK forum:

Please be assured that the issue you have described is known to Transport for London’s (TfL) fares and ticketing department who are working on a solution. However, the problem in its current state is essentially an unavoidable consequence of the extension of Oyster pay as you go to National Rail (NR). We have done checks and found that it is extremely rare that customers are affected by it. When customers use National Rail in the small hours, the Oyster daily price capping arrangements occasionally don’t work as intended due to the need to spread the times when the end of day/start of day processing takes place at individual stations. Thankfully we know that most customers usingOyster pay as you go on National Rail overnight are out of the scope of price capping anyway.

When the Oyster system moves over from one day to the next for charging purposes, the processing demands on the system are very heavy and to keep the system operational it is necessary to avoid having one single time point for all stations to change over. The processes have always been spread out for Underground stations, but with no impact on customers because the Underground does not operate at the hours concerned. Just occasionally customers travelling overnight with National Rail will find that the system fails to identify that their journey belongs to its correct day for capping purposes.

Having checked your journey history it has been confirmed that you were charged £4.60 more than would have been if price caps had been applied as advertised. In order for me to arrange the most suitable medium through which you can receive the refund of the above amount, please contact me direct on ***********

Please be assured that the issue is being monitored and accept that if it turns out that significant numbers of customers are being affected, we will need to make arrangements for publicising that overnight NR journeys may fall outside the arrangements for daily price capping.
I hope the information I have provided has been helpful. Feel free to contact me should you have any future queries.
Transport for London
Customer Relations

I think that this is actually a pretty serious error.  Whilst I understand that they need to stagger the end-of-day processing, surely they could arrange for the few stations with all night services to do it at nearer to the 0430 advertised time.

27 thoughts on “Rail Travel after Midnight”

  1. I had this last night/this morning. Yesterday (Wednesday) I had £9.50 on my card and,having gone through z1-6,had already capped at £8,leaving £1.50 balance. I boarded the 2.00am train at Victoria,when I swiped in it still said £1.50,when I swiped out at Croydon some twenty five minutes later it came up as seek assistance and checking on a ticket machine showed my balance as -£2.90. Will be ringing the helpline tomorrow to complain.

  2. Hi Phil,

    I’m sorry to hear that. What I think actually happened is that the journey from Victoria was flagged as unfinished and charged as £4.40 (the off-peak maximum fare where travel outside zones 1-6 is not possible). It then couldn’t charge an unstarted journey at East Croydon because you had no credit. The help desk should arrange a refund for you. If necessary, make sure that they know that you know this is a known problem.

  3. Have phoned and got my refund,this is actually the second time I’ve had this problem and it was on the same train,ie the 2.00am Victoria-Three Bridges. I’ve caught the 1.00am train before with no issues.

    For the record,starting with £9.50,my journey details were:

    Wednesday afternoon. Bus to Croydon. East Croydon-Victoria (NR). Victoria-Hillingdon (LU).

    Got back to Hillingdon around 11.55pm and caught the two minutes past midnight Metropolitan line to Baker Street,then jumped on a Circle/H&C train and got out at Euston Square. By now of course I’d capped so my balance was showing as £1.50 when I boarded a night bus to Vic,and again when I swiped in at Vic,but when I swiped out at Croydon it said seek assistance. Used a ticket machine to check my balance and saw -£2.90. Told the lady on the phone that it was a known problem but she didn’t sound too concerned.

  4. I served a customer yesterday who had a similar problem, but not with NR.

    She’d reached the travelcard price cap for one day, and had touched in on a bus at 00:20 the following day, (the same traffic day), and had an additional £1.30 deducted.

    As it was there was no-point refunding it as it’d gone towards the cap for the following day, which she would have exceeded, but it did surprise me that the card had charged her an additional fee on a TfL Bus, not just the known issue with NR..

    • That’s an odd one. Was it a night bus? I wonder whether it was a replacement vehicle which had already uploaded it’s data?

  5. I had a problem with PAYG on exactly the same journey as Phil above – the 2 a.m. Victoria to Three Bridges, alighting at East Croydon – but it was nothing to do with price capping because it was my only journey (I had just got off the Oxford Tube at Victoria after a couple of days out of town).

    I touched in, and the deduction was correctly made, but then when I touched out it made another deduction instead of giving me a credit. The date and times on the journey history were perfectly correct.

    When I phoned TfL to complain the guy on the phone said that there was a software glitch which, in the case of journeys in the small hours, very occasionally led to touch-outs registering as incomplete journeys (i.e. ignoring the associated touch-in). He arranged a refund, plus £2 compensation – which was jolly decent of him. But in view of Phil’s experience above it seems that there is definitely a problem at East Croydon that needs to be sorted, as it has passengers all through the night, and I bet there are many who have been overcharged but haven’t realised it.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your message. I agree that there’s a problem somewhere, though whether it’s actually at East Croydon or not is unclear. It looks like East Croydon is switching to the next day too early. You’re right that it needs sorting out though.

  6. Hi
    Today i travelled from Hounslow west to Custom of excel i got charged £1.75( 16-25 rail card) while going but while coming i got charged £ 2.90 two times i dont know what the reason behind please any help how refund the amont

    Thanks and regards

    • Hi,

      Sorry for the delay replying. Can you expand on your return journey details, please? What time did you start it and what time did you finish? Your journey history should have been updated now so that can help. My guess is that you took longer than the maximum journey time allowed. If you call the helpdesk then they should arrange a refund for you.

      Hope this helps.

  7. I’m the person from Rail-Uk Forums who received the reply from TFL as published at the top of this thread. My two journeys were last April and were both on the 0200 from Victoria alighting at East Croydon.

  8. I’m wondering what the end of day processing actually does: with a system that works round the clock, it needs to cope seamlessly with the change of day. If I touch in before 0430, then my whole journey should just be part of ‘yesterday’s’ travels (and within ‘yesterday’s’ cap), and all subsequent touches for that journey should handle it (and it may not hit ‘max time’ until gone 0800) ‘as normal’; after that it’s part of today’s (and that first touch in should be when caps and such get reset).

    • Hi Jeremy,

      I tend to agree with what you’re saying, although I also understand some of the issues. All touch processing takes place at the reader. At stations or tramstops the reader will communicate with the local server, but there is no communication with the central database. As far as I know the station servers communicate balance information back to the central database at intervals throughout the day, but the journey details are sent overnight. Top-up and refund instructions are sent to and from stations overnight, as are lists of blacklisted cards.

      Obviously the number one priority at the reader is for all the processing to take place in as short a time as possible. This is why there is no communication with the central database. The processing needs to be as simple as possible, so I believe that making the reader have to work out which day it is may well be a crucial extra step too far.

      I don’t profess to know what actually happens or how long extra stuff would take, but this would be my best guess as to why it goes wrong. They do need to do something about it, although allowing journeys to go on until 8am is probably too far. There are very few journeys that can be made between 1am and 4am so the scope for multi-leg joined-up journeys is very limited. I’d also agree that where the service on a line starts just before 4.30am (as I think the tram does), any early touch ins should count as the start of the next day.

  9. Out of interest I looked at the tram timetables and you’re correct in that the first tram on Mondays-Saturdays departs Threpia Lane heading towards New Addington at 04:16. It’s timed for East Croydon at 04:29 and then Lebanon Road at 04:31. This would appear to be the only stretch where you can catch a tram before 04:30 as the next one on route 3 (Wimbledon-New Addington) departs Threpia Lane at 04:36.
    There is one from East Croydon to Elmers End departing East
    Croydon at 04:33 which presumably runs empty from the Threpia Lane depot to EC before picking up passengers.

  10. Update. Was out last night,got back to Victoria,got the 1.00am train,touched in at Vic and out at Croydon with no problems. So based on that and the problems encountered on the 2.00am train one could reasonably conclude that East croydon is switching to ‘next day’ somewhere between 1.30am and 2.30am.

  11. This has happened to me when taking the 2:00am service from Euston to Watford Junction. I can appreciate quirks in a system as complex as Oyster, but I don’t appreciate the time it takes to call to rectify. I’m an infrequent user of these services, and this sort of thing happens every couple of months. Ah well, nothing like paying for an 0845 call to speak to a lucky TfL employee 😉

    • Hi Heather,

      If you regularly have to call the helpdesk to arrange a refund because of this issue, suggest that they add an amount to cover the call charges.

  12. Hi Mike, I’m having to do some late night travelling soon i.e a journey that requires British Rail into London from zone 6 (South Coulsdon) and then use of the night bus service in zones 1-2 (on from Victoria). I’m guessing the combined journey will be approx 90 mins. Will this whole journey be combined to make one payment off my oyster card? I know buses only have a touch-in so I’m uncertain how they fit in to a combined journey like this one described..Many thanks.

    • Hi Shura,

      Buses and Trams are always separate journeys with Oyster. Only National Rail, Underground and Docklands Light Rail can be combined into one journey.

  13. Hi Mike,

    I have a question regarding the night buses. Suppose I have a 7 Day Travelcard loaded on my Oyster and I want to take two night buses in the early morning of Day 8. I touch in at 4.01am and 4.24am (as per the timetables). Will the travelcard still be valid or will PAYG credit be deducted?

    How punctual are the night buses, anyway? I have never used them before.

    Thank you

    • Hi Jan,

      Frustratingly, I can’t find a definitive answer. The travelcard is definitely valid up to 0429 on the day after expiry. What I don’t know is how rigidly the cut-off is enforced on buses. There may well be a slight relaxation in the case of night buses. On the odd occasion that I’ve used night buses they tend to be quite punctual as there is not much traffic around. Delays can occur, of course. For piece of mind I would probably ensure that I had £1.45 available just in case the second bus is late.

  14. Hi Mike,

    thank you for answering. I will make sure that I have some credit available, and then hope for the punctuality of the buses.

    Thanks again

  15. This will cause problems when selected sections of the underground run ’24 hours’ on Friday/Saturday nights next year

    • Yes, it may well do. I’m hoping by then that they may have worked out a way to overcome the issue. Otherwise you’ll be advised to use contactless bank cards when travelling overnight.

  16. I’m sure it will affect CPC too if capping (even weekly ) is introduced on CPC.

    Either way I personally won’t use CPC as I prefer oyster!

    • Capping on contactless bank cards will be a back-office function so they will be able to detect what you have done without having to work it out on the fly.

  17. But we have been told that Oyster users will not be worse off than contactless bank card users. If bank card users are not overcharged but Oyster users are, how will TfL justify this?

    • It’s speculation at the moment. The way contactless bank cards will work makes it easier to charge the right amount when the end of the Oyster day interferes with a journey. At the moment the problem is deemed not widespread enough to warrant fixing. If you are overcharged the helpdesk will refund you so no-one really loses. However, 24 hour tube running will undoubtedly magnify the problem and mean that a solution of some sort will have to be found.

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