As with Glastonbury tickets, so with the latest railcard: the prizes go to the quick and the lucky.
The 26-30 Railcard, giving one-third off most train tickets for passengers born between 14 March 1987 and 13 March 1992, was launched nationwide on Tuesday morning. But the website for the digital discount card buckled under the strain, as many of the five million eligible Millennials competed for the 10,000 digital discount cards on offer.
In a response to furious and frustrated potential customers on Twitter, National Railcards tweeted: “We did not expect a response like this. We’re trying really hard get everything up and working.”
One reaction was: “Didn’t expect a response like this?! 5 million people eligible. 10,000 available. It’s not rocket science.”
David Sidebottom, passenger director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “The nationwide trial of the 26-30 Railcard should be welcome news for passengers facing stagnant or falling incomes but they will be extremely disappointed that they are unable to access the website.”
Beatrice Hubble tweeted: “If the 26-30 railcard were available to everyone, no one would have kept throwing themselves at the website which would then have dealt with steady demand. Please roll out to all and save us all from a repeat of this time wasting morning. Very disappointing.”
A spokesperson for Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train companies and Network Rail said: “We’re sorry to those who have been unable to buy a trial 26-30 Railcard this morning. This is due to the exceptionally high volume of traffic on the 26-30 Railcard website.
”We are increasing the capacity on the website to better manage the high level of traffic. Railcards are still available to purchase and people should keep checking @_Railcards Twitter and Facebook pages for updates.”
In a bizarre twist, one of the leading train operators has launched a short term “avocard”, valid up to Tuesday 20 March. Virgin Trains, which runs from London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, said: “With the avocard, you’ll get all the perks of the 26-30 Railcard. Simply present an avocado in place of the railcard at any Virgin Trains West Coast station to get a one-third off our fares.”
Passengers who want to take advantage of the discount must also produce proof of age at the ticket desk, and carry the fruit on the journey.
The rail industry has limited the number of cards in order to assess the effects. The hope is that the 26-30 Railcard will increase the number of off-peak journeys taken, and boost overall revenue. But train operators are concerned that the age range may simply reduce their spending on trains.
Also, there are fears that cheaper deals could increase crowding on rush-hour trains.
A regional trial in East Anglia, also with 10,000 cards, has been taking place for two months. All those cards sold out swiftly.
Rail industry insiders were furious when the long-planned trial of a 26-30 Railcard was presented by the Chancellor as his initiative in the November 2017 Budget.
Philip Hammond told Parliament: “I can announce a new railcard for those aged 26 to 30, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares.” He gave no indication that it was a trial.
The “Red Book” which gives details of Budget changes, said only: “Further details will be announced in agreement with the industry and will be implemented from Spring 2018.”
At the time one senior figure said: “Hammond has made a land grab for a rail industry initiative and pretended it was all his idea.
“There could be unintended consequences, which is what the trial was all about.”
Anger was directed at the Government, with G R Campbell-Shiel tweeting: “We can all agree the 26-30 railcard rollout has been a shambles. The ‘millennials’ lost the Conservatives the last election and this will worsen. It has already been trialled in E.A.
“I implore you to offer it to everyone.”
And Ellie Robinson tweeted: “Big shout out to @_Railcards for promising 26-30 railcards then 180ing & calling it a limited trial. I’ll see you all on the Megabus, pals.”
Helen Coffey, a journalist at The Independent, turns 31 on Wednesday. She appears to have no prospect of a solo railcard for another three decades, when she will qualify for a Senior Railcard.
Ms Coffey said: “I feel particularly invested in getting hold of the 26-30 railcard as this is my last shot – but it seems maddeningly impossible to buy one. I’ve been attempting through the website since 7am this morning, which has never been anywhere near letting me purchase a railcard.
“I then tried to buy over the phone, spending an hour and 10 minutes on hold. When I finally got through, I gave all my details only to be told it couldn’t be put through the system and was advised to try the website. I give up!”