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I've noticed that it is theoretically possible to perform an almost complete circuit of London by rail without leaving fare zone 2 and without having to swipe in / swipe out with an Oyster card multiple times, as follows:

  1. Whitechapel to New Cross (Overground)
  2. New Cross to Lewisham (National Rail)
  3. Lewisham to Peckham Rye (National Rail)
  4. Peckham Rye to Battersea Park (National Rail)
  5. Battersea Park to Clapham Junction (National Rail)
  6. Clapham Junction to Canonbury (Overground)
  7. Canonbury to Hoxton (Overground)

However, I found some time ago that when I travelled along legs 5-6, I was charged a zone 1 fare, even though the route I took did not pass through zone 1. Leaving aside for a moment the question of why anyone would want to follow this route, how can I check what the appropriate fare is for each leg? And just how far around zone 2 can one travel without being stung with a zone 1 fare?

This map may be useful for visualising the route: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/london-rail-and-tube-services-map.pdf

Update:

After reading @Ray's answer, I remembered that the section for which I was charged a higher than expected fare was actually from Battersea Park, not Clapham Junction. As of 9th March 2012, the TFL fare finder currently suggests an off-peak fare of £3.10 for this journey. The national rail through fare list has a matching entry for a zones 1-2 journey.

Interesting note: according to the fare finder it's 30p cheaper overall if you split the journey at Clapham Junction, as each leg is then counted as a zone 2 only journey, and the national-rail-only fare is cheaper than the equivalent London Overground fare.

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There is also a time limit for your travel if you are using Pay as you go Oyster (last time it affected me it was around 2h). –  Grzenio Mar 6 '12 at 8:02
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I think in some places there are validators you can use to confirm your route, which is useful when you're following a cheaper route, it may be worth finding those and touching them as you go –  Gagravarr Mar 6 '12 at 15:29
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I've only come across those (the purple ones) when changing between Underground and Overground lines. At National Rail stations these don't seem to exist. I know that under certain circumstances one can switch from Underground to National Rail (or vice versa) and it only counts as a single journey, but that isn't relevant here either... –  user2002 Mar 6 '12 at 23:34
    
@Grzenio the time limit depends on the time of day and day of the week. See table here: oyster-rail.org.uk/maximum-journey-times –  Ray Mar 9 '12 at 9:30
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

TFL has a Fare Finder where you can figure out how much you will be charged for each journey.

TFL hold a table of the optimal route between every two stations. They have defined routes by the fastest/cheapers/whatever they feel like route and that's what you're charged by default. If you go along anothor route you can touch in at the Pink Oyster card readers, but they're rare and hard to find. There's one at Willesden Junction that may have helped in this case.

This site: Oyster and National Rail is a wealth of information.

As note, if the two stations you're travelling between are defined as a zone two only route, but you go through zone 1, technically that's fare evasion as you're not paying for zone 1. I can hardly see you being charged for this though (since how are you supposed to know what they've defined the route as!).

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Thanks - after reading this I realised that I got the journey wrong. In fact, Clapham Junction to Canonbury is counted as a zone 2 only journey, even though the journey planner sends people through zone 1. –  user2002 Mar 9 '12 at 14:14
    
@user2002 yes you're right. I misinterpreted the fare price, since I assumed £4.30 was too expensive for a zone 2 only fare. Damn those paper tickets are a rip off. –  Ray Mar 9 '12 at 15:26
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The longest possible journey covered by a zone-2 only fare:

Clapham Junction to Hoxton - verified via the fare finder as costing only £1.40 on 9th March 2012.

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