Plans for all UK rail passengers to 'tap-on, tap-off' using paperless ticketing are now firmly under way, following a series of meetings between the Government and key stakeholders.
The Department for Transport met with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing Network Rail and the train operating companies, and the UK Cards Association over 2015.
Claire Perry (pictured) has 'challenged industry' over ticketing system
A date of early 2017 has been mooted for the wider roll out of the system, however Transport Network sources played down the possibility of such early implementation.
Rail minister, Claire Perry MP told Transport Network: 'I have challenged the industry to modernise and simplify the ticketing system, and contactless payments have an important role to play in this'.
The three bodies are committed to developing the infrastructure needed for all travellers to buy their journeys in advance on-line, using their home computers or mobile phones, and then store the details onto their debit or credit cards.
These will then be recognised at automated gatelines, upgraded to the same standard as those at London tube stations.
A spokesman for the UK Cards Association attributed the move to the 'great success of contactless ticketing in London'. RDG managing director of customer experience, Jacqueline Starr, said: The rail industry understands the importance of modernising train tickets'.
Some operators already have partial solutions. Virgin Trains, for example, will email tickets, which still have to be printed out and accompanied by ID; and offers an app for saving 'm-tickets', which still need to be shown to staff. But the new scheme aims to be more advanced and universal, removing, for example, the need to queue to print out tickets at stations.
Marin Abrams, from Campaign for Better Transport, said: 'The Government announced back in 2013 it would be introducing smart ticketing, but despite having spent £37m of taxpayers’ money developing the scheme, it has delivered very little.
'Now it appears to be quietly trying to drop the project and distract passengers with this paperless ticketing comment. This is not a new scheme; the Government is simply attempting to hide its failure to implement smart ticketing technology, technology which incidentally is already available in London, Scotland and much of Europe. Once again it is passengers who are set to lose out. We need urgent answers from Government and train operators on why it is taking so long and costing so much to roll out simplified and flexible smart ticketing across the whole country?'
Mr Abrams highlighted that in September 2013 the Government announced the £80m South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) programme to introduce smart Oyster-style ticketing across south east England and pilot a flexible, part-time season ticket on a commuter route into London.
Last month the Government admitted to having spent £37.64 million on SEFT, Mr Abrams said, 'despite no pilot having taken place and no timescale for the introduction of flexible ticketing being set, the project has now apparently been dropped'.