What is Project Oval?
Commencing on December 3rd, 2023, 53 stations around the South East had a fares overhaul. This is part of Project Oval. But, what does it mean for fares and how you pay for your journey?
What is Project Oval?
In a nutshell, Project Oval is a plan to add Contactless ‘Pay-G’ (Pay As You Go) capabilities to more stations in the South East. If you’re travelling within London, then the cheapest option is to do just this. Tap your bank card then tap out when you reach your destination.
The main effect of this is that all fares to and from London (and intermediate stations) from these 53 stations have been simplified. A single ticket is now half the cost of a return ticket. This is known as ‘single-leg pricing’.
You can still buy a paper ticket or use an eTicket (where available).
Where is the Project Oval area?
Project Oval has been rolled out to a variety of stations around the South East. Let’s break it down by rail operator.
Project Oval applies to the entire c2c network. If you’re travelling wholly on c2c, or making a journey to the wider Pay As You Go area, then the new fares will apply.
Travelling with Chiltern Railways? The new fares apply to these stations:
- High Wycombe
- Seer Green and Jordans
- Gerrards Cross
- Denham Golf Club
London Northwestern Railway
If you’re travelling with London Northwestern Railway, then Project Oval will apply to stations on two routes. The first one is the route between Watford Junction and Bletchley:
- Kings Langley
- Hemel Hempstead
- Leighton Buzzard
These new fares will also apply to the limited Southern service which operates to/from Hemel Hempstead.
The fares will also change on the St Albans Abbey line:
- Watford North
- Garston (Herts)
- Bricket Wood
- How Wood
- Park Street
- St Albans Abbey.
These two stations will have their fares overhauled to/from London and the PAY-G area as part of Project Oval:
- Dunton Green
South Western Railway
Travelling on South Western Railway to Windsor or Virginia Water? The new fares will apply to you. Here’s a full list of the stations affected:
- Ashford (Surrey)
- Staines, then:
- Virginia Water, and:
- Windsor & Eton Riverside.
The new fares also apply to all remaining stations on the Shepperton Line. These are:
- Kempton Park
- Upper Halliford
The new fares apply to Thameslink services on the line via Bat and Ball. These stations are:
- Shoreham (Kent)
- Bat & Ball
As previously mentioned, these fares also apply to Southeastern services at Otford and Sevenoaks.
Will it cost more to buy a physical ticket?
No. Unlike the fares within the London Zones, there won’t be a price difference between using a Contactless card or getting a physical ticket/eTicket. You’re free to choose whichever method you prefer at no extra charge.
What if I have a Railcard?
If you have a Railcard, then the new fares will apply to you if you buy a paper ticket or an eTicket. However, you cannot use Railcards with Contactless Pay As You Go. You should continue to buy a ticket in order to receive your discount.
Can I still buy a return ticket?
In some cases, it might be beneficial to buy a return ticket. For example, if you have a Railcard where a minimum fare applies, then you’re more likely to meet that minimum fare with a return ticket.
You can still continue to buy return tickets. They’re twice the price of the equivalent single fare.
What’s happened to Super Off-Peak fares?
Put simply, they’ve been abolished for journeys wholly within the Project Oval and wider ‘PAY-G’ area. This is in the name of ‘simplification’, though there’s no getting around it. It could mean that you’re now paying more for your journey.
However, where this has happened, the Off-Peak fare has been reduced. Usually, it’s been reduced so that the new fare is the average of the Super Off-Peak and Off-Peak. Here are a couple of examples of the old and new return fares:
|Old Off-Peak fare
|Old Super Off-Peak fare
|New Off-Peak fare
|Southend Central to London Fenchurch Street
|Bletchley to London Euston
|Sunnymeads to London Waterloo
So, if you’re travelling from one of these stations and did make use of the Super Off-Peak fare, and you don’t want to pay for the new fare, then what can you do?
In most cases, it’s more expensive to book from a station that’s further away. However, there is at least one example where you can make a small saving. If you’re travelling from Bletchley, then it’s now cheaper to buy a Super Off-Peak Return from Milton Keynes Central. This costs £17.90 (and is routed ‘London Northwestern Railway only’). This only applies if you’re travelling at weekends, or arriving in London on weekdays after 13:00 (leaving London before 16:00 or after 19:00).
Does Project Oval affect all fares from these stations?
It doesn’t! It only affects journeys between these stations, or from these stations to the wider existing Pay As You Go area. For example, if you’re travelling from Bletchley to Milton Keynes, or Staines to Didcot Parkway, then nothing will change.
Is there anything else I should know?
If you’re ever in doubt, then you can book with Railsmartr. We’ll continue to show you the best fare for your journey. What’s more, we don’t charge any fees. You can book any fare in the Project Oval area and we’ll still give you a fee-free refund if you change your mind.
Travelling to London? Got questions? Take a look at our top tips for travelling around London.