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Rail travel in the United Kingdom

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Introduction[edit]

A high-speed diesel train crosses the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed with a CrossCountry service from England to Scotland.

With around 34,000km (21,000 miles) of lines, the National Rail passenger network of Great Britain is one of the densest and most used railway networks in the world, with frequent daily passenger services comprehensively serving all major towns and many hundreds of villages. Train travel is Britain's most popular method of public transportation, with passenger usage approaching record highs despite annual rises in fares. In the last financial year ending in April 2014, 1.59 billion passenger journeys were made across Great Britain.

Travelling by train is one of the fastest, most comfortable, convenient and enjoyable ways to explore Britain. From High Speed 1, which connects London to Kent and under the English Channel to mainland Europe, to preserved railways operating historic steam trains through idyllic countryside, to bustling modern commercial centres and small unspoiled villages, to the breathtakingly scenic lines of Scotland, the train can be an enthralling and affordable way to see all that the UK has to offer.

As for services across the English Channel to France and Belgium, the cross-channel rail operator Eurostar has become the dominant carrier in cross-channel intercity passenger travel on the routes that it operates, carrying more passengers than all airlines combined.

However, the complex system of privatised train operators serving an effectively state-owned network of stations and lines has resulted in a complex fare and ticket system that can be confusing to the visitor. The structure of the industry is still very much in a state of change as a result of a controversial privatisation programme in the mid 1990s, as train franchises routinely change hands between operators and routes reorganised to fit the needs of the travelling public. Despite this, the network provides seamless journeys even if travelling on trains serviced by multiple operators – tickets can be purchased from any station in Great Britain to any other, irrespective of train company.

This guide does not cover rail travel in Northern Ireland, which operates its own state-owned system called Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) which is separate from National Rail and even uses a different track gauge. NIR is owned and controlled by the government of the Northern Irish Executive in Belfast. It is well-integrated with local and provincial bus services operated by Translink and trains in the Republic of Ireland operated by Iarnród Éireann. For more details on rail travel in Northern Ireland, see Rail travel in Ireland.

The National Rail website provides timetables and a journey planner, which can be found at at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk.

Structure[edit]

The iconic double-arrow symbol signifies a railway station or the rail network throughout Britain. It appears on all stations, road signs and maps.

All infrastructure (e.g. track, bridges, stations etc.) is owned by the state controlled company Network Rail, a "not for dividend" company limited by guarantee and owned by the government, while trains are operated by private companies (usually multinational transport companies) which bid for particular franchises. The system is tightly controlled by the national and devolved governments in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff which heavily subsidise it. There are also operators controlled by local government bodies (the London Overground is one example) and a small number of open access (non-franchised) operators which run additional services across the country. Although the ownership and structure is complex you often won't notice it when making a journey, due to the integrated nature of the British rail system.

General service schedules and routes run by the train franchises are specified by the government, but the "detail" and actual level of service are operated by commercial train companies known as train operating companies (TOCs). These lease or own rolling stock to run the passenger services demanded in their franchise contracts. Companies compete to win franchises for a certain number of years. Their continued permission to operate, or ability to win extensions or future franchises, depends on factors including value-for-money, performance and customer satisfaction. Government officials and transport ministers play a heavy role in the process.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) represents all the passenger train companies, and markets them collectively as National Rail. National Rail has inherited the iconic white-on-red "double-arrow" logo (see illustration) first used by British Rail in 1965, the former state-owned railway operator which was privatised in the 1990s. The iconic logo is used extensively to signify a railway station and on road signs, maps, tickets and other places.

Passenger Rail Companies[edit]

Some train operating companies cover a particular geographical region, while others operate inter-city lines which pass through various regions. As of December 2015 the National Rail network consists of the following passenger operating companies, all of which are private commercial organisations (mostly subsidiaries of global transport companies like FirstGroup, Stagecoach, Arriva and Virgin).

Franchised operators

Open access operators

Open access operators are train companies that do not operate under a franchise, but instead purchases individual slots on train lines. They provide additional services for routes that are in high demand that no franchise adequately cover. For example, First Hull Trains provides six daily services from London to Hull and back while its competitor Virgin Trains East Coast provides only one.

Historical background[edit]

From the 1930s, streamlined locomotives of the 'A4' class such as Mallard symbolised a golden age of rail travel. Mallard is now at the National Railway Museum, York
1940s and 50s railway posters used art to entice travellers to visit resorts by train.

The world's first public railway opened between Stockton and Darlington in north-east England in 1825. Passengers were originally carried in coaches pulled by horses until 1833, when they were replaced by Locomotion No. 1, the first ever steam locomotive to operate a passenger rail service. The financial success of the early pioneering railways resulted in a large number of entrepreneurs eager to capitalise in the fledgling industry, in a time known as "Railway Mania". From 1836 to 1847, about 8,000 miles of track were laid which eventually grew into a national network serving most towns and villages in Britain.

Many majestic stations such as London St. Pancras, Kings Cross, Paddington and Liverpool Street were erected, showcasing the success of the companies who built them. Iconic bridges and viaducts of the Victorian era such as the Forth Bridge have come to symbolise the regions they run through.

In 1923 the government decreed that the railways should be grouped into four large companies, which together were known as the '"Big Four". These were the Southern Railway (SR), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and the Great Western Railway (GWR). What followed is considered to be the golden age of speed records, with iconic locomotives such as the Flying Scotsman and Mallard becaming symbols of speed and modernity. Railway travel posters from the 1930s to the 1950s pioneered a style of art which enticed travellers to visit resorts by train and showcased the British rail system as an elegant yet everyday form of travel. Even today many modern train company names hark back to this era.

Following the Second World War, in which most of the infrastructure was worn down by war duties or destroyed by bombing raids, all of the Big Four companies were in dire financial straits and were unable to cope with the backlog of maintenance and repairs that had built up during the war. As a result, the government nationalised all railways in 1948. The resulting state-owned British Rail ran trains for nearly fifty years during a time of change. In an attempt to stem passenger losses resulting from increased car usage, steam locomotives were replaced by diesel and electric trains, while some lines were electrified and upgraded to allow for higher speeds.

The darkest era in British railway history came during the 1960s, in a time known as the "Beeching Axe". In an attempt to eliminate daily losses of £300,000, British Rail closed a large number of unprofitable lines and scrapped many passenger services. Spearheaded by a report published by civil servant Dr. Richard Beeching, nearly 4,000 miles of track and over 2,000 stations were abandoned with much of the land sold for redevelopment.

British Rail rebounded in the 1970s and 1980s as it fought back against the new motorways, developing a new unified brand for its long distance express services known as InterCity. Together with electrification of the two main line routes from London to Scotland and the introduction of InterCity 125 high speed locomotives that could travel up to 125mph, British Rail saw a boom in patronage that in turn safeguarded the loss making regional routes and saved the remaining branch lines from closure.

British Rail's iconic double-arrow logo and typeface, which were introduced from the 1960s, defined the look and feel of the railway in the modern era and are recognised as design classics of the period. The logo is still used to identify a station today.

However, decline and neglect were still very evident throughout the system as it suffered from a lack of government investment. With the political climate of the time favouring private operation of public services, it was inevitable that the network would be moved from state control to the private sector. In 1995 the network was fragmented, with different companies running track and rolling stock. Dozens of small companies began operating train services but with heavy government intervention, subsidy and control of the system.

The infrastructure (e.g. track, signals and stations) were re-nationalised in 2001, after Railtrack suffered financial meltdown resulting from spiraling costs incurred by delayed upgrade programmes, and culminated by the fateful Hatfield incident in October 2000. Since then the system has bedded in and developed into an effective transport system, albeit with some ongoing issues, to give a mixed public/private-sector railway.

Most scenic routes[edit]

View from train travelling on the West Highland Line.
Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle Line, North Yorkshire.
Train departs Dawlish on the Riviera Line, travelling along sea wall.

Many lines cut through spectacular British countryside and run along dramatic coasts, particularly in Scotland, Wales and the north and south-west of England. In many places, elegant Victorian viaducts and bridges add to (rather than detract from) the beauty of the natural landscape. Of the many such scenic routes, here are a few that are part of the National Rail network and provide a transport service to the communities along the route, as well as attracting tourists. Preserved and heritage railways usually hauled by steam locomotives operate chartered services across gorgeous countryside (see the Heritage and steam railways section for more information on preserved railways).

  • The West Highland Line from Glasgow to the west-coast harbour towns of Mallaig and Oban is probably the most spectacular in the UK and regularly voted among the top railway journeys in the world. The nightly sleeper from London Euston to Fort William also runs on the route and in the summer there is a daily steam train called The Jacobite. Spectacular vistas on the 3-5.5 hour ride include Loch Lomond and the Gareloch, the dramatic Rannoch Moor, the Glenfinnan Viaduct (most famous for featuring in the Harry Potter movies) and spectacular views of Skye and the Small Isles from Mallaig.
  • The Settle-Carlisle Line runs 73 miles (120km) from Settle in North Yorkshire (or you can join the train earlier at the major city of Leeds) to the city of Carlisle, near the Scottish border. The most scenic railway in England, it runs through the dramatic Pennine Hills and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Of the many viaducts, the dramatic Ribblehead Viaduct with its 24 stone arches is most notable, and there are walking paths from many of the stations on the route.
  • Exeter-Penzance (also known as the Riviera Line): Designed by the famous engineer Brunel as part of his Great Western Railway, this line runs from Exeter, Devon to Penzance, Cornwall and includes long stretches where the railway runs directly on the sea wall such as at Dawlish. It also runs through lush valleys, the dramatic Dartmoor, crosses viaducts by Brunel and enters Cornwall by the impressive Royal Albert Bridge across the River Tamar (pronounced TAY-mar). Images of waves breaking by the railway line at Dawlish are iconic of Devon.
  • The Far North Line from the rapidly-growing city of Inverness to Britain's most northerly town, Thurso, runs through impressive Highland scenery as well as alone the Moray Firth, the Dornoch Firth and the impressive coast of Sutherland. Another scenic route leaves Inverness for Kyle of Lochalsh, with its links to the spectacular isle of Skye.
  • Stonehaven-Aberdeen: The line north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen crosses the iconic Forth Bridge. At its northern end, between the pretty harbour town of Stonehaven and the city of Aberdeen it runs for 20 minutes or so along a dramatic, craggy coast with spectacular cliffs soaring down into the north sea. Rugged inlets and churning waves breaking on the rocks add to the scene. The route is especially impressive at sunrise, which may be seen if taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Aberdeen.
  • The North Wales Coast Line. There are a number of points where you can join this line but one of the best ideas is to start in Wrexham and continue the journey until its end at Holyhead. Along the way you will pass through the historic cities of Chester and Bangor. Much of the line travels through spectacular Welsh moutains and next to the beautiful Welsh coastline. You will also see castles, little fishing ports and a historic racecourse. Perhaps the highlight of the journey is passing over the Menai Straits bridge from mainland Wales onto Anglesey. The view over the Menai Straits is breathtaking. You also pass through the town with the longest place name in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch.

Most of the services on these routes are run by modern diesel trains, however regular steam and heritage diesel hauled charters run across the network for which tickets can be purchased from the operator. Please note that "regular" train tickets are not valid on these services and tickets normally have to be booked in advance. Occasionally tickets maybe available on the day but this should not be relied on. Try UKsteam Info for more information on steam tours or Railtour Info for heritage diesel tours including some that are partially steam hauled.

Services[edit]

In the United Kingdom a 200 mile, or even a 100 mile journey, is considered "long distance". In the United Kingdom these long distance trains run at some of the highest frequencies in the world. For example, trains between Manchester and London run at least three times an hour. In the South East of England and the south of London in particular, many routes such as the London to Brighton service run at frequencies close to those of subways in major cities elsewhere in the world. In other areas, even many of the smallest towns are serviced with trains running at least hourly throughout the day even on Sundays, comparing favourably to long distance services from outside Europe which operate as infrequently as 1-3 times a week. Anything less than an hourly service during the day is regarded as low frequency.

The days of "checked baggage" (segregated storage for suitcases and other bulky items), which is still common in North America, are long gone in the United Kingdom.

Train speeds[edit]

Most inter-city services travel at 200km/h (125mph), even on non-electrified lines. Britain was the first country to introduce high-speed diesel services in the 1970s, using InterCity 125 trains that are still a mainstay of some routes today. Away from the inter-city lines, speeds are up to 160km/h (100mph) on main lines and less on more minor routes.

Unlike some countries, British high speed services do not cost more than others, with the exception of trains running on the High Speed 1 route from London St. Pancras to stations in Kent. Here you pay higher fares than slower services that don't use high-speed trainsets and there are no cheaper Advance or Off-Peak tickets.

On local and commuter services, you may hear the term fast, as in the following announcement: "Calling at Sevenoaks, Petts Wood, Bromley South, then fast to London Victoria". This does not refer to speed – it means that it is an express train. So the train in the above announcement would go past most of the stations between Bromley South and London Victoria without stopping. A semi-fast service will call at more stations along its route than a fast train, while a slow (local) service stops at all the stations that it passes.

Rural services[edit]

On some rural services, particularly those in Wales, Scotland and the south-west of England, have smaller stations that are request stops (flag stops). When approaching a request stop the train will slow down and sound its horn – if you wish to board the train then raise your arm so that the driver can see you. If you wish to alight at a request stop, you should notify the conductor as to which station you wish to get off at and he will signal the driver to stop. Request stops are normally indicated on the schedule and are announced on the train's public address system.

Regional, local and commuter lines[edit]

A vast network of lines provide services between towns and cities of regional importance (e.g. Liverpool-Manchester), local services (e.g. Settle-Carlisle) and commuter services around many major cities (the network is particularly dense around London, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, Glasgow, Birmingham and Liverpool).

Inter-city lines[edit]

Main concourse at London King's Cross station, the terminus of the East Coast Main Line to Scotland and the north of England. It also serves local and regional services to Cambridgeshire and destinations north of London.

The inter-city network developed out of six historic mainlines. Line speed is up to 200km/h (125mph), but is 225km/h (140mph) for High Speed 1, 175km/h (110mph) for the Midland Main Line and 160km/h (100mph) for the Great Eastern line. All inter-city lines connect to London at one end, except for the Cross-Country Route. There are numerous stations in London, with each mainline terminating there calling at a different terminus.

Sleeper trains[edit]

Until the late 1980s sleeper trains were operated between London and a host of destinations such as Manchester and Liverpool, and there were even sleeper trains within Scotland. Due to speed improvements there are now just three scheduled sleeper trains in Britain. These operate every night (except Saturday) in each direction. Travelling more slowly than their equivalent day time trains, they offer a comfortable means of overnight travel. All feature a lounge car that is open to passengers booked in berths, although on busy nights Caledonian Sleeper sometimes restricts access to the lounge car to first-class passengers only. A buffet service of food and drinks is available in the lounge car, offering affordable snacks and beverages in retro surroundings reminiscent of 1970s British Rail.

London to Scotland[edit]

The Forth Bridge connects the Scottish city of Edinburgh across the firth of Forth, to Fife and Aberdeen.

Caledonian Sleeper operates two routes, with each train dividing or joining en route to serve multiple destinations in Scotland. This service was formally operated by ScotRail, which from 1st April 2015 was re-launched under new owners.

Bookings can be made up to one year in advance, and even first class fares are incredibly reasonable. There are some bizarre pricings, with sometimes the first class fares being cheaper than the second class fares, Early bookings are highly recommended, and if your travel dates are flexible then entering different dates is a good way to save money.

Reservations are compulsory, and supplements may be payable on top of the basic fare to reserve a berth. Reclining seats don't require a supplement, nor do special advance-purchase tickets known as Bargain Berths, priced at £19, £29, £39 or £49 depending on destination and availability. They are only available from the Caledonian Sleeper website and sell out fast, so you should book well in advance for these.

The two routes operated by Caledonian Sleeper are:

  • The Lowland Sleeper, which departs from/arrives in London Euston as one train but divides at Carstairs in the early hours, with portions travelling to:
  • The Highland Sleeper, which departs from/arrives in London Euston as one train but divides at Edinburgh (passengers are not permitted to alight here, you should travel on the Lowland Sleeper instead), with portions travelling to:

Caledonian Sleepers offer three kinds of accommodation:

  • Reclining seated accommodation, comparable to day time first class but with no at-seat service. Passengers to and from Fort William have to change carriages in Edinburgh. However this may be uncomfortable on a long trip; bear in mind the Highland Sleeper takes 12 hours and the lights are left on all night, but blindfolds may be provided.
  • Standard class cabins with two berths (upper and lower) and washbasin. Solo travellers usually have to share with another traveller of the same sex.
  • First class cabins are identical to standard class ones, except that they only have one berth. First class travellers can enjoy priority access to the lounge car, a full hearty breakfast delivered to your room, complimentary toiletries and sleeping packs and access to first class lounges at some stations.

London to Penzance[edit]

Great Western Railway operates the Night Riviera, which travels along a single route from London Paddington to Plymouth, Devon and Penzance, Cornwall, calling at numerous intermediate stations. Reservations on Night Riviera sleepers are mandatory, and supplements are payable on top of the basic fare to reserve a berth. The Night Riviera offers these kinds of accommodation:

  • Reclining seated accommodation, comparable to day time first class
  • Standard class: either a cabin with two berths or (for a slightly higher supplement) a cabin with just one. Solo standard class berths also feature a wall mounted entertainment system preloaded with films and television programmes.

As part of the ticket price, standard class travellers will receive bottled water, towels, personally-controlled cabin lighting and in-cabin refreshments, while all passengers have access to a complimentary breakfast, drinks and snacks, toilets, a wake up call if required and access to showers at London Paddington station.

Planning your trip[edit]

Britain's longest train journey
The longest single train journey in Britain is the 08:20 from Aberdeen to Penzance, operated by CrossCountry. It takes nearly 13 and a half hours (arriving at 21:43) making thirty-three intermediate stops and covering 1162km (722 miles). It is operated by either a four or five coach Class 220 Voyager diesel train, and is prone to overcrowding at busy points on the journey.

The best source of information when planning your journey by train can be found on the official National Rail website. This site has a very useful journey planner, real time departure and arrival information, lists of station facilities and plans, ticket information, accessibility details and a useful Cheapest Fare Finder.

A complete national map in PDF format can be found here. There is also a useful phone app available, and most of these services are also available by telephone from the National Rail Enquiries phone service on +44 (0)845 748 4950. The National Rail website gives prices but does not sell tickets, however it will link to a choice of several websites which do.

The National Rail website also has route maps and an information page for every railway station in Britain together with accessibility details, facilities, ticket office opening hours, recommended connection times and real time departure and arrival information. Various independent train booking websites also exist, but often charge unavoidable additional fees such as booking fees, debit/credit card charges and fees for receiving tickets by post or collecting them at the station. thetrainline.com is the oldest, best known and most reliable of these websites, and advertises frequently in the media in the UK. Be warned that it charges additional credit/debit card handling fees and a fee to collect your tickets from a station or to have them posted to you. However, its useful Ticket Alert can help you plan advance travel by e-mailing you when cheaper Advance tickets become available for a particular route.

Please note that some major towns (such as Bury and Oldham in Greater Manchester) have no national rail service because the rail lines have been converted to light rail, and therefore they cannot be found in the national timetables as they are no longer part of the national rail system. All light rail services (such as in Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and elsewhere) interchange with rail stations on part of their routes to connect with the national rail network, although through rail tickets may not be available. Therefore, if you are visiting a specific town in Britain then you can sometimes travel most of the way by train and then easily transfer to the local light rail services.

Sunday travel[edit]

Services are less frequent on Sundays. For over a hundred years, services on Sundays were few. Even at the height of the railways' popularity in the 1930s, many lines and most stations were closed on Sundays. Very few services ran, with some large towns having no railway services at all. This situation improved in the 1990s and 2000s – due in part to the legalisation of Sunday trading (which means shops can open on Sundays – typically 10.30am to 4.00/4.30pm).

However the frequency of service is reduced compared with weekdays and Saturdays, and that engineering work is more likely to take place on weekends and public holidays than on weekdays. During line closures, rail companies will usually offer a replacement bus service which is provided for rail passengers for no extra charge.

Visitors should check with the National Rail Enquiries website for information on any Sunday alterations or changes.

Overcrowding[edit]

The popularity of train travel in the UK has been soaring in recent years. If you plan to explore Britain by rail then it is worth noting that many parts of the network suffer from overcrowding, and that this is not restricted to commuter services as even rural services can be affected. Standing on a train for over 100 miles is not uncommon, as a ticket does not not guarantee a seat unless you also have a reservation (see below). Some long distance trains particularly in the rush hour can be so crowded that passengers are not allowed to board due to safety issues, and it is not unusual to encounter trains of ten carriages with upwards of 2,000 passengers crammed inside.

Planning journeys outside the rush hours even for long distance services (06:00-09:30 & 16:00-19:00) can make tickets cheaper and journeys significantly more comfortable.

Buying tickets[edit]

A typical National Rail train ticket, in this case the outward ('OUT') portion of a two part Standard ('STD') off-peak return ('OFF-PEAK R') from Queens Park in Glasgow to Norbiton, with a 16-25 Railcard ('Y-P') discount.
A typical National Rail reservation coupon, in this case the paid standard class supplement required for a berth in the Glasgow to London sleeper (there is no charge for a seat reservation on a day time train). The reserved bed is in coach N, berth 23L. Printed on the same format of card as a ticket, no reservation is valid without an accompanying ticket.

An achievement of British Rail which is still in place today is that you can purchase a through-ticket from any station in Great Britain to any other station, including whatever changes of train, operating companies or even London Underground connections are needed. It must be noted however that whilst individual companies may offer very cheap tickets for their own services, a through ticket using different companies' trains may often be very expensive even for the same journey. The British often travel with several tickets using different companies to avoid the high "one ticket" fare.

Please note that some tickets are only valid for travel with a particular train operator, when this is the case it will explicitly state this on the ticket. Tickets should be purchased at the station ticket office or at a ticket machines, although smaller stations may have no ticket office and very minor ones will not have a machine. Alternatively, more and more travellers are buying from one of the train company's websites, all of which have a journey planner and sell tickets for all services and not just their own.

It is also possible to buy a ticket from the conductor on many lines if there is no ticket office or machine at the boarding station, but check before you travel as some places operate penalty fares.

A ticket does not guarantee a seat unless you also have a seat reservation. Depending on ticket type and train company, this may come automatically with the ticket or you may be asked if you wish to reserve a seat – ask if you are unsure. Some trains (mostly local and commuter services) do not permit seat reservations. If you have no seat reservation, you may have to stand if the train is busy.

The best deals are more easily found on the internet directly from rail company sites. Advanced tickets are available from ticket offices but there is no guarantee that the ticket clerk will get you the best deal or have the knowledge to do so. Visitors from overseas, booking via the Internet, may worry that they must have the actual tickets sent by post as there are virtually no companies who will accept 'print yourself' tickets. There is no need to worry when purchasing your tickets online, simply check the box which says you will collect your tickets from a self-service station ticket machine (it will suggest a station for you). Note down the unique reference number from your online confirmation. Then, simply go to the station ticket machine at any time from two hours after you have successfully purchased your tickets online and press the screen button "collect prepaid tickets", or a similar option. It will then ask you to insert the card with which you purchased the tickets online – you won't be charged twice. Then enter the unique reference number and the machine will print your ticket.

It is best to get your tickets by this means well before you travel, just in case if everything goes terribly wrong or the ticket machine is out of order. In these cases the train staff should allow you to get your tickets at your destination or transfer point.

Classes of travel[edit]

Standard class interior of a refurbished InterCity 125, operated by CrossCountry.
First class interior of Class 221 Super Voyager, operated by Virgin Trains.

In the United Kingdom, there are two different types of ticket classes in operation:

  • Standard class (formerly called second class and referred to as coach class in the United States) accommodation has two seats either side of the aisle with a mix of facing table or more private airline-style seats.
  • First class accommodation has two seats and one seat either side of the aisle, with larger seats and more legroom. On inter-city routes an at-seat service of drinks, refreshments and a newspaper are also available (not all at seat services are available at the weekend).

Unlike in the rest of Europe, first class travel is not considered by most non-business users as a treat worth taking, as it is usually incredibly expensive and offers little value for money compared to standard class. For example, a standard second class single ticket that costs over £150 usually offers no better service or facilities than a later off-peak ticket costing just £34 – the UK pricing structure is based simply on demand and not on quality. Certain companies, however, offer special deals where at certain (off-peak) times first class travel is available for a small supplement.

Many commuter trains and some local services offer standard class only. On commuter and local trains where first class travel is available, they only provide larger seating in a separate compartment and no refreshments or newspapers are provided.

In both classes, most trains also provide:

  • Free seat reservations (not commuter or local services), indicated by a paper tag or electronic display above each seat
  • A walk-up buffet or a trolley service of drinks and refreshments moving through the train
  • Air conditioning (not commuter or local services)
  • At least one carriage with a fully disabled-accessible toilet and baby changing facilities
  • On inter-city services, a wireless internet service (a charge may apply)
  • Most inter-city trains provide a Quiet Coach where use of mobile phones, conversations, and any other noise is not permitted. These can be found on trains operated by Virgin Trains East Coast, East Midlands Trains, CrossCountry, Virgin Trains (West Coast Mainline), Great Western Railway and Greater Anglia's inter-city services.

Peak and off-peak travelling[edit]

Peak times (rush hour) usually begin from the first weekday morning services until 9.30am, and off-peak times cover weekdays after 9.30am and all day weekends and public holidays, although some companies around London also have a weekday afternoon peak (15:00-18:45). Services are much more expensive during peak times so travellers must choose the time of their journey very carefully, even for short spur of the moment trips. Wait until after 9.30am and your ticket price (if a "day return" is purchased) will be considerably lower. The difference can be as dramatic as £20.00 return (peak) to £4 (off-peak).

There can be exceptions for when off-peak tickets aren't valid, which vary by train company – if so these will usually be explained by posters at the station or the train company's website. If you are in any doubt about the validity of an off-peak ticket, ask a member of staff at the station or a ticket office before getting on a train as ticket inspectors on board the train can be unforgiving.

There are also super off-peak tickets available which are even cheaper than standard off-peak tickets but carry stricter restrictions over when you can travel, even when travelling on weekends. The validity times vary depending on the train operator so it is a good idea to check before you book.

Ticket types[edit]

Tickets are sold in three types. You can usually book up to three months in advance and the further in advance you book the less expensive tickets are, but booking just three days in advance can still produce huge discounts. You can choose between flexibility (generally incredibly expensive) and value (less or no flexibility), similar to an airline ticket.

In increasing order of cost, tickets are classed as:

  • Advance – these are the cheapest tickets. You must buy in advance (latest is 18:00 the day before, but most will have sold out by then), travel on a specific train only which will usually be off-peak, and they are available in limited numbers. Making a change of travel plan may involve an administration fee.
  • Off-Peak – buy any time, must travel at off-peak times, ticket is more expensive than an Advance ticket. Change in travel plans are possible.
  • Anytime – buy any time, travel any time. This is the most expensive ticket available. Change in travel plans are easily made, plus you can just travel any time you like.
  • (Cheap) Day Return – for shorter journeys. Travel after 9am (or 9.30am for some areas/companies) and return the same day usually with no restrictions, or at any time on Saturdays and Sundays. A day return ticket is the ticket of choice for day trips, shopping etc. especially at the weekend. These are generally only purchased on the day; they can be purchased on the train only if there is no open ticket office at your starting station. Be warned that ticket conductors will rarely ask whether you want a Day Return, a single will be issued unless you specifically ask for a day return. Unusually, in rare occasions a single ticket can sometimes be more expensive than a Day Return.

Advance tickets are only sold as single (one-way) tickets. To make a return journey, simply purchase two singles. Off-Peak and Anytime tickets are available as single or return. With the exception of some suburban and commuter trains, the cheapest fares are almost always Advance tickets. These are released for sale in limited numbers approximately 12 weeks in advance, and can only be used on the train specified on the reservation. If you travel on any other train or the wrong train, you will be charged an expensive full-price ticket or a penalty fare – which you'll either have to pay on the spot or within 21 days. To check how far ahead Advance tickets are available, visit National Rail's "Booking Horizons" page. If you have not booked in advance then you can still buy an affordable short-distance trip on the day of travel, but if you try to buy longer-distance tickets on the day (e.g. London-Scotland) then the ticket price will almost certainly be considerably higher than an Advance ticket.

When purchasing a less restricted off-peak or anytime ticket, note that return fares are usually only a small amount more than, or occasionally even cheaper than a single ticket. You must ask for the cheapest ticket and check if the return is cheaper. The ticket sellers will not help you as their job is to try to sell the highest priced tickets for their employers, do not rely on them to help you obtain the best deal.

Discounts[edit]

Discounts are available for:

  • Children – up to the age of 15
  • Small Groups – of between 3 and 9 people
  • Large Groups – 10 or more people
  • Railcards – discount cards for certain groups
  • Regional Railcards – offering discounts within a specific region

Railcards[edit]

The most widely used system of discounts on National Rail are Railcards. These provide a discount of 1/3 off nearly any off-peak ticket, although a minimum fare is charged for short journeys below a certain ticket price. Railcards can be purchased from any station ticket office upon completing a form and providing of proof of eligibility and a photograph, or online from http://www.railcard.co.uk/. Although these are primarily intended for British citizens, the discounts offered makes them useful for visitors to Britain who plan to travel a lot by train.

  • 16-25 Railcard offers a discount of 1/3 on most tickets for anyone aged 16 to 25 and full time students of any age. Currently costs £30 per year.
  • Family & Friends Railcard offers a discount of of 1/3 on adult fares and 60% on child fares. Up to four adults and four children can travel on one Family & Friends Railcard. At least one named cardholder and one child must be travelling together for the whole journey. Currently costs £30 per year.
  • Two Together Railcard offers a discount of of 1/3 on most adult fares for two named people travelling together. Currently costs £30 per year.
  • Senior Railcard Offers a discount of 1/3 on most tickets for anyone aged 60 or over. Currently costs £30 per year.
  • Network Railcard An unusual relic of the pre-privatisation British Rail era: it is a geographically specific railcard that relates to the now defunct Network SouthEast, the British Rail brand for the region of trains that radiate from London and the south east of England. It offers a discount of 1/3 on most tickets for the cardholder and up to three other adults (restrictions apply Monday to Friday) and up to four children, aged 5 to 15 can save 60% on the child fare. Costs £30 a year.
  • Disabled Persons Railcard Offers a discount of 1/3 to eligible disabled or mobility restricted passengers. Currently costs £20 for one year or £54 for three years.
  • HM Forces Railcard A similar 1/3 discount available to serving members of the British armed forces and their families. It can only be obtained from military facilities and cannot be purchased at a station.

Season tickets[edit]

Commuters who use the train every day for travelling to and from work can make savings similar to those offered by a railcard (but at any time of day) by purchasing a season ticket. These are available from staffed ticket offices and ticket machines for a fixed route between any two stations you specify. Periods available vary from 7 days to 12 months. National Rail has a Season Ticket calculator, which can be found on the National Rail Enquiries website.

Visitor rail passes[edit]

There are two principal types of rail pass available to visitors to the UK which permit inclusive rail travel throughout the UK. Supplements are normally payable for Eurostar (international) and sleeper trains.

  • InterRail and Eurail are passes for EU and non-EU residents respectively. See Interrail for more information.
  • Britrail is primarily targeted at visitors from the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and must be purchased online or in your home nation before you depart for the UK.

Ranger and Rover tickets[edit]

A relic of the nationalised British Rail era, Ranger and Rover tickets are tickets that permit unlimited travel with relatively few restrictions over a defined geographical area for a period of anything from one to fourteen days. There are numerous regions available, with a full list of tickets with their terms and conditions on National Rail's page. These tickets include Rovers for almost every region of the UK, but notable tickets include:

  • All Line Rover – these national Rovers allow 7 or 14 days travel on almost all scheduled rail services throughout England, Scotland and Wales. As of May 2012, they cost £450 (7 days) or £680 (14 days) for standard class, and £680 (7 days) or £1040 (14 days) for 1st class, with discounts for children and railcard holders.
  • Freedom of Scotland Travelpass – 4 days in 8 or 8 days in 15 for £129 and £173 respectively, with concessions for children and railcard holders.

Ticket add-ons[edit]

  • Cross-London transfers where a journey involves crossing London – for example a journey between Brighton and Edinburgh would require you to change between Victoria and King's Cross stations in London to connect with the onward train – the ticket will usually allow you to use the London Underground to make the transfer. A plus (+) or dagger symbol next to the route (e.g. "+ Any Permitted") indicates if this is permissible. However you can only enter and leave the underground network once.
  • PlusBus allows you to add a day's unlimited bus and tram travel in your destination city. PlusBus costs between £1.60 and £3.50, depending on your destination, but you must buy the PlusBus ticket with your train ticket before you board the train. Several operators now allow you to buy PlusBus from their site. You can also book by phone or by going to a major station.
  • Weekend First upgrades allow the holder of a standard class ticket to upgrade to first class on Saturday and Sunday on certain long distance trains. The supplement is payable on the train to the conductor, subject to availability. Upgrades usually start at £10, but passengers should note that on many long distance trains there is no complimentary at-seat service in first class at the weekend.

Using the train[edit]

At the station[edit]

Departure boards at London Kings Cross station.

Most stations have electronic departure screens listing trains in order of departure, platform, any delay, stations called at and the train operating company. At small or rural stations without electronic displays, signs will indicate which platform to wait on for trains to your destination. Platforms may not be announced until a few minutes before the train is due to depart, and can sometimes change if the train is delayed so listen for audio announcements. Many stations now use automated subway-style ticket barriers – you insert your ticket which opens the barrier, and your ticket is returned. Platform staff are always in attendance with these barriers and can also advise where to stand if you are travelling with a bicycle.

British trains do not have publicly announced numbers as they are identified by their departure time (using the 24-hour clock) and destination, e.g. the "14:15 to Manchester Piccadilly". Only a few carry names, such as The Flying Scotsman between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh and The Northern Lights between London Kings Cross and Aberdeen.

Many trains close their doors at approximately 30-60 seconds prior to the scheduled departure time so you should arrive at the station with enough time to spare, especially if you are unfamiliar with the journey. Stations in Britain are often architecturally significant, so if you are early, take the time to look around.

If you have bought an advance ticket only valid on one specific train or series of trains then it is essential that you stick to this, otherwise you may be fined just as if you had no ticket at all.

Boarding the train[edit]

If you have a seat reservation then watch the outside of the train as it arrives for your coach number, some major stations will have signs on the platform telling you where to wait. Coach A may be at the front or back of the train depending on the direction of travel, and some letters may not be included.

Most trains have power-operated doors however you must press a button to open it, and they close automatically when the train leaves. If the weather is cold and you are the last person to board, it is polite to close the door to prevent cold weather coming in. On older trains with manual doors, particularly sleeper carriages and InterCity 125 trains, you open the door from the outside by pulling the handle downwards and pulling the door open. Close the door behind you and make sure it shuts properly – the handle will return to a horizontal position once it has closed. When departing the train, slide down the window and open the door with the external handle (having no internal handle is a safety feature aimed to prevent doors being opened with the train moving).

Finding your seat[edit]

Standard-class interior of Class 221 Super Voyager operated by CrossCountry. On this train, seat reservations appear on the display above each pair of seats. Others may use paper tags inserted into each headrest.

Seat reservations are marked either with paper tags on the headrest or an electronic display above the window, as well as on your reservation ticket. Usually not all seats are reserved unless the train is very busy – if a seat has no tag, it is unreserved and any ticket-holder can sit there. However, remember that unless you also have a seat reservation your ticket does not guarantee you a seat. The reservation tag or display at each seat will specify the stations between which the seat is reserved, e.g. "DUNDEE–YORK". If you do not have a reservation and all the seats appear to be reserved then look for one where the reservation ends at a station already called at, or where the reservation starts at a station the train has not yet reached (and be prepared to move seats when it reaches there).

Keep your ticket and any reservation, pass and/or railcard with you wherever you are on the train, as you may be asked to show it to the train guard or ticket inspector. It is also likely that you will need it to exit the platform at your destination station, because subway-style ticket barriers are in use at many stations. If you approach an exit barrier and you cannot find your ticket then you will be liable to a hefty penalty fine plus the cost of the train fare. So don't throw away your ticket!

Travelling with luggage[edit]

Different trains vary in how much luggage space they provide. Most trains have overhead racks suitable for small items like a small rucksack, briefcase, laptop bag, or other small luggage. Inter-city and regional trains have luggage racks suitable for larger suitcases. However, these luggage racks can fill up quickly and on long-distance services there is usually not enough space for everyone so you should board the train as early as you can to get a space. If there is no space in the racks and rearranging the items there doesn't help then you may have to squeeze your luggage into any space you can find. This may be in the vestibule space and the ends of each carriage. Train staff do not tolerate luggage blocking aisles and doorways (this is dangerous in an emergency) and in extreme cases if it is an obstruction it may simply be dumped on the platform at the next stop. Theft of unattended luggage can be an issue so keep a close eye on yours.

You should never leave your luggage unattended at a station, particularly larger ones serving major cities. Doing so could risk a major security alert and may even result in your bags being destroyed by the British Transport Police's bomb disposal team. If you have lost your luggage at a station then speak to a member of staff, at major stations your bag may have been handed in to the left luggage office which can be returned for a fee. Any luggage that has become lost onboard a train is held by the train company running the service, so you should contact them for assistance.

Smoking and alcohol[edit]

Smoking is illegal on board trains in Great Britain (and in fact in any enclosed public place as part of the British smoking ban laws) and trains are fitted with smoke alarms, including in toilets. If you are seen smoking, train staff will arrange for the British Transport Police to wait for you at the next station, where you will be taken into custody. Note that smoking is also illegal on station platforms in England and Wales, although at smaller or rural stations it is generally ignored if you smoke in the open air as far as possible from the main waiting area.

Alcohol in open containers (i.e. opened cans or bottles, not stowed out of sight) is not permitted on any station, but it is on board trains. Be careful, as although this rule is only enforced at major stations you will have the drink confiscated and you are liable to a hefty fine. However, in Scotland on trains operated by ScotRail from 20th July 2012, it is illegal to be in possession of alcohol or consume alcohol after 9pm or before 10am in the morning. This ruling does not apply to the Caledonian Sleeper service. It is also illegal to travel on a train while drunk. This is part of a Scottish Government crackdown on alcohol-fueled anti-social behaviour. Passengers seen with alcohol during these times or who appear to be drunk at any time are liable to be arrested by British Transport Police officers at the next station. In the United Kingdom alcohol may be consumed in public and purchased by anyone of 18 years or over.

Catering[edit]

Food is served on most regional and nearly all inter-city trains. At a basic level it may take the form of a trolley service with light snacks, hot and cold drinks and perhaps some alcoholic drinks. Inter-city trains (except for CrossCountry services) often have a buffet counter, which may be termed the "buffet car", "shop" or "café bar" depending on the train operator. These serve all of the above, but may also offer hot food. First class on inter-city trains often features waiter service as well as hot food.

Quality has been improving in recent years but you will probably not get a full meal as the choice is limited, and the cost is higher than off-train services. If you wish to save money you should buy food before you board the train (not at the station as food at the cafés there can be quite pricey), and bring it with you onto the train.

Stations[edit]

London St. Pancras International, the UK terminus of the Eurostar high speed train, and domestic terminus for inter-city trains north to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield and high-speed trains south to Kent.
Statue of poet Sir John Betjeman looking up at the roof of London St. Pancras station. You should too! British stations are often impressive works of Victorian architecture.

There are approximately 2,600 railway stations throughout the UK, excluding urban rapid transit systems like the London Underground, Glasgow Subway, Tyne and Wear Metro and the Docklands Light Railway. All stations are owned by the state-owned Network Rail, who also manage major stations such as most of the central London terminals and those in major cities like Birmingham New Street or Edinburgh Waverley. Others are leased to train operating companies, who are responsible for the operation and staffing of the station. Stations vary in their facilities but you are likely to have difficulty finding waste bins at major stations due to the risk of terrorism.

Most stations are located in the centre of their respective town or city, or within walking distance. However, a station ending in Parkway (e.g. Bristol Parkway, East Midlands Parkway) means it is located far from the city centre, often in a distant suburb or even in the middle of nowhere. Usually there is a large car park so commuters can drive to it and then take the train to the city centre. However, parkway stations often provide a connecting bus service to an onward destination such as those which run from Luton Airport Parkway to Luton Airport. Another common idiosyncrasy is that some towns have two separate stations on completely unconnected routes – a remnant of the network's early days of development when feuding rival companies built duplicate routes to compete with each other.

When making a connection between two trains you may be required to transfer between two separate stations, sometimes via bus or tram. You will be warned of this when you book your tickets, and the connection will usually be included in the price.

Travellers should be aware than many retail outlets at larger stations may charge higher prices than shops outside stations. There is no restriction regarding eating one's own food on a train, and you can save money by buying sandwiches and drinks beforehand outside of the railway station.

Major stations of London[edit]

London, being the hub of the entire network is unique in that it has 12 major termini – there is no single "London" station. This is because in the 19th century it was illegal to build stations too close to the centre of London as it was thought this would put historic buildings at risk. As a result most were built in a ring which at that time was just outside the centre, but following London's expansion in the 19th and 20th century, is very much within it. Because of this, many journeys from the south of England to the north and vice versa require going into London, transferring between two of these major stations using the London Underground and then going back out again. When making a journey that involves a connection between London stations, a through ticket will normally allow connecting travel on the Underground – almost all of the major stations (Fenchurch Street being the notable exception) are on at least one of the Underground lines.

There is only one main line rail service which actually goes across the centre of London – it is known as the Thameslink route and runs underground between St Pancras and London Bridge on a north-south axis, forming a much longer route linking Brighton to Bedford and crucially connects Luton and Gatwick airports to the capital. A second, east-west rail link across London known as Crossrail is under construction and is due to open in 2019, and will allow main line trains to cross from the City and the East End onto the Great Western route, calling at Heathrow Airport.

The following is a list of the major stations of London, those in italics indicate a terminus station.

  • Blackfriars
  • Cannon Street
  • City Thameslink
  • Clapham Junction
  • Charing Cross
  • Euston
  • East Croydon
  • Fenchurch Street
  • King's Cross
  • Liverpool Street
  • London Bridge (Southeastern and Thameslink services do not terminate)
  • Marylebone
  • Moorgate
  • Paddington
  • St Pancras International (Thameslink services do not terminate)
  • Stratford
  • Victoria
  • Waterloo
  • Waterloo East

There is only one main line rail service which actually goes across the centre of London - it is known as the Thameslink route and runs underground between St Pancras and London Bridge on a North-South axis, forming a much longer route linking Brighton to Bedford, and crucially connects Luton and Gatwick airports. The long awaited East-West rail link across London (imaginatively known as Crossrail), is finally under construction after many decades of planning and is due to open in 2017, and is designed to ease congestion on the Underground. Crossrail will finally allow main line trains to cross from The City and the East End, and onto the Great Western route, calling at Heathrow Airport.

Major regional stations[edit]

Outside London, National Rail [1] list the following as major connecting stations, where passengers most often need to change trains on multi-leg journeys.

Towns/cities marked * have at least one other major rail station (not listed above). Sometimes, when making a connection, transfer is required between the two separate stations. Almost always this will be included in your ticket price (with transfer by bus or tram = streetcar). In Wigan (for example) the two stations are in fact just 100 yards/metres apart; so check beforehand whether a silly taxi journey is really needed!

Trains[edit]

An InterCity 125 (HST).
Class 390 Pendolino speeds through Tamworth station.
Class 220 Voyager at Newton Abbot station, operated by CrossCountry.

Most trains are modern, comfortable and accessible to people with disabilities. Following major investment in the past ten years, all are fairly new or have been comprehensively refurbished within that time. You are unlikely to see many traditional locomotives pulling passenger trains as most services are now operated by multiple-units, or else the locomotive is part of a specially-designed train such as the InterCity 125 or InterCity 225. With about one-third of track electrified, diesel trains are common including on inter-city services, but the same top speeds are usually achieved regardless of power source.

British train carriages are smaller compared with those of North America and most of Europe. The legroom on British trains is far superior to airlines or buses, but North American/European travellers will find the interior space of British trains very much smaller than even those of a subway/metro in their own countries. There are no reclining seats on any trains, except for sleeper services.

British train types all have a class number but most people refer to them by the name (e.g. "I was on one of those Pendolinos today"). Inter-city trains in the UK usually travel at between 100-125mph and tend to have the most facilities, including wireless internet access and often a buffet or on-board shop. There are many different types of train in operation, but this section will give you a brief orientation to the trains you're likely to travel in, and what to expect.

InterCity 125
Also often known as "HST" (High Speed Train), InterCity 125s are found frequently all over Great Britain on long distance and inter-city services. Introduced in 1976, they operate at speeds of up to 125mph (200km/h) and many are still in service today primarily due to the excellent design.While you need to open the doors using a handle, all have been comprehensively renovated in the last few years and are basically all-new inside. They have more luggage storage than most, with luggage racks and toilets at each end of the train. All have a quiet coach and most also have plug points for recharging laptops/mobile phones and a buffet car serving hot and cold food and beverages.
InterCity 225
If you travel on Virgin Trains East Coast's inter-city services between London Kings Cross and Leeds or Edinburgh, you will likely be on one of these electric trains introduced in 1990. They were designed for 140mph (225km/h) but are limited to the line's speed limit of 125mph. They have recently been comprehensively refurbished and have power-operated doors, a buffet car, plug points, luggage racks and comfortable seats (many of which have large tables good for families or groups). Coach B is the Quiet Coach.
Pendolino
This is an electric inter-city tilting train operated by Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston, north-west England and Glasgow. Introduced in the early 2000s, they travel at 125mph (200km/h) and tilt up to 8 degrees around corners. They have a small on-board shop selling magazines/newspapers, hot and cold snacks and beverages. Coach A is the Quiet Coach.
Voyager and Super Voyager
These are inter-city diesel trains introduced around 2001. Operated by CrossCountry and Virgin Trains, they usually have four or five carriages and travel at 125mph (200km/h). Each carriage has an engine under the floor so are not as quiet as some others. The overhead luggage racks are quite slim, thus there is not as much luggage space compared to some other trains. Virgin's Voyagers have a useful shop/buffet like on the Pendolino but CrossCountry units only have an irregular trolley service.

Heritage and steam railways[edit]

Seeing Britain's railway heritage
If you are interested in the role railways have played in British society, railway heritage, or just historic trains, a visit to the award-winning, free (and family-friendly) National Railway Museum at York is a must. Sited next to the station, it is the most popular national museum outside London and the many exhibits include the fastest-ever steam locomotive, Mallard, Queen Victoria's royal train, and the original Flying Scotsman.

Following the large-scale line closures and withdrawal of steam locomotives in the 1960s, enthusiasts began to band together to re-open lines as tourist attractions, using surplus or historic steam locomotives and vintage rolling stock. You can visit literally dozens of these, all over Great Britain, and they are popular for a day out. Some run full-size trains, others (such as the Ffestiniog Railway in Gwynedd, Wales) use a narrow gauge, while others (such as the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway in Kent) are complete miniature systems with tiny steam locomotives. The most up-to-date list is on the Wikipedia article [2]. While most operate steam trains, some also use heritage diesel locomotives or diesel railcars. Of the many such heritage lines, prominent ones include:

  • The Bluebell Railway runs for nine miles through Sussex, from the National Rail station at East Grinstead. It has over 30 steam locomotives and has operated a public service by steam for over 50 years. It has appeared frequently as a movie location.
  • The Severn Valley Railway runs for 16 miles through Worcestershire and Shropshire in the west of England, starting at the National Rail station at Kidderminster. Originally part of the Great Western Railway, a variety of steam trains appear alongside a handful of classic diesel units.
  • The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is a miniature railway in Cumbria, starting from Ravenglass station on the National Rail network. The track gauge is just 15 inches and locomotives are miniaturised versions of the full-size originals. it runs for seven miles through scenic hill country.
  • The Keith and Dufftown Railway (also known as "The Whisky Line") runs for 11 miles through Moray and Speyside in Scotland using classic Scottish steam trains and diesel railcars. There are numerous whisky distilleries in the area which can be visited. The line begins in Keith which has a National Rail station.
  • The Ffestiniog Railway is a narrow-gauge railway in the Snowdonia National Park in north Wales. It is a popular attraction in the area and originally carried slate from the mines nearby to harbour for shipping, and also carried passengers (which are now the only thing carried). Unusual double-ended steam locomotives are used along with other unusual rolling stock.
  • The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a railway in the Yorkshire Moors that runs 18 miles between Pickering and Whitby, with common stops being Goathland (famous for playing "Aidensfield" in Heartbeat) and Grosmont, possibly the most famous locomotive to run on the railway is the LNER A4 Pacific Sir Nigel Gresley.

It must be noted that heritage railways' tickets are very expensive (if regarded as simply a travel option). Heritage railways do not (without exception) provide true public transport "solutions." They are exclusively tourist attractions, based on the company's/enthusiasts' conception of heritage.

International connections[edit]

Eurostar[edit]

London St. Pancras is the terminus for Eurostar high-speed trains to Lille, Brussels, Paris and seasonal French destinations such as Avignon (Summer Service) and the Alps (Winter Service). Connections to many major European cities can be made in Lille, Brussels, Paris, and through tickets are available from Eurostar [3], RailEurope [4] and staffed ticket offices to European destinations. Note: it can often be much cheaper to buy (from London) an advanced ticket to Lille, Paris or Brussels, then to travel onwards on a ticket purchased abroad (even on the day). Through tickets purchased in the UK to European destinations are nearly always more expensive. If you are travelling to the East of Europe, two or three tickets can be much better value than a single through ticket purchased (officially) in the UK.

Airports with rail stations[edit]

  • Aberdeen – (1 mile from 'Dyce' station – taxi and limited bus links)
  • Birmingham – 'Birmingham International' station
  • Cardiff – (1 mile from 'Rhoose Cardiff International Airport' station – dedicated bus link)
  • East Midlands – (4 miles from dedicated 'East Midlands Parkway' station – but only taxi and limited bus links)
  • Edinburgh – (on Edinburgh Trams system. Interchanges with the railway at Haymarket and Edinburgh Park stations.)
  • Glasgow Prestwick
  • Liverpool John Lennon Airport – Liverpool South Parkway station (by bus or taxi),
  • London City (on the Docklands Light Railway, part of London's urban transport system)
  • London Gatwick
  • London Heathrow (has three rail links to London: the fast and expensive Heathrow Express, the slower and cheaper Heathrow Connect, and the slowest and cheapest Piccadilly Line of the London Underground)
  • London Luton – (1 mile from 'Luton Airport Parkway' – frequent dedicated bus link)
  • London Stansted
  • Manchester Manchester Airport Station (in the airport) to many national destinations and Manchester City Centre, and also by tram (streetcar) to Manchester national rail stations
  • Newcastle – (on the Tyne & Wear Metro system)
  • Southampton
  • Southend
  • Durham Tees Valley ('Teesside') – However this is one of the least used rail stations on the UK network as it is a good 15-20 minutes walk from the airport, however there are plans to rebuild the station far closer to the airport.

Most airports without integrated rail services offer a bus connection to the nearest station.

Seaports with railway stations[edit]

Through tickets are available from any UK railway station to any station in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. In the west of Scotland, rail and ferry timetables are often integrated, and through tickets are available. For details of routes and fares, contact SailRail [5] or National Rail [6].

Stay safe[edit]

The railway network has a low crime rate, but you do have to use common sense. The most common incident is theft of unsupervised luggage. If travelling with bags then keep them within sight, especially during station stops if your bags are in racks near the doors of the carriage. British Transport Police (BTP) officers are responsible for the policing of stations and trains, and you may see signs for them at major stations. In an emergency the BTP as well as fire and ambulance services can be contacted by dialing 999 or 112 from any telephone or mobile phone, even if you have no calling credit. If you wish to contact the British Transport Police themselves and it is not an immediate emergency, dial 0800 40 50 40.

Due to the UK's history of terrorist incidents, unattended luggage is treated by the authorities as a potential explosive device. This can lead to closure of the entire station (particularly in London) and the bag may be destroyed in a controlled explosion. If you see any suspicious luggage left unattended then report it to the nearest staff member or police officer, if this is not possible then you can use one of the Help Points situated on the platforms that will connect you to a member of staff.

In the event of an emergency[edit]

A conductor or guard is present on most trains. If they have not made themselves visible during the journey then they can usually be found in the cab at the rear of the train. Communication panels are normally located throughout the length of the train that will allow it to be stopped in an emergency. Most trains also have safety and evacuation notices posted on one or more of its walls and it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with these instructions.

Should there be an emergency, such as fire or accident to the train...

  1. Get the attention of a member of staff, any staff member will do.
  2. If you cannot get the staff's attention and you are certain that you or anyone else or the train is in danger then pull the emergency stop handle, this will be either red or green and will be visibly identified. Be aware that pulling the emergency stop handle between stations will make it more difficult for emergency crews or police to reach the train. This should be pulled for clear emergencies only, improper use will result in a fine of £1000 and possibly result in prosecution. Be aware, many communication panels are also emergency brakes. Unless someone's safety is threatened by the movement of the train, contact the guard or driver and wait for assistance or the next station stop.
  3. Unless your personal safety is imminently threatened, you are always safer on the train than if you try to leave it.
  4. If you are in immediate danger try to move to the next carriage, the internal doors can be pushed apart if necessary.
  5. If it is not possible to move to another carriage, only then should you attempt to leave the train via the external doors. Methods for unlocking and opening in an emergency differ between types of train however, the emergency open device will be located at the door with instructions.
  6. If this is not possible, leave through an emergency window which will usually be identified as such. There may be a hammer located next to it. If there is no indicated window, use the most convenient one facing away from any other tracks if possible.
  7. You should lower yourself carefully from the train and move away from it as quickly as possible. Take nothing with you.
  8. Watch for other trains, and possibly the electric third rail. Do not step or touch any rail, as serious injury or death will result.


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