YOU CAN EDIT THIS PAGE! Just click any blue "Edit" link and start writing!

Difference between revisions of "Rail travel in the United Kingdom"

From Wikitravel
Jump to: navigation, search
Rail travel in the United Kingdom

Default Banner.jpg

(Setting and Introduction - The Importance of Passenger Rail Travel)
(Setting and Introduction - The Importance of Passenger Rail Travel: Section header should not be present for opening section of articles - style/format point)
Line 2: Line 2:
[[Image:Cross_country_train_berwick.jpg|thumb|250px|A Class 220 ''Voyager'' high-speed diesel train crosses the Royal Border Bridge at [[Berwick-upon-Tweed]] with a CrossCountry service from [[England]] to [[Scotland]].]]
[[Image:Cross_country_train_berwick.jpg|thumb|250px|A Class 220 ''Voyager'' high-speed diesel train crosses the Royal Border Bridge at [[Berwick-upon-Tweed]] with a CrossCountry service from [[England]] to [[Scotland]].]]
==Setting and Introduction - The Importance of Passenger Rail Travel==
With around 34,000km (21,000 miles) of lines, the '''National Rail''' passenger network of the [[United Kingdom]] is one of the densest and most used railway networks in the world; it is certainly not a ''niche market'' method of transport.  
With around 34,000km (21,000 miles) of lines, the '''National Rail''' passenger network of the [[United Kingdom]] is one of the densest and most used railway networks in the world; it is certainly not a ''niche market'' method of transport.  

Revision as of 22:34, 15 March 2013

    This article is a travel topic

A Class 220 Voyager 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 the United Kingdom is one of the densest and most used railway networks in the world; it is certainly not a niche market method of transport.

The official map can be found here:

The UK gave birth to the railway, with the first passenger services (between Stockton and Darlington in north-east England) and first steam locomotives developed there from the 1820s. This means the network is the oldest in the world. Most was constructed in the 19th century in massive civil engineering projects, many of which are now iconic (such as the Forth Bridge) and noted for their elegance as well as being major feats of engineering. Although some parts are relatively Victorian and can be inefficient, there has been significant investment in recent years.

Train travel is very popular in Britain - most services are now very busy; passenger numbers have been rising steadily, with passenger usage now as great as it was sixty years ago. There are nearly 1.5 billion (1,500 million) passenger journeys made each year, ( compared with the 35 million of the United States which has a population five times the greater.

It is one of the fastest, most comfortable, convenient and enjoyable ways to explore Britain and by far the best way to travel inter-city. From High Speed 1, which connects London to Kent and mainland Europe, to preserved railways operating historic steam trains through idyllic countryside, to modern inter-city services and the breathtakingly scenic lines of Scotland, the train can be an enthralling and affordable way to see all that the UK has to offer.

Brtish television is replete (almost nightly) with TV programmes either celebrating, denigrating, or analysing the railway network of today.

The 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 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. Despite a highly controversial and damaging privatisation in the mid 1990s which resulted in the running of the system being split up into dozens of different organsations, the network provides seamless journeys even if travelling on various company's trains - tickets can be purchased from any station in Great Britain to any other, irrespective of train company. The National Rail website provides timetables and a journey planner at

The award-winning National Railway Museum [1] at York tells the story of Britain's railways and how they changed society from the 19th century to today, with many historic and record-setting locomotives, rolling stock and other exhibits. Admission is free.

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 and even uses a different track gauge (the Irish 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 [2] and trains in the Republic of Ireland operated by Iarnród Éireann [3]. For more details on rail travel in Northern Ireland, see Rail travel in Ireland.


The ownership and structure is complex, but you won't notice when making a journey, although it may be discussed in the media (complaints about the service feature often in the news). The track, stations and infrastructure (except for preserved railways) are owned and maintained by Network Rail, a "not for dividend" company limited by guarantee and owned by the government. Basically this means the infrastructure is all state-owned.

Trains to be run are specified by the government and 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, the former state-owned railway operator which was privatised in the 1990s (although the infrastructure was re-nationalised in the early 2000s). The iconic logo is used extensively to signify a railway station and on road signs, maps, tickets and other places.

Passenger Rail Companies

Some train operating companies cover a particular geographical region, while others operate inter-city lines which pass through various regions. As of May 2012, the National Rail [4] network of passenger operating companies consists of the following companies. All are private commercial organisations (mostly subsidiaries of global transport companies like FirstGroup, Stagecoach, Arriva and Virgin), except for East Coast which is state-owned but operated commercially.

  • Arriva Trains Wales / Trenau Arriva Cymru [5]
  • c2c [6]
  • Chiltern Railways [7]
  • CrossCountry [8]
  • East Coast [9]
  • East Midlands Trains [10]
  • Eurostar [11]
  • First Capital Connect [12]
  • First Great Western [13]
  • First Hull Trains [14]
  • First Transpennine Express [15]
  • Gatwick Express [16]
  • Grand Central [17]
  • Heathrow Connect [18]
  • Heathrow Express [19]

Historical Background

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

The world's first public railway opened between Stockton and Darlington in north-east England in 1825, marking the start of a railway-building boom. Most railways in Britain were built by private companies in search of profit; dozens of small companies ran local lines, merged and took over each other, as others entered the market. By the mid-19th century, these had grown into a national railway network. In the 1920s, the government decreed they all merge into the four large companies that are best known today: the Southern Railway, London and North-Eastern Railway (LNER), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and Great Western. What followed was a "golden age" of speed records, iconic locomotives such as Flying Scotsman and images of the train as an elegant yet everyday form of travel (you'll see modern train company names harking back to this golden age). Following World War 2, in which most of the infrastructure was worn down on war duties, damaged or destroyed by bombing raids, the government nationalised all railways in 1948. The resulting state-owned British Rail ran trains for nearly fifty years, during a time of change when steam was replaced by diesel and electric, large numbers of unprofitable lines were closed in the "Beeching Axe" as the age of the car arrived, line speeds increased, and the now-iconic double-arrow logo came to symbolise the railway network and the presence of a station.

1940s and 50s railway posters used art to entice travellers to visit resorts by train.

British Rail's (and now National Rail's) double-arrow logo and associated typeface of the 1960s are recognised as design classics of the period (unlike almost anything else British Rail did) but are only one of many achievements of design and engineering accomplished by railway companies in Britain. In the 19th century, majestic stations such as London St. Pancras, Kings Cross, Paddington and Liverpool Street were erected by railway companies. These "rail cathedrals" symbolised the success of the companies who built them and the places their lines ran through (e.g. the Midland bricks of which St. Pancras is constructed). Iconic bridges and viaducts of the Victorian era such as the Forth Bridge have come to symbolise the regions they run through. In the 1920s and 30s, streamlined locomotives such as Mallard became symbols of modernity which now symbolise the zenith of UK rail travel, while railway travel posters between the 1930s and 1950s pioneered a style of art which showcased Britain at its most attractive.

Despite the lows of the Beeching era in the 1960s, British Rail rebounded in the 1970s and '80s as it fought back against the new motorways. The state-owned corporation developed a new unified brand for its long distance express services known as Inter-City, and this, along with electrification of the two main line routes from London to Scotland and new, high technology rolling stock saw a boom in patronage that in turn safeguarded the loss making regional routes and remaining branch lines from closure. However, decline and neglect were still very evident throughout the system as it suffered from a lack of investment from government. 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.

Following a badly-conceived privatisation in the mid 1990s, the network was fragmented with different companies running track, rolling stock, and dozens of small companies operating trains but with heavy government intervention, subsidy and control of the system.
British Rail's iconic logo and typeface from the 1960s defined the look-and-feel of the railway in the modern era. The logo still identifies a station today.
The infrastructure (e.g. track, signals and stations) were re-nationalised in the early 2000s after a financial meltdown triggered by the fateful Hatfield incident in October 2000, and 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. Profits accrue to the private sector but subsidies are paid and exact services to be run are specified by the government. In fact, the national and devolved governments in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff have much greater control over the railways now than in the days of British Rail. As of 2012, passenger numbers are booming despite annual rises in fares, and many passengers buy tickets on the internet and access timetables using smartphone apps.

Most Scenic Routes

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 operate others (usually by steam train) in gorgeous countryside (see section below on preserved railways).

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.
  • The West Highland Line [32] 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 include Loch Lomond and the Gareloch, the dramatic Rannoch Moor, the Glenfinnan Viaduct (as featured in the Harry Potter movies and Scottish banknotes) and spectacular views of the Western Isles from Mallaig, among many others on the 3-5.5 hour ride.
  • The Settle-Carlisle Line [33] 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 is good walking from many of the stations on the route.
  • Exeter-Penzance (also known as the Riviera Line) [34]: 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 [35] 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 (as may be seen if taking the sleeper from London to Aberdeen)

Most of the services on these routes are run by modern diesel multiple units or HSTs, however, regular steam and heritage diesel hauled charters run across the network for which tickets can be purchased from the operator. Please note "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 [36] for more information on steam tours or [37] for heritage diesel tours (includes some that are part steam hauled).


Statue of poet Sir John Betjeman looking up at architecture of London St. Pancras station. You should too! British stations are often impressive works of Victorian architecture

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, train 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 - for the same journey. The British often travel with several tickets (using different companies) to avoid the high "one ticket" fare.

In the United Kingdom (and elsewhere in Europe) a 200 mile, 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 twice an hour. In the South East of England (South of London in particular) many routes (for example London to Brighton) run at frequencies close to those of subways in major cities elsewhere in the world. In other areas even many of the smallest towns have a frequency of long distance rail service which surprises many visitors from North America. Anything less than an hourly service during the day is regarded as low frequency.

The days of "checked baggage" (that is, suitcases and such like) which is still common in North America, are long gone in the United Kingdom. Neither has baggage (and parcels) been sent apart from the passenger since the 1970s.


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, refurbished, are still a mainstay of some routes today). Unlike some countries, high-speed services do not cost more than others, except for the trains running on the new High Speed 1 from London St. Pancras to stations in Kent. Here you pay higher fares than slower services that don't use the high-speed line and there are no cheaper Advance or Off-Peak tickets. Away from the inter-city lines, speeds are up to 160km/h (100mph) on main lines and less on more minor routes.

On non-inter-city services (especially in South-East England), 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 non-stop. So the train in the above announcement would miss out the many stations between Bromley South and London Victoria. A "fast" service is non-stop, while "semi-fast" means calling at only certain stations.

Classes of Travel

Standard-class interior of refurbished InterCity 125 (also known as HST) operated by CrossCountry.
1st-class interior of Class 221 Super Voyager operated by Virgin Trains.

Two classes operate: standard class and 1st class. Commuter trains and some local services offer standard class only. Unlike in the rest of Europe 1st class travel is not considered by ordinary (non-business) users as a "treat" worth taking, as it is usually incredibly expensive. Certain companies, however, offer a special deal where at certain (off-peak) times First class travel is available for a small supplement.

  • Standard class 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 a larger seat, more legroom, and on inter-city routes, an at-seat service of drinks, refreshments and a newspaper (not all at seat services are available at the weekend).

In both 1st and standard class, 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, iPods, conversations, and any other noise is not permitted. These can be found on trains operated by East Coast, East Midlands Trains, CrossCountry, Virgin Trains, First Great Western and Greater Anglia's inter-city services.

Smoking and Alcohol

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 railway police - the British Transport Police - to be waiting at the next station and you will be arrested and taken away. Note that smoking is also illegal on station platforms, 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 onboard 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 in the morning (before 10am). 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 [38]. 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.

Rural Services

On some rural, local services (particularly in Wales, Scotland and the south-west of England), some smaller stations are request ("flag stop") stations (this will normally be indicated on the schedule as well as announced on the public-address system). If boarding at 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.

Regional, Local and Commuter Lines

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). Most towns and all cities of interest or importance can be reached by rail, or by rail and a connecting bus link (e.g. a bus service connects Leuchars Station with St Andrews). It's worth trying the journey planner on the National Rail website [39]] to see if a place you're interested in is served (see section on Planning your Trip below).

Inter-City Lines

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 station (e.g. Paddington, King's Cross, St. Pancras, Euston, etc.)

Main concourse at London Kings Cross station, terminus of the East Coast Main Line to Scotland and the north of England, as well as local and regional services to Cambridgeshire and destinations north of London.

Sleeper trains

There are three scheduled sleeper trains in Britain that 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 ScotRail sometimes restrict 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

ScotRail [40] operate two Caledonian Sleeper routes, with each train dividing/joining en route to serve multiple destinations in Scotland.

  • The Lowland Sleeper departs from/arrives in London Euston as one train, but divides at Carstairs in the early hours, with portions travelling to:
  • The Highland Sleeper 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 (and calling at numerous stations on the way):

Reservations on ScotRail sleepers 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 ScotRail's website [41] and sell out fast (book well in advance for these).

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 (a blindfold may be provided).
  • Standard Class (a cabin with two berths, upper and lower, and washbasin; solo travellers usually have to share with another traveller of the same sex)
  • First Class (an identical cabin but only one berth and more generous breakfast, toiletry pack and access to departure and arrival lounges at larger stations)

London to Penzance

First Great Western [42] operate the 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 First Great Western sleepers are mandatory, and supplements are payable on top of the basic fare to reserve a berth. The Night Riviera offers three kinds of accommodation:

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

Planning your trip

The National Rail timetable is still published in printed paper form (and is also available free on line in pdf format: along with the most accurate and detailed maps. In printed format this timetable is some four inches in thickness amounting to many thousands of pages.

Britain's longest train journey
The longest single train journey in Britain is the 08:20 from Aberdeen to Penzance, operated by CrossCountry [43]. According to the summer 2012 timetable, it takes nearly 13 and a half hours (arriving at 21:42) 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 is the National Rail website at It has a very useful journey planner, gives live updates for all stations, has station information and plans, ticket information, as well as a useful Cheapest Fare Finder. Most of these services are also available by telephone from the National Rail Enquiries phone service on +44 845 748 4950. The National Rail website gives prices but does not sell tickets (however it will link to a choice of several websites which do). Among the train operators' websites, a useful one for planning travel and buying tickets is:

  • East Coast [44] is the only current state-owned train operating company (it operates high-speed inter-city services from London to Scotland via the East Coast Main Line). It has an attractive and easy-to-use ticketing system and like all train company websites, it gives information and sells tickets for all services in Great Britain operated by any company. This one is particularly useful because of the way in which the site allows you to compare the cost of two one-way tickets versus a return ticket. A lowest fare finder also quickly shows you the cheapest combination of trains. It makes no extra charge for credit/debit card payments nor ticket collection from a station ticket machine.
The Forth Bridge takes the line north from Edinburgh across the firth of Forth, to Fife and Aberdeen.

Various independent train booking websites also exist, but often charge unavoidable additional fees (e.g. for booking, using a debit card, using a credit card, receiving tickets by post or collecting them at the station).

  • [45] is the oldest, best known and most reliable of these train ticketing 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 [46] can help you plan advance travel by e-mailing you when cheaper Advance tickets become available for a particular route.

Buying Tickets

A typical National Rail (UK) 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 feature of the network is that you can purchase a through-ticket from any one station to any other in Great Britain, regardless of which or how many train companies you will need to travel on. NOTE: Some tickets are only valid for travel with a particular train operator, if this is the case it will expicitly state this on the ticket. You buy tickets at station ticket offices or ticket machines (bear in mind that smaller stations may have no ticket office and very minor ones will not have a machine). Alternatively, more and more travellers buy from one of the train company's websites, all of which have a journey planner and sell tickets for all services, not just their own. If you buy on a website such as or East Coast's website or one of the other companies listed in the Passenger Rail Companies section above, you can have tickets sent to you by mail (if you live in the UK) or you can pick them up at any station you specify that has an automated ticket machine. If you are collecting tickets from a machine, you need the bank card used to purchase them plus the confirmation number. If you have forgotten the number, it is usually included with the confirmation e-mail. Some websites (such as those linked to above) also allow you to print the ticket at home on your printer on regular paper.

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.

Ticket types

A typical National Rail (UK) 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 ('L' for lower of two berths). Printed on the same format of card as a ticket, no reservation is valid without an accompanying ticket.

Tickets come 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. You can choose between flexibility (generally move expensive) and value (less or no flexibility), similar to an airline.

Off-peak times are usually any time after 9.30am and all weekends and public holidays, although some companies around London also have a weekday afternoon peak (16:30-18:30). Services are much more expensive outside these off-peak times. 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. In increasing order of cost, tickets are classed as:

  • Advance - 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 Advance ticket. Change in travel plans possible.
  • Anytime - Buy any time, travel any time, most expensive ticket. Change in travel plans easily made, plus you can just travel any time you like.

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. If you cannot pay it straight away you will be thrown off at the next station. To check how far ahead 'Advance' tickets are available, visit National Rail's "Booking Horizons" page [47]. If you have not booked in advance, short-distance travel is still affordable if you buy on the day of travel, but if you try to buy longer-distance tickets on the day (e.g. London-Scotland) make sure your budget is prepared for truly eye-popping fares.

When purchasing a less restricted off-peak or anytime ticket, note that return fares are normally only a small amount more than a single (one-way ticket).


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


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 (after completing a form and providing of proof of eligibility and a photograph) or online from 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 £24 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 £24 per year.
  • Senior Railcard Offers a discount of 1/3 on most tickets for anyone aged 60 or over. Currently costs £24 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 obsolete '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 £20 a year.
  • Disabled Persons Railcard Offers a discount of 1/3 to eligible disabled or mobility restricted passengers. Currently costs £18 for one year or £48 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

Britain's most overcrowded train
The popularity of train travel in the UK has been soaring in recent years. If you plan to explore Britain by rail, it is worth noting that in many parts of the network suffer from overcrowding. This not restricted to commuter services. Standing, without a seat, for over 100 miles is not uncommon (a ticket does not not guarantee a seat). For example: long distance trains from London to Manchester (from London Euston) and to Yorkshire (from London King's Cross) can be so crowded that passengers are not allowed to board due to safety issues. Even apparently rural services can be subjected to severe overcrowding (for example: Norwich to Lowestoft)

In response to a request for information under the 'Freedom of Information' Act in 2008, the government's Department for Transport released data [48] that listed the most overcrowded trains in the country. The figures consited of: actual passenger numbers, official capacity and percentage over capacity. It must be noted that capacity does not just mean the seats, but includes an agreed "comfortable-standing" level. Thus a figure of 176% means that the train has all its seats full and its allowed standing quota plus on top of that 76% more passengers than that total. For example: a carriage designated to seat 76 passengers and to have twenty standing quota, will (for example) at 176% occupancy have some 169 people crammed into each carriage.

  1. 07:15 Cambridge - London King's Cross: 870 (494, 176%)
  2. 08:02 Woking - London Waterloo: 865 (492, 176%)
  3. 07:45 Cambridge - London King's Cross: 812 (494, 164%)
  4. 17:45 London King's Cross - King's Lynn: 808 (494, 164%)
  5. 08:22 Oxford - London Paddington: 482 (304, 159%)

These figures are averages and there are frequent examples reported in the press of carriages which carry up to 350% of "offical" capacity.

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.

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. The National Rail website has a Season Ticket calculator [49].

Rail passes

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 [50] for more information.
  • Britrail [51] [52] 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 & Rover tickets

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 [53]. 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 - £129 and £173 respectively, with concessions for children and railcard holders.

Ticket add-ons

  • 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 cannot leave the train at an intermediate Underground station.
  • 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

The National Rail [54] website along with overall detailed maps, has an information page for every railway station in Britain (however minor), with details of access , facilities, ticket office opening hours and recommended connection times. Also Wikipedia has detailed information regarding every British station. The 'live' Departures & Arrivals screen for every station can also be viewed online, with up-to-the-minute train running information.

At the station

Departure boards at London Kings Cross station.

If you are unfamiliar with your journey, arrive at the station with time to spare. Stations in Britain are often architecturally significant, so if you are early, take the time to look around. 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. 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; they are identified at each station by their departure time (using the 24-hour clock) and destination (eg. "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.

Boarding the train

If you have a seat reservation, 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 direction it's travelling in), 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 press the 'close door' button 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). When getting off, 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

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, look for one where the reservation starts at a station the train has not reached yet (and be prepared to move seats when it reaches there), or where the reservation ends at a station already called at.

Keep your ticket and any reservation, pass and/or railcard with you when you move about the train (e.g. to go to the toilet or buffet car), as you may be asked to show it by 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 cannot find your ticket at one of these, you will be in big trouble and liable to a hefty penalty plus the cost of a new full ticket. So don't throw away your ticket!

Station stops are normally announced over the public address system or on scrolling electronic displays in the carriage.

Travelling with Luggage

Different trains vary in how much luggage space they provide. Nearly all trains (including all inter-city ones) 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 fill up quickly and on long-distance services there is usually not enough space for everyone, so board the train as early as you can to get a space. If you cannot get a space in the racks, and re-arranging the items there doesn't help, 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.


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.

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 belong to the state-owned Network Rail, who also manage day-to-day operation of the major stations (which comprises almost all of the central London terminals and those in major cities - such as Birmingham New Street or Edinburgh Waverley). Others are leased to the train operating company running most of the services there, who are responsible for the operation, upkeep and staffing of the station. Stations vary in their facilities (see information on the National Rail website) but you are likely to have difficulty finding a rubbish bin/trash can 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/town 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. Do not get off at a Parkway station if your destination is the city centre - for example, you would get off at Bristol Temple Meads and not Bristol Parkway - although it must be noted that Bristol Parkway is unusual as it does in fact have a rail connection to the city centre station in Bristol. An exception is if you are connecting to a bus service to an onward destination. For example, shuttle buses run from Luton Airport Parkway to Luton Airport. Another common idosyncracy is that some towns have two separate stations on completely unconnected routes - a trait of the network's early development when feuding rival companies competed to build duplicate routes, and something the Beeching reforms of the 1960s often didn't (or couldn't) resolve - the best example of this being London's massive St. Pancras and King's Cross stations which were built side-by-side by two competing Victorian railway companies literally trying to out-do each other.

Major stations of London

When making a journey that involves a connection between London stations, a through ticket will normally allow connecting travel on London Underground services. In the 19th century it was made illegal to build railway termini 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. Bold type indicates a terminus station; most London stations are termini as only a few lines cross the capital.

  • Blackfriars
  • Cannon Street
  • Clapham Junction
  • Charing Cross
  • Euston
  • East Croydon
  • Fenchurch Street
  • King's Cross
  • Liverpool Street
  • London Bridge
  • Marylebone
  • Moorgate
  • Paddington
  • St Pancras International (underground 'Thameslink' platforms not termini)
  • Stratford
  • Victoria
  • Waterloo
  • Waterloo East

Major regional stations

Outside London, National Rail [55] list the following as major connecting stations, where passengers most often need to change trains on multi-leg journeys.

Trains and Rolling Stock

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 won't see many traditional locomotives pulling passenger trains (unless you travel on one of the sleeper trains), as most services are now operated by multiple-units, or else the locomotive(s) is permanently integrated into a specially-designed train such as 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 trains have a class number but most refer to them by the name (e.g. "I was on one of those Pendolinos today"). This section gives an orientation to the trains you're most likely to need to use and what you can expect. There are more classes which are less common, particularly of electric multiple-unit trains on local and regional services.

Inter-city services

Inter-city trains in the UK usually travel at 125mph and tend to have the most facilities, including wireless internet access, and often a buffet or even on-board shop. Some inter-city services (e.g. between cities in Scotland) use Turbostar trains which are described in the regional section below.

InterCity 125

InterCity 125 (HST).

Also often known as "HST", InterCity 125 are found frequently all over Great Britain on many train companies' long-distance and inter-city services, from northern Scotland to London and the far south-west of England, including East Coast services that go north of Edinburgh and most inter-city Great Western services, among others. One of British Rail's few major successes, they introduced 125mph (200km/h) diesel service in the late 1970s and set speed records for a diesel train. All are still in service today, primarily due to the excellent design. While you need to open the doors using a handle (there is no handle inside so to get off you slide down the window and reach out), all have been comprehensively renovated in the last few years and are basically all-new inside. They have more luggage storage than most, with a large rack and toilet at each end of the 8 or 9 carriages. All have a quiet coach and most also have plug-points for recharging laptops/mobile phones and a useful buffet car serving hot and cold food and beverages.

InterCity 225

Three InterCity 225 trains at London Kings Cross
If you travel on 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 the signalling was never completed so are limited to the line's speed limit of 125mph. All InterCity 225 have recently been comprehensively refurbished and have power-operated doors, a buffet car with hot and cold food and drinks, plug-points and comfortable seats (many of which have large tables good for families or groups). Coach B is the Quiet Coach. There are big luggage racks similar to InterCity 125, but they still fill up quickly so board as early as you can.


Class 390 Pendolino speeds through Tamworth
The Class 390 Pendolino 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 and using Italian tilt technology (hence the name), they travel at 125mph (200km/h; but like the InterCity 225, were designed for 140mph/225km/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. In 2007, faulty track caused a Pendolino travelling at high speed to derail at Grayrigg in Cumbria. Only one person was killed, with the lack of a higher death toll attributed to the unit's crashworthiness. However, the heavily-reinforced body means not all seats have a window.

Voyager and Super Voyager

Class 220 Voyager at Newton Abbot, operated by CrossCountry
The Class 220 Voyager and Class 221 Super Voyager 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 and there is not as much luggage rack space as some other trains. Virgin's Voyagers have a useful shop/buffet like on the Pendolino but CrossCountry units only have an irregular trolley service even though some cover very long distances (e.g. Aberdeen - Penzance). The Class 222 Meridian on East Midlands Trains services is very similar but does have a shop/buffet.

Regional, local and commuter services


Class 171 Turbostar operated by Southern
These are the most numerous diesel multiple-unit trains built in the UK since railway privatisation in the 1990s. They can travel at up to 100mph (160km/h - you'll hear the engine under the floor of each carriage) and are used all over Great Britain by many train companies, with the electric Electrostar version mostly seen in the South-East of England. Class 170 to 172 Turbostar trains operate local, regional and some inter-city services and usually have digital information displays and automated announcements. There is usually a trolley service but no buffet or plug-points. They have two to four coaches and are sometimes coupled together to make a longer train.
Class 377 Electrostar operated by Southern


These are the electric version of the Turbostar, and are similar inside. They were introduced in the past ten years to replace hoardes of elderly units in the south and south-east of England. Class 357, 375, 376 and 377 Electrostar trains operate regional and commuter services there and like Turbostar can reach 100mph (160km/h) but with faster acceleration (being electric). As with them, there is usually a trolley service but luggage space is not as much as an inter-city train.

Express Sprinter

Class 158 Express Sprinter operated by ScotRail
The Class 158 and 159 Express Sprinter was introduced around 1990 by British Rail and are designed for medium- and long-distance regional services. They can reach 90mph (140km/h) with a diesel engine under each carriage, and are used particularly by ScotRail and numerous other companies in the north, south-west and west of England. They were quite prestigious when introduced and the ride is quite smooth. They have overhead and end-of-carriage luggage racks but not as much as an inter-city train. Unlike the Turbostar, the doors are at the end of each carriage so cold weather doesn't come in when stopped at a station.

Sprinter and SuperSprinter

Class 153 SuperSprinter operated by Northern Rail

These classes form a family of diesel multiple-units introduced in the 1980s (the Express Sprinter is the final development of this family). Class 150 Sprinter trains are used for local services or rural lines, with Classes 153 to 156 SuperSprinter being more sophisticated, comfortable and suitable for longer routes (e.g. the scenic West Highland Line) and all reach 75mph (120km/h). They do not usually have air conditioning, but this is not a problem for much of the year in Britain anyway and they are designed for shorter-distance services.


Class 365 Networker

These electric multiple-unit trains (classes 356, 465 and 466) were introduced in the early 1990s. Class 365 Networker operates services up to 100mph in the east of England (for First Capital Connect), with comfortable surroundings, air conditioning, etc. New upholstery has been installed recently. The others are used on local and commuter lines south of London and can reach 75mph (120km/h) using the third-rail, with higher-density seating and resilient floors rather than carpets. You may also find the diesel versions, Class 165 and 166 Network Turbo, on services running west of London.


Class 450 Desiro at Alton, operated by South West Trains

Until recently, all rolling stock was built in the UK, but recently Siemens (of Germany) have been building large numbers of new trains which are then shipped across. Legions of various classes of Siemens Desiro are now used throughout the country on electrified lines (mostly in the Midlands around Birmingham and the south of England such as services to Hampshire), reaching up to 100mph (160km/h), and a slightly different-looking diesel variant is used on TransPennine Express services. They all tend to have very fast acceleration (you really will need to hold on tight if you're standing), plus air conditioning, carpets and electronic information systems.


Class 142 Pacer at Oldham Werneth, operated by Northern Rail

The Class 142, 143 and 144 Pacer were designed in the 1980s to provide an economical alternative to locomotive-hauled trains on lightly-used and rural lines at up to 75mph (120km/h), rather than closing entire unprofitable lines. You'll see them often on local services, particularly in the north of England, and they may remind you of a bus. This is because much of the bodyshell uses bus components to save money and development time. Most Pacers have recently been refurbished and are much more comfortable inside than before, although more basic than others as they are designed for short-distance services.

Heritage and Steam Railways

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 [56]. 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") rune 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.

International connections


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 [57], RailEurope [58] and staffed ticket offices to European destinations.

Airports with railway stations

  • Aberdeen Dyce - (advertised only as 'Dyce')
  • Birmingham International
  • East Midlands Parkway (also close to Derby, Loughborough & Nottingham
  • 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
  • London Stansted
  • Manchester
  • Prestwick
  • Southampton
  • Teeside Airport - 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

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 [59] or National Rail [60].

Stay safe

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, keep them within sight, especially during station stops if your bags are in racks near the doors of the carriage. The UK (except Northern Ireland) operates a railway police called the British Transport Police (BTP), and you may see signs for them at major stations. They are responsible for the policing of trains, stations and railway property. In an emergency all emergency services including the BTP can be contacted by dialing 999 or 112 from any telephone or mobile phone (these work even if you have no calling credit or the keypad is locked). If you wish to contact the British Transport Police themselves and it is not an immediate emergency, dial 0845 440 5040.

Due to the UK's history of terrorist incidents, unattended luggage is treated by the authorities as a potential explosive device and may be destroyed by controlled explosion. You may hear announcements asking people not to leave bags unattended. Unattended bags can and do lead to closure of entire stations (particularly in London) while a bomb squad investigates and carries out a controlled explosion. Posters often ask passengers to keep a sharp eye for and report any unattended bags straightaway.

Safety of rail travel in Britain is high with a low rate of accidents. After privatisation in the 1990s, the accident rate increased for some years. Inquiries found this was due to cost-cutting and profiteering by the private owners of the infrastructure and their subcontractors and this was one factor leading to the re-nationalisation of infrastructure in the 2000s. Since then, safety has improved massively and there have been very few major accidents in recent years. All trains display safety information posters on board, telling you what to do in the event of an emergency. The simplest advice is that unless your personal safety is threatened, you are always safer on the train than if you try to leave it.

In the event of an emergency

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 attention of staff and you are certain that you, anyone else or the train is in danger because of the motion of the train - 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.
  3. If you are in immediate danger try to move to the next carriage, internal doors can be pushed apart if necessary. Take nothing with you
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Strike the hammer against the corner of the window (if you strike the middle it'll just bounce off) until both panes crack, then push them out with a piece of luggage.
  7. You should lower yourself carefully from the train and move away from it as quickly as possible.
  8. Watch for other trains, and possibly the electric 3rd rail. Do not step on any rail

If an evacuation of a train is ordered by train crew, instructions will be given. Most carriages have specific windows that can be broken or pushed open for emergency escape.

A conductor or guard is present on most trains. If they have not made themselves visible during the journey, they can usually be found in the cab at the rear of the train. Communication panels are normally located throughout the train. Emergency brakes are also available, but a heavy penalty can be fined against someone who unnecessarily stops the train. 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.

This is a guide article. It has good, detailed information covering the entire topic. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!