I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation in certain quarters for my attempts to beat the system when it comes to train fares. But what can you do? - the whole system is a shambles that has taken on a life of its own and defeated all attempts to rationalise it since privatisation of the railways in 1994. I don't know who's responsible for setting fares so I work on the basis that if you can't join 'em, beat 'em!
I have to go to Christchurch in Dorset for a family wedding in June (note the "have to!"). (Why they have to get married there when they live together in London - which for all it's faults is at least accessible - beats me).
The "muppet fare" from Lancaster (i.e. the fare you would be charged if you just asked for "a return to Lancaster" via the direct route through the midlands for two adults, one with railcard, is £199. Booking in advance is no help as the cheapest advance tickets work out at £203! Advance fares via London come out at £169 but if you travel via Manchester and re-book there you can do the journey for £119 (for two). If you travel via Manchester and don't book in advance however you might be asked for an improbable (but true) £703!!)
But is car travel any more straightforward? The Transport Direct website helpfully includes a route finding option by road and information to help you establish the direct cost of going by car, or at least that part of the cost related to fuel. This is easily calculated at "distance divided by fuel consumption x cost of fuel". So Transport Direct says that Lancaster to Christchurch is 578 miles return and that the average small car does 40 miles per gallon whereas the average cost of petrol is, er, £1.42 per litre. Doh!
How typical of the UK's half-hearted attempt at metrication is it that we have fuel priced in litres, which the oil companies like because it makes it seem cheaper than in gallons, but we measure fuel consumption in miles per gallon presumably because you get more miles for your gallon than for a litre.
More rational countries measure fuel consumption in "litres per 100 kilometres" but we can't do that of course because, unlike the rest of Europe, including Ireland, we still measure distance in miles!
The end result, as far as I can tell, is that it will be cheaper for us to go by train once we take into account all the other variable costs other than petrol of travelling by car and, of course, as long as those cheap tickets via Manchester are still available.