Travelling by train in United Kingdom


General information


For dull technical reasons we’re showing the country name as United Kingdom – but services in Northern Ireland are managed separately and they will be included when we add The Republic Of Ireland to ShowMeTheJourney at a later date.
(No political point made – it makes sense geographically as those two networks are physically linked)

Every European country takes a unique approach to how it operates its train services, but the core difference with Great Britain’s (England, Scotland and Wales) rail network is the lack of a dominant national rail operator.

Instead a multitude of private operators provide the train services, with each Train Operating Company (TOC) managing a number of routes.

Despite this, passenger’s rarely have a choice of providers when making the journey, so planning a journey is little different to taking the train anywhere else in western Europe – the key thing to know is which company is operating the train service.
(The to be added UK journeys will include this information).

Knowing which company is providing the train service can help with looking up train times, booking tickets and accessing other useful information, such as the on board facilities.

The Train Operating Companies offer specific terms and services per company on a range of facilities including on board catering, taking bikes on trains, luggage allowances, group travel and access to WiFi (paid for or free).

The links to each Train Operating Company’s respective websites are at the foot of the page and the primary tourist routes associated with each operator are as follows:

Arriva Trains Wales: The regional and local train services within Wales and regional routes between England and Wales including:
Birmingham – Shrewsbury – Aberystwyth/Pwllheli
Birmingham – Shrewsbury – Chester – Holyhead
Manchester – Crewe – Shrewsbury – Cardiff – Swansea – destinations in south-west Wales
Manchester – Chester – Holyhead
(Arriva Trains Wales does not operate trains between London and Wales)

Chiltern Railways:
London Marylebone – Stratford on Avon/Oxford/Bicester Village/Birmingham

Cross Country:
(Penzance) - Plymouth – Exeter – Bristol – Birmingham – Derby – Sheffield – Leeds – York – Durham – Newcastle – Edinburgh – Glasgow
Southampton – Winchester – Reading – Oxford – Birmingham – Derby – Sheffield – York – Durham – Newcastle
Bournemouth - Southampton – Winchester – Reading – Oxford – Coventry -  Birmingham – Manchester
Bristol – Birmingham – Manchester
Cardiff – Birmingham – Derby – Nottingham
Birmingham – Leicester – Peterborough – Cambridge – Stansted Airport

East Midlands Trains:
London St Pancras International – Leicester – Derby/Nottingham/Sheffield
Norwich – Peterborough – Nottingham – Sheffield – Manchester – Liverpool

Grand Central
London Kings Cross - York

Great Northern:
London Kings Cross - Cambridge

Great Western Railway:
London Paddington – Reading – Oxford – Worcester – Hereford (via The Cotswolds)
London Paddington – Reading – Cardiff – Swansea
London Paddington – Reading - Swindon – Bath – Bristol
London Paddington – Reading – Exeter – Plymouth – Penzance (via Devon and Cornwall)
London Paddington – Windsor (connect at Slough)

Greater Anglia:
London Liverpool Street – Norwich
London Liverpool Street – Cambridge
London Liverpool Street – Stansted Airport (Stansted Express)

Heathrow Express:
London Paddington – Heathrow Airport

London Midland:
Birmingham – Liverpool

Northern:
All local trains in many northern counties including Lancashire and Yorkshire plus the following regional services:
Leeds – Carlisle
Newcastle – Carlisle
Leeds – York – Scarborough

Scotrail: All local, regional and express trains in Scotland EXCEPT train services between Scotland and England.

Southern Railway/Gatwick Express:
London Victoria – Gatwick Airport – Brighton

Southeastern:
London St Pancras International – Canterbury/Dover (hi-speed)
London Victoria – Canterbury – Dover
London Charing Cross – London Bridge – Canterbury/Dover
London Cannon Street – London Bridge – Greenwich

South Western Railway:
London Waterloo – Richmond – Windsor
London Waterloo – Salisbury – Exeter
London Waterloo – Winchester – Southampton – Bournemouth – Weymouth (via The New Forest)
London Waterloo – Guilford – Portsmouth
Bristol – Bath – Salisbury – Southampton - Portsmouth

Thameslink:
Luton Airport – St Albans -  London St Pancras International – London Blackfriars – London Bridge** - Gatwick Airport – Brighton
(** service suspended until 2018)

Trans Pennine Express:
Manchester – Oxenholme (Lake District) – Carlisle – Edinburgh/Glasgow
Liverpool – Manchester – Leeds – York – Scarborough/Newcastle

Virgin East Coast:
London Kings Cross – Peterborough - Leeds
London Kings Cross – Peterborough – York – Durham – Newcastle – Edinburgh – Aberdeen/Inverness via Perth

Virgin Trains:
London Euston – Coventry - Birmingham
London Euston – Chester – Holyhead (via north Wales)
London Euston – Liverpool
London Euston – Manchester
London Euston – Oxenholme (Lake District) – Carlisle - Glasgow
Birmingham - Oxenholme (Lake District) –  Carlisle – Edinburgh/Glasgow

Journeys to UK destinations from London will be added to ShowMeTheJourney in summer 2018 – because major changes to UK train travel are imminent.
New IEP trains will soon be introduced on many services operated by Great Western Trains and Virgin East Coast and other brand new trains are on their way to Greater Anglia, Northern, Scotrail and South West Trains.

If you’re visiting the UK it’s likely that you won’t use the services of some Train Operating Companies – so we’ve simplified things by excluding some of them.

OTHER KEY THINGS WORTH KNOWING ABOUT TRAIN TRAVEL IN GREAT BRITAIN

1: The rail network is centrally managed by National Rail and its website is a resource for planning journeys and checking whether works are carried out on the line.
It’s also a central resource for information and booking of mobility services for those that require additional assistance.

Though each Train Operating Company offers a specific mobility assistance services and details of these are:

Arriva Trains Wales - Chiltern Railways - Cross Country

East Midlands Trains - Grand Central  - Great Northern

 

Great Western Railway - Greater Anglia- Heathrow Express

London Midland - Northern - Scotrail

 

Southern - Southeastern - South Western Railway

Thameslink - Trans Pennine Express - Virgin East Coast - Virgin Trains

 

2: Works on the lines tend to be carried out at weekends and when they are occurring, buses are often used as substitutes for the train services:

3: When looking up tickets/journeys on the Train Operating Companies websites, it may not be particularly clear that works are being carried out on your travel dates.

If you’re only offered journeys with more changes than our journey summaries suggest, or the journeys are much longer – it usually indicates that works are being carried out.

4: If you’re travelling long distances, avoid buying tickets last minute AT THE STATION – you can make big savings even if you book online the day before you travel.

If you will be travelling by Cross Country, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Northern, Trans Penine Express, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains - you can now also obtain discounted tickets on the day of your travel.

The trick is to still buy your ticket(s) online and NOT at the station - the general time limit for booking last minute discounted tickets with these TOCs only is an hour before the train departs.

Last minute (‘walk-up’) ticket prices for long distance trains at stations are eye-wateringly expensive.

5: If you can book online further ahead for long distance journeys you can save up to 8 x times the cost of buying tickets on the day of travel – Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains are among the Train Operating Companies which offer particularly large discounts if you book in advance.

6: The further ahead you book the bigger the savings, the most heavily discounted tickets inevitably sell out faster.

7: If you will be travelling long distance by express trains, don’t be surprised if 1st class tickets are cheaper – the most heavily discounted 1st class tickets can still be available when the cheapest 2nd class tickets have sold out.

8: There can also be big price differences between departures on your travel dates – the cheapest tickets sell out fastest on the most popular trains.

9: If you’re journey involves changing trains AND using more than one Train Operating Company, it can be cheaper to book separate tickets for each part of the journey operated by each company.

10: If you book long distance journeys online with Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Scotrail, South West Trains, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains – your seats will be assigned.
The reservation will be included free of charge with the booking.

11: However, reservations are not included when booking long distance tickets at stations – if you book at a station you can pay a reservation fee to travel with many companies including Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Scotrail, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains.

12: So if you book at a station and don’t pay a reservation fee (when it’s an option) seats are NOT guaranteed.

13: If you haven’t reserved, when boarding look out for reserved seats that haven’t been occupied.

14: Reservations aren’t always available on some fairly lengthy regional services, particularly those operated by Northern.

15: Many train operating companies offer 1st class long distance ticket holders complimentary food/drink ranging from snacks to a full meal service – particularly when travelling on Monday – Friday.
Great Western Trains, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains offer particularly good 1st class benefits.

When available 1st class holders can access the 1st class lounges provided by the train operating company that they will be travelling by.

16: 1st class is not available on some fairly lengthy regional express services operated by Arriva Trains Wales, Northern and Scotrail.

17: No charges apply to taking a bike on any British train, but each train operating company has its own bicycle policy – only folding bikes may be allowed on some services/departures.

Certain Train Operating Companies including Arriva Trains Wales,  Cross Country, East Midlands Trains, Great Western Trains, Greater Anglia, Scotrail, South Western Railway, Trans Pennine Express, Virgin Trains, Virgin East Coast request or insist that spaces for non-folding bikes are booked before boarding – but there is no charge for arranging this

18: Dogs travel for free too.

19: Children aged 5 – 15 travel at a 50% discount on any UK train, and those aged 4 and under can travel for free when accompanied by an adult ticket holder – though the terms for those 4 and under can vary between the Train Operating Companies re: how many infants can travel with an adult and whether those 4 and under have to travel in your lap.

20: There is no national policy for senior travellers, but all discounts are dependent on specific passes that UK seniors can apply for, so if you’re visiting from outside the UK no discounts are available.

21: Outside of London most cities only have one major station – the main exceptions are Glasgow and Manchester.

22: There is usually no information about where to wait on a platform for easy boarding into the coach in which your reserved seats are located – the platforms/tracks at British stations aren’t usually zoned as they are in France and Germany.

On long distance trains heading away from London, the 1st class coaches are usually at the rear of the train, when heading to London, they’re usually at the front.

23: Long distance trains are more frequent than any other country in Europe – during the day services depart at least hourly on all routes listed above and many have 2 x trains per hour (some even have 3x).

Though on some routes fewer trains operate at weekends – particularly on Sundays, and journey times can be longer at weekends too.

24: Despite that high frequency British trains can be overcrowded.

Avoid travelling into any major city between 08:00 and 09:30 and away from them between 17:00 and 19:00.
Also avoid travelling long distances on any route between 15:00 and 20:00 on a Friday and after 15:00 on a Sunday and on routes to/from coastal resorts on summer Saturdays.

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