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Travel Info & Tips A Guide to the main Rail Routes in Britain
A guide to train services in Great Britain

A Guide to the main Rail Routes in Britain

This guide shows which company provides the trains on the most popular routes and explains why that matters when taking a British train journey.

| almost 2 years ago
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How the train services are managed and operated in Great Britain differs from any other country in Europe, because there is no national train service operator such as DB in Germany, Trenitalia in Italy or SNCF in France.
Instead the train services are provided by multiple Train Operating Companies; which tends to be abbreviated to TOCs.

Using the National Rail resources:

There is an organisation named National Rail, which manages the railway network and its often overlooked website is a highly useful resource for looking up good to know info, such as train times, details of construction work on the railway; and for specific travel needs, such as how to request Assisted travel and how to travel with pets.
It also has a maps directory of national and regional railway routes - this map will show the locations of the cities and towns and gives an idea of how they are served by trains.

Introducing the TOCs:

But what that map linked to above won't show you is which (Train Operating Company) TOC provides the services on each route, and in Britain, which specific TOC is managing the train you will be travelling by, affects the train journey experience.

That's because each TOC is responsible for both which services it offers its passengers on board its trains AND the types of ticket it offers for travelling by them; and how they are sold.
Meaning that there are no national train travel policies for key aspects of making a train journey, such as whether seat reservations and discounted tickets will be available

So knowing which TOC is providing a service will help with decisions, such as whether you can save money by booking tickets in advance or by travelling at certain times of day - or if you need to take food or drink with you, or whether you'll want to make reservations when using a rail pass.

Hence the lists you will find below of the main routes to/from tourist areas operated by each Train Operating Company and which TOCs operate the routes to tourist/leisure destinations from London; and from Birmingham and from Edinburgh and from Glasgow and from Manchester.

ShowMeTheJourney has also produced very useful at a glance summaries of the on-board services offered by the Train Operating Companies (TOCs).

There is a map that shows which TOC operates on each British railway route, and SMTJ applauds the effort that has gone into the map's creation.
Although despite being a map fan and having a good knowledge of both the rail network in Britain and UK geography, ShowMeTheJourney found that map to be a tad bewildering.
Which is perhaps inevitable given the number of different TOCs.

Hence the creation of the guides below, they show which TOC operates the train services, on each of the most popular tourist rail routes in Britain.

The main routes operated by each TOC:

The most popular longer-distance routes have been summarised below.

Avanti West Coast:

(1) London Euston - Manchester Piccadilly
(2) London Euston - Coventry - Birmingham New Street (fastest route)
1 x train per hour has its journey extended to Wolverhampton - Crewe - Preston - Lancaster - Oxenholme Lake District or Penrith North Lakes - Carlisle - Glasgow or Edinburgh
2 - 3 x trains per day travel beyond Birmingham to Wolverhampton - Telford - Shrewsbury
(3) London Euston - Crewe - Liverpool Lime Street
(4) London Euston - Preston - Lancaster - Oxenholme Lake District or Penrith North Lakes - Carlisle - Glasgow
(5) London Euston - Crewe - Chester (multiple departures per day travel beyond Chester to Chester - Rhyl - Llandudno Junction - Bangor - Holyhead)
(6) London Euston - Crewe - Preston - Blackpool

C2C:

London Fenchurch Street - Leigh-on-Sea - Southend-on-Sea - Shoeburyness

Chiltern Railways:

(1) London Marylebone - High Wycombe - Banbury - Leamington Spa - Warwick - Birmingham
(2) London Marylebone - High Wycombe - Bicester Village - Oxford
(3) London Marylebone - High Wycombe - Banbury - Leamington Spa - Warwick - Stratford-upon-Avon

CrossCountry:

(1) (Penzance) - Plymouth – ExeterBristolBirmingham – Derby – Sheffield – LeedsYork – Durham – NewcastleEdinburghGlasgow or Dundee - Aberdeen
(2) Southampton – Winchester – Reading – OxfordBirmingham – Derby – Sheffield – York – Durham – Newcastle
(3) Bournemouth - Southampton – Winchester – Reading – OxfordCoventry - BirminghamManchester
(4) Exeter - Taunton - BristolBirminghamManchester
(5) CardiffBirmingham – Derby – Nottingham
(6) Birmingham – Leicester – Peterborough – Cambridge – Stansted Airport

EMR:

(1) London St Pancras International - Leicester - Derby - Chesterfield - Sheffield - (Leeds)
(2) London St Pancras International - Leicester - Loughborough - Nottingham
(3) Norwich - Peterborough - Nottingham - Sheffield - Manchester - Liverpool
(4) Leicester - Loughborough - Nottingham - Lincoln
(5) Derby - Matlock Bath - Matlock
(6) Derby - Uttoxeter - Stoke-on Trent - Crewe

Grand Central:

(1) London King's Cross - Wakefield - Halifax - Bradford
(2) London King's Cross - York - Hartlepool - Sunderland

Great Northern:

(1) London King's Cross - Cambridge - Ely -King's Lynn
(2) London King's Cross - Huntingdon - Peterborough

Great Western Railway (GWR):

Long-Distance:
(1) London Paddington – Reading – Oxford – Moreton-in-Marsh - Evesham - Worcester – Hereford
(2) London Paddington – Reading – Swindon - Cardiff – Swansea - (Carmarthen)
(3) London Paddington – Reading - Bristol - Weston-super-Mare
(4) London Paddington – Reading - Swindon – BathBristol - Weston-super-Mare - (Bridgewater - Taunton)
(5) London Paddington – Reading – Taunton - Exeter – Totness - Plymouth – St Austell - Truro - Penzance
(6) London Paddington – Reading – Taunton - Exeter – Torquay - Paignton
(7) London Paddington – Reading – Swindon - Stroud - Gloucester - Cheltenham

Regional:
(1) London Paddington – Slough - Maidenhead - Twyford - Reading - Didcot/Newbury
connect at Slough for Windsor, connect at Maidenhead for Marlow and connect at Twyford for Henley-on-Thames
(2) Cardiff - Newport - Bristol - Bath - Bradford-on-Avon - Westbury - Salisbury - Southampton - Portsmouth
(3) Gloucester - Bristol - Bath - Bradford-on-Avon - Westbury - Dorchester - Weymouth
(4) Great Malvern - Worcester - Cheltenham - Gloucester - Bristol - Bath - Bradford-on-Avon - Trowbridge (1 x train per day is extended to Brighton via Westbury, Southampton, Chichester and Worthing)
(5) Cardiff - Newport - Bristol - Weston-super-Mare - Bridgewater - Taunton - Exeter - Newton Abbot - Totness - Plymouth - Liskeard - Par - St Austell -Truro - St Erth - Penzance
(6) Exmouth - Exeter - Barnstaple
(7) Exeter - Dawlish - Teignmouth - Torquay - Paignton
(8) Plymouth - Bere Alston - Gunnislake
(9) Liskeard - Looe
(10) Par - Newquay
(11) Truro - Falmouth
(12) St Erth - St Ives

Greater Anglia:

(1) London Liverpool Street - Colchester - Ipswich - Norwich
(2) London Liverpool Street - Audley End - Cambridge
(3) London Liverpool Street - Colchester - Wivenhoe - Clacton/Walton-on-the Naze
(4) London Liverpool Street - Stansted Airport (the Stansted Express)
(5) London Liverpool Street - Southend-on-Sea
(6) Cambridge - Newmarket - Bury St Edmunds - Ipswich
(7) Cambridge - Ely - Thetford - Wymondham - Norwich
(8) Ipswich - Lowestoft
(9) Ipswich - Bury St Edmunds - Ely - March - Peterborough
(10) Norwich - Great Yarmouth
(11) Norwich - Lowestoft
(12) Norwich - Cromer - Sheringham
(13) Norwich - Stansted Airport via Cambridge
(14) London Liverpool Street - Harwich International (the Dutch Flyer service which connects with ferries to and from The Netherlands)

Hull Trains:

London - Hull (- Beverley)

LNER:

(1) London King's Cross - Peterborough - York - Darlington - Durham - Newcastle - Berwick upon Tweed - Edinburgh
(2) London King's Cross - York - Darlington - Newcastle - Berwick upon Tweed - Edinburgh - Kirkcaldy - Leuchars (for St Andrews) - Dundee - Aberdeen
(3) London King's Cross - York - Darlington - Newcastle - Berwick upon Tweed - Edinburgh - Stirling - Perth - Pitlochry - Kingussie - Aviemore - Inverness
(4) London King's Cross - Peterborough - Wakefield - Leeds (- Bradford or Harrogate or Skipton via Keighley)
(5) London King's Cross - Hull

London Northwestern Railway:

(1) London Euston - Northampton - Coventry - Birmingham
(2) London Euston - Rugby - Litchfield - Tamworth - Stafford - Crewe
(3) Birmingham New Street - Wolverhampton - Stafford - Crewe - Liverpool

Northern:

(1) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Oxford Road - Bolton - Preston - Blackpool
(2) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Oxford Road - Bolton - Preston - Lancaster - Windermere and Barrow via Grange-over-Sands
(3) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Oxford Road - Liverpool
(4) Liverpool - Preston - Blackpool
(5) Barrow - Ravenglass - Workington - Whitehaven - Carlisle
(6) Leeds - Keighley - Skipton - Appleby - Carlisle
(7) Leeds - Keighley - Skipton - Lancaster - Morecambe
(8) Newcastle - Hexham - Carlisle
(9) Leeds - Bradford - Halifax - Hebden Bridge - Rochdale - Manchester Victoria - Chester
(10) Manchester Piccadilly - Altringham - Chester
(11) Manchester Piccadilly - Buxton
(12) Manchester Piccadilly - Edale - Hope - Sheffield
(13) York - Leeds - Bradford - Halifax- Hebden Bridge - Burnley - Blackburn - Preston - Blackpool
(14) Middlesbrough - Battersby - Grosmont - Whitby
(15) Newcastle - Sunderland - Hartlepool - Middlesbrough
(16) Hull - Beverley - Scarborough
(17) Sheffield - Worksop - Lincoln

Scotrail

(1) Glasgow Queen Street - Falkirk - Edinburgh Haymarket - Edinburgh Waverley
(2) Glasgow Queen Street - Stirling - Perth - Dundee - Arbroath - Montrose - Stonehaven - Aberdeen
(3) Glasgow Queen Street - Stirling - Perth - Pitlochry - Kingussie - Aviemore - Inverness
(4) Glasgow Queen Street - Crianlarich - Oban
(5) Glasgow Queen Street - Crianlarich - Fort William - Mallaig (for Skye)
(6) Edinburgh Waverley - Edinburgh Haymarket - Kirkcaldy - Leuchars (for St Andrews) - Dundee - Arbroath - Montrose - Stonehaven - Aberdeen
(7) Edinburgh Waverley - Edinburgh Haymarket - Kirkcaldy - Perth - Pitlochry - Kingussie - Aviemore - Inverness
(8) Edinburgh Waverley - Edinburgh Haymarket - Motherwell - Glasgow Central - Prestwick Airport - Troon - Ayr
(9) Edinburgh Waverley - Edinburgh Haymarket - Stirling - Dunblane
​​​​​​(10) Glasgow Central - Ardrossan (for Arran)
(11) Glasgow Central - Wemyss Bay (for Bute)
(12) Glasgow Central - Prestwick Airport - Troon - Ayr - (Girvan - Stranraer)
(13) Glasgow Central - Kilmarnock - Dumfries - Carlisle
(14) Aberdeen - Elgin - Inverness
(15) Inverness - Kyle of Lochlash (for Skye)
(16) Inverness - Laing - Helmsdale - Thurso and Wick

South Western Railway:

(1) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Winchester - Southampton Airport - Southampton - Brockenhurst (for Lymington and The New Forest) - Bournemouth - Poole - Dorchester - Weymouth
(2) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Salisbury - Yeovil - Axminster - Honiton - Exeter
(3) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Guilford - Havant - Portsmouth (for the Isle of Wight)
(4) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Richmond - Staines - Windsor
(5) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Richmond - Staines - Ascot - Reading
(6) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Hampton Court
(7) London Waterloo - Clapham Junction - Alton (for the Mid-Hants Railway)

Southeastern

(1) London St Pancras International - Stratford International - Ashford International - Folkestone Central - Dover Priory - Deal - Sandwich
(2) London St Pancras International - Stratford International - Ashford International - Canterbury West - Ramsgate - Broadstairs - Margate
(3) London St Pancras International - Stratford International - Chatham - Faversham - Whitstable - Herne Bay - Margate
(4) London Charing Cross - London Waterloo East - London Bridge - Sevenoaks - Tonbridge - Marden - Ashford International - Folkestone Central - Dover Priory
(5) London Charing Cross - London Waterloo East - London Bridge - Sevenoaks - Tonbridge - Marden - Ashford International - Canterbury West - Ramsgate
(6) London Charing Cross - London Waterloo East - London Bridge - Sevenoaks - Tonbridge - Tunbridge Wells - Battle - Hastings
(7) London Victoria - Chatham - Faversham - Whitstable - Herne Bay - Margate - Broadstairs - Ramsgate
(8) London Victoria - Chatham - Faversham - Canterbury East - Dover Priory
(9) London Victoria - Maidstone - Bearsted (for Leeds Castle) - Ashford International - Canterbury West

Southern:

(1) London Victoria - Clapham Junction - East Croydon - Gatwick Airport - Brighton
(2) London Victoria - Clapham Junction - East Croydon - Gatwick Airport - Hove - Worthing - Littlehampton
(3) London Victoria - Clapham Junction - East Croydon - Gatwick Airport - Chichester - Havant - Portsmouth and Southampton
(4) London Victoria - Clapham Junction - East Croydon - Gatwick Airport - Lewes - Eastbourne - Bexhill - Hastings
(5) London Victoria - Clapham Junction - East Croydon - East Grinstead (for the Bluebell Railway)
(6) Milton Keynes - Watford Junction - Shepherd's Bush - Kensington Olympia - Clapham Junction - East Croydon

(1) Cambridge - London St Pancras International - London Farringdon - City Thameslink - London Blackfriars - London Bridge - Gatwick Airport - Brighton
(2) Bedford - Luton - Luton Airport Parkway - St Albans - London St Pancras International - London Farringdon - City Thameslink - London Blackfriars - London Bridge - Gatwick Airport - Brighton
(3) Peterborough - London St Pancras International - London Farringdon - City Thameslink - London Blackfriars - London Bridge - Gatwick Airport - Horsham
(4) Luton - Luton Airport Parkway - St Albans - London St Pancras International - London Farringdon - City Thameslink - London Blackfriars - London Bridge - Greenwich - Chatham - Rainham

TransPennine Express (TPE)

(1) Liverpool Lime Street - Manchester Victoria - Huddersfield - Leeds - York - Darlington - Durham - Newcastle
(2) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Oxford Road - Manchester Victoria - Huddersfield - Leeds - York - Middlesbrough - Redcar
(3) York - Scarborough
(4) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Oxford Road - Preston - Lancaster - Oxenholme Lake District - Penrith North Lakes - Carlisle - Glasgow or Edinburgh
(5) Liverpool Lime Street - Preston - Lancaster - Oxenholme Lake District - Penrith North Lakes - Carlisle - Glasgow
(6) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Sheffield - Doncaster - Grimsby - Cleethorpes
(7) Manchester Piccadilly - Huddersfield - Leeds - Hull

TFW (Transport For Wales):

(1) Birmingham International - Birmingham New Street - Wolverhampton - Telford - Shrewsbury - Welshpool - Machynlleth - Aberystwyth
(2) Birmingham International - Birmingham New Street - Wolverhampton - Telford - Shrewsbury - Welshpool - Machynlleth - Aberdovey - Barmouth - Porthmadog - Pwllheli
(3) Birmingham International - Birmingham New Street- Wolverhampton - Telford - Shrewsbury - Wrexham - Chester - Rhyl - Colwyn Bay - Llandudno Junction - Bangor - Holyhead
(4) Cardiff - Newport - Hereford - Shrewsbury - Chester - Rhyl - Colwyn Bay - Llandudno Junction - Bangor - Holyhead
(5) Manchester Airport - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Oxford Road - Chester - Rhyl - Colwyn Bay - Llandudno
(6) Manchester Piccadilly - Crewe - Shrewsbury - Hereford - Newport - Cardiff - Swansea (Llanelli - Carmarthen Haverfordwest - Milford Haven)
(7) Crewe - Shrewsbury - Llandrindod - Llanelli - Swansea - Cardiff
(8) Gloucester - Chepstow - Newport - Cardiff - Swansea - Llanelli - Carmarthen - Fishguard or Milford Haven via Haverfordwest

Which TOCs operate the routes from major cities:

To help make sense of of the British rail network, these summaries show which TOC provides the services to other cities, when making train journeys from London, and from Birmingham and from Edinburgh and from Glasgow and from Manchester.

So they also show which tourist destinations have direct trains from each of these cities.

from London:

from Birmingham:

Destination:

Train Operating Company:

Aberystwyth

TFW Rail

Bournemouth

CrossCountry Trains

Bristol

CrossCountry Trains

Cambridge

CrossCountry Trains

Cardiff

CrossCountry Trains

Cheltenham

CrossCountry Trains

Chester

TFW Rail

Coventry

West Coast
CrossCountry Trains
North Western Railway
West Midlands Trains

Durham

CrossCountry Trains

Edinburgh

West Coast
CrossCountry Trains
 

Exeter

CrossCountry Trains
 

Glasgow

West Coast
CrossCountry Trains
 

Leeds

CrossCountry Trains
 

Leicester

CrossCountry Trains
 

Liverpool

North Western Railway

London

West Coast Railways
North Western Railway

Manchester

CrossCountry Trains
 

Newcastle

CrossCountry Trains
 

Nottingham

CrossCountry Trains
 

Oxford

CrossCountry Trains
 

Oxenholme (Lake District)

West Coast

Plymouth

CrossCountry Trains
 

Sheffield

CrossCountry Trains
 

Shrewsbury

West Coast
TFW Rail

West Midlands Trains

Southampton

CrossCountry Trains
 

Stratford-upon-Avon

West Midlands Trains

Truro (Cornwall)

CrossCountry Trains
 

Worcester

West Midlands Trains

York

CrossCountry Trains
 


from Manchester:

Destination:

Train Operating Company:

Birmingham

CrossCountry Trains

Blackpool

Northern

Bournemouth

CrossCountry Trains

Bristol

CrossCountry Trains

Buxton

Northern

Cardiff

TFW Rail

Cheltenham

CrossCountry Trains

Chester

TFW Rail

Coventry

CrossCountry Trains

Durham

TPE

Edinburgh

TPE

Exeter

CrossCountry Trains

Glasgow

TPE

Leeds

Northern
TPE

Liverpool

EMR
Northern
TPE

London

West Coast

Newcastle

Cross Country
TPE

  Norwich   EMR

Nottingham

EMR

Oxford

CrossCountry Trains

Oxenholme (Lake District)

Express

Plymouth

CrossCountry Trains

Scarborough

TPE

Sheffield

EMR
Northern
TPE

Shrewsbury

TFW Rail

Southampton

CrossCountry Trains

Truro (Cornwall)

CrossCountry Trains

Windermere

Northern

York

Cross Country
Northern
TPE

Note that these trains depart from multiple stations in Manchester.

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

ShowMeTheJourney

This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.