With around 34,000 km (21,000 mi) of track, the National Rail passenger network of the United Kingdom is one of the densest and most well-used railway services in the world. It was several key British inventions that allowed for the development of modern railways, perhaps the most important being James Watt's reciprocating steam engine, developed between 1763 and 1775, and the first steam locomotive by Richard Trevithick, completed in 1804. The first passenger railway to use steam locomotives would begin operation between Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington in north-east England in 1825. 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 and for being major feats of engineering. Although some parts are relatively Victorian and can be inefficient, there has been significant new investment. Britain's railways played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, allowing raw materials, goods and people to be rapidly transported across the country.
Following World War II, British railways went into a steep decline with the advent of private car ownership and commercial air travel, and were often seen as an outdated mode of transport that was an impediment to progress. Under recommendations made in the early 1960s by engineer and then-British Railways chairman Richard Beeching, the British government proceeded to dismantle or abandon many railway lines in favour of growing Britain's motorway network throughout the 1960s and 1970s. However, due to increasing congestion on British roads, increased fuel prices and increasingly cumbersome security measures for air travel, Britain's railways have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity since the 1990s, and passenger numbers in modern times have since surpassed their pre-World War II levels - over a network barely half as long.
Train travel is very popular in Britain—you'll find many services busy, and passenger numbers have been rising steadily. 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 much that the UK has to offer. The National Rail network covers most of Great Britain, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the far north of Scotland and including over 2,600 stations.
The rail infrastructure is state-owned, while private companies (usually multinational transport companies) operate trains to destinations and service patterns specified by the government. (This guide does not cover rail travel in Northern Ireland—see Rail travel in Ireland.) The system is tightly controlled by the national and devolved governments in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff which heavily subsidise it.
Despite the large number of companies, for the traveller the experience is remarkably well-integrated. Tickets can be bought from any one station to any other in Great Britain, no matter how far away, how many train companies or changes of train are needed to get there. The National Rail website provides timetables and a journey planner.
While there are issues such as overcrowding at peak times, the train is an effective and enjoyable way to explore Britain and get around places of interest. It is also by far the best option for inter-city travel, with most inter-city trains travelling at 200 km/h (125 mph) and stations in most cities and towns being in the city-centre. Regional services travel up to 160 km/h (100 mph). While this means that services are not as fast as the high-speed lines of France, Germany or Japan, there is a relatively high standard of service on both main and secondary routes.
The privatised system has been accused of many failings and there are frequent calls to re-nationalise the entire network, but today most train companies offer a good service, particularly on inter-city and mainline routes, though punctuality varies considerably. It's not compulsory to reserve a seat on a train in advance, but you'll often find tickets cost less the further in advance you book – fares can be shockingly high if you buy a ticket at the station on the day of travel, and surprisingly low if you book a few weeks in advance.
The award-winning National Railway Museum 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.
The ownership and structure is complex, but you won't notice that when making a journey. The track, stations and infrastructure (except for preserved railways) are owned and maintained by Network Rail, a "not for dividend" company owned by the government.
Trains to be run are specified by the government and operated by the 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. There are also a number of open-access operators, which are independent from franchising and run trains in slots purchased directly from Network Rail.
The Rail Delivery Group 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 logo is used extensively to signify a railway station and on road signs, maps, tickets and other places.
Passenger rail companies
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.
Some train operating companies cover a particular geographical region, while others operate inter-city lines which pass through various regions. As of June 2022, the National Rail network of passenger operating companies consists of the following companies:
"Mind the gap" - Britain's metro services
In addition to these mainline rail companies, some cities in the UK also have metro and light rail / tram services:
The Elizabeth Line, London Overground and Merseyrail (see main list) are run like metros, but are in fact part of the National Rail network.
- "Faster than fairies, faster than witches, bridges and houses, hedges and ditches,
- "Charging along like troops in a battle, all through the meadows the horses and cattle . . .
- - "From a Railway Carriage", Robert Louis Stevenson
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 the Great Western (GWR). 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 traction, large numbers of feeder and marginal lines were closed in the "Beeching Axe" as the age of the car arrived, line speeds increased, and the now-iconic double-arrow logo (sarcastically referred to as the "arrows of indecision") came to symbolise the railway network and the presence of a station.
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, King's 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 InterCity, 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. This era also saw two major new developments in rolling stock. Unlike France, where new high speed lines were built all across the country, British Rail deemed it more feasible to build new trains adapted to the curvy and often non-electrified existing network. The "High-Speed-Train" (HST) was intended as a stopgap until the "Advanced Passenger Train" (APT) was to enter service. However, while the latter was plagued with teething problems, a lack of political consensus in its favor and ultimately saw only very little revenue service, the HST remained in service for over 40 years on intercity services, and it was only from 2019 that it was slowly re-allocated to regional services. The active tilting technology pioneered by the APT is still used in the Pendolino trains that run on British tracks.
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. The infrastructure (e.g. track, signals and stations) were renationalised in the early 2000s after a financial meltdown triggered by the fatal Hatfield crash 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 accrued to the private sector but subsidies were paid and exact services to be run were specified by the government. By 2013, passenger numbers were booming despite annual rises in fares. Brits pay among the highest fares for train travel in the world; for instance, a yearly commuter ticket from an outer London suburb is more expensive than the BahnCard 100 valid for travel on all German trains.
Throughout the 2010s, it became clear that the franchise system was unsustainable: with each franchise renewal, fewer bids were made by fewer and fewer companies, and most bids were only made for short-term contracts. Additionally, there was an increase in franchise failures, requiring the government to take over as an "emergency stopgap", sometimes repeatedly for the same railway line. Increasingly vocal calls for change were largely met with inaction from Whitehall, until events were overtaken by the COVID-19 pandemic: with passenger levels plummeting and the rail industry on the verge of bankruptcy, the government had to act. A large injection of cash in March 2020 effectively brought the franchises under public control, albeit temporarily. Then, in September 2020, it was announced that the franchise system would be scrapped. While permanent renationalisation was always unlikely under a Conservative government, the new system will entail the state having a much tighter grip in future. The most probable replacement for franchising is a concession model whereby companies are awarded a long-term contract in return for a fixed annual payment from the Treasury, with timetabling and fares under state control and fare revenue going back into the public purse. However, at least one part of Britain is forging ahead with full renationalisation: in February 2021, Transport for Wales services were brought into public ownership by the Welsh (Labour) government.
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).
- Cambrian Line (Shrewsbury - Aberystwyth/Pwllheli). This is a route that travels first through the semi-mountainous upland terrain of Mid Wales, and then the Dovey Valley before reaching the coast. The route passes through Machynlleth before splitting at Dovey Junction some distance southwest. The southern portion heading for Aberystwyth, the northern portion to Pwllheli in North Wales. On the northern arm, the coast of first the Dovey estuary and then Cardigan Bay is alongside. The mountains of Snowdonia are first to the north and then east as the line delicately weaves its way up the coast. The railway line crosses Mawddach Estuary on the noted Barmouth Bridge, continuing north, to reach Harlech and turning west to Minffordd and Porthmadog. A run west along the northern edge of Cardigan bay completes the run into Pwllheli. The route also connects with many of the narrow gauge "little trains of Wales" which can be used to explore the mountainous Welsh interior.
- Exeter-Penzance (including part of 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, past 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 stretch between Exeter and Newton Abbot is especially pretty, as the train travels along the sea wall through the pretty coastal towns of Starcross, Dawlish and Teignmouth (pronounced "Tin-muth"). Keep you eyes glued to that window for that 15- to 20-minute stretch!
- Heart of Wales Line (http://www.heart-of-wales.co.uk/). The entire journey from Swansea to Shrewsbury takes around four hours, and passes through some of Wales' most scenic mountain areas and picturesque market towns.
- 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 "Granite 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)
- 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 along 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.
- The Settle-Carlisle Line runs 73 mi (117 km) 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. (This line was earmarked for closure in the 1980s, but public pressure and growing freight traffic has meant it remained open)
- The West Highland Line from Glasgow to the ports 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 also follows this route to Fort William and in summer a daily steam train "The Jacobite" plies the last section between Fort William and Mallaig. Spectacular vistas include Gareloch, Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, the Great Glen, Glenfinnan Viaduct, and finally the Hebrides as you approach Mallaig.
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 or Manchester Metrolink connections are needed.
A second, much longer, high-speed rail line is under construction; High Speed 2 (HS2) is being built to relieve the West Coast Main Line and Midland Main Line. The first section, intended to be open in 2029, will link a refurbished London Euston to a new station in Birmingham, while the full route to Manchester is due to be completed by 2035.
The new 360-km/h (225-mph) line will radically improve connections between many British towns and cities far beyond its route, but the high costs and perceived negative environmental and social impact have garnered much criticism. Similarly, despite the route giving cities outside the southeast a high speed train for the first time, some northerners perceive it as deepening, not healing the North-South divide and London dominance.
Most inter-city services travel at speeds up to 125 mph (201 km/h), 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 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 100 mph (160 km/h) on main lines and less on more minor routes. In the old Southern Region (a region bounded by the River Thames and the South Western Main Line to Weymouth), even inter-city services are limited to 100 mph (160 km/h) due to the constraints of third-rail electrification.
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 Charing Cross". 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 Charing Cross. A "fast" service is non-stop, while "semi-fast" means calling at only certain stations.
Classes of travel
Two classes operate: standard class and 1st class. Commuter trains and some local services offer standard class only.
- Standard class accommodation generally has two seats either side of the aisle with a mix of 'facing table' or more private 'airline-style' seats. Some trains, designed for more intensive commuter use, may have three seats one side and two the other, or even just perches along the walls with plenty of standing space.
- First class accommodation on inter-city services has two seats and one seat either side of the aisle, with a larger seat, more legroom, an at-seat service of drinks, refreshments and a newspaper (not all at seat services are available at the weekend); first class on commuter services is usually much more basic and may be two seats either side of the aisle with no at-seat service. However apart from on long journeys (2 hours or more) or busy trains (i.e. 8 am train into London) it is almost pointless to buy a first class ticket. This is because, apart from the fact that you are more likely to get a seat (it is pretty likely though anyway), it has almost no benefits for the price difference. Do check prices when booking, though, as off-peak advance first class fares can sometimes be surprisingly reasonable, and on a longer journey extra leg and elbow room as well as the (often quite good) meals and drinks are nice. It's also worth checking the train operator's website to see what first class gets you, for example Avanti West Coast offers a full meal service, while some other operators only offer you a bigger seat. On weekends many trains offer a fairly cheap first class upgrade once you've boarded the train. This is usually announced, or you can ask the train personnel.
In both first 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 on long-distance trains
- Air conditioning (not always available on 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.
The inter-city network developed from six historic mainlines. Line speed is up to 125 mph (201 km/h), but is up to 186 mph (299 km/h) for High Speed 1 which is only achieved by Eurostar with domestic trains limited to 140 mph (230 km/h), and 100 mph (160 km/h) for the Great Eastern line. The 125-mph top speed on the West Coast main line can only be achieved by tiling trains, with conventional trains limited to 110 mph (180 km/h). 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 at a different station (e.g. Paddington, King's Cross, St. Pancras, Euston). These stations are linked by the London Underground network.
- High Speed 1 (HS1) connects London with many destinations in Kent such as Canterbury, Rochester and the Medway Towns, Margate, and Dover, and with the Channel Tunnel to France. Domestic services run at 140 mph (230 km/h) from London to cities and towns in Kent, and Eurostar international services run at 186 mph (299 km/h) to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. This line runs from St Pancras.
- East Coast Main Line - from London King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley via Peterborough, York and Newcastle, with a branch to Leeds. Services run at least hourly from London to Newark-on-Trent, Leeds, and Edinburgh, with less frequent services to Bradford, Hull, Sunderland and Aberdeen.
- West Coast Main Line - from London Euston to Glasgow Central via Milton Keynes, Preston and Carlisle, with branches to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Services run at least hourly from London to Birmingham, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, with less frequent services to Bangor, Holyhead, Blackpool and Edinburgh.
- Great Eastern Main Line - from London Liverpool Street to Norwich via Colchester and Ipswich. Half-hourly services run the length of the line.
- Great Western Main Line - from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads via Reading, with branches southwest to Devon and Cornwall, and west across the Welsh border to Cardiff and Swansea. Services run at least hourly from London to Oxford, Worcester, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea and Plymouth, with less frequent services to Hereford, Cheltenham, Paignton and Penzance.
- Midland Main Line - from London St. Pancras to Sheffield via Leicester and Derby, with a branch to Nottingham. Services run at least hourly from London to Corby, Nottingham, and Sheffield.
- Cross-Country Route - connecting Scotland, northern England, the Midlands, southern and south-west England. Unlike all other inter-city lines it does not reach London and most services run via Birmingham.
While these are the routes showing high speed services, some operators run longer-distance "fast" or "semi-fast" connections on local lines, one such example being Abellio Greater Anglia's West Anglia Main Line "fast" service which only calls at London Liverpool Street, Tottenham Hale, Harlow Mill, Bishops Stortford, Audley End, Whittlesford Parkway and Cambridge. A much longer Arriva Trains Wales service travels regularly from Milford Haven to Manchester calling at towns and cities like Carmarthen, Llanelli, Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff, Newport, Abergavenny, Crewe and Manchester Piccadilly. These trains are not served by high speed trains and will often operate at slower speeds. They may also call at intermediate stations on the route. It is worth checking where your train stops at, and whether there may be a quicker connection, for example, Great Northern's London King's Cross - Cambridge would be quicker than Greater Anglia's London Liverpool Street - Cambridge.
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, Glasgow, Birmingham and Liverpool). Most towns and 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 to see if a place you're interested in is served (see section on Planning your Trip below).
On some rural, local services (particularly in the north-west and south-west of England), some smaller stations are request stops (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 may also 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 train staff as to which station you wish to get off at and he will signal the driver to stop.
There are three scheduled sleeper trains in Britain that operate every night (except Saturday) in each direction. Travelling more slowly than their equivalent daytime 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 the Caledonian Sleeper 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 drinks.
London to Scotland
Serco operate two Caledonian Sleepers to Scotland, Sunday to Friday.
- The Lowland Sleeper leaves London Euston around 23:00, and divides at Carstairs to reach Glasgow Central and Edinburgh for 07:30; the southbound trains depart around 23:30.
- The Highland Sleeper leaves London Euston around 21:00, and divides at Edinburgh to reach Aberdeen for 07:40 (returning 21:40), Inverness for 08:40 (returning 20:40) and Fort William for 10:00 (returning 19:30). Passengers for Edinburgh may not use the Highland Sleeper, as this is just a service halt. This train stops at many intermediate stations (eg Dundee, Stirling and Perth) but very early in the morning: it might be more convenient, and cheaper, to take the Lowland Sleeper to Edinburgh or Glasgow then change to a daytime train.
Reservations on Caledonian Sleepers are compulsory, and if you already hold a daytime ticket or rail pass, you need to buy a sleeper supplement.
The Caledonian Sleeper introduced new rolling stock in 2019. Reclining seats are cheapest: these are comparable to daytime first class but with no at-seat service, and the lights stay on all night. It's an uncomfortable way to spend the night; note that sitting passengers on the Fort William portion of the train must change carriages in Edinburgh. Sleeper compartments have up to two berths in three configurations: "classic" rooms include up & down bunk beds and a washbasin; "club" rooms have up & down bunks with basin, WC and shower, and a complimentary breakfast; and double bedrooms have one double bed with basin, WC and shower. These are sold on the same basis as hotel rooms, so you pay extra for single occupancy, but you don't have to share with a stranger. Pricing is dynamic, you pay less in advance, much more at weekends or around the Edinburgh Festival if indeed there are berths available. Reckon £140 single and £170 double "classic" to Edinburgh and £45 for seating only. Booking is open 12 months in advance; you need to print out your e-ticket to present on boarding.
London to the West Country
Great Western Railway operate the Night Riviera Sleeper, which travels along a single route from London Paddington to Plymouth, Devon and Penzance, Cornwall, calling at numerous intermediate stations. Reservations on Great Western Railway sleepers are optional in seated accommodation, and supplements are payable on top of the basic fare to reserve a berth. The Night Riviera offers two kinds of accommodation:
- Standard class seated accommodation (the seats do not recline).
- Sleeper berths: either a cabin with two berths or (for a higher supplement) a cabin with just one. Solo travellers will not have to share with another traveller, but must book a single cabin instead. The sleeping compartments have been refurbished to a very high standard and each includes a washbasin with soap and towel, a compact wardrobe and electric sockets with USB charging ports. Sleeper berth passengers will be served a complimentary breakfast. There are no showers on board the sleepers, but berth passengers may use the showers at Paddington, Truro and Penzance stations free of charge. Berth passengers may also use the first class lounge at Paddington before or after their journey.
A British peculiarity is the Parliamentary train or ghost trains. This is usually where the railway company wants to close the station, or a particular service, or the entire line, but the legal process for doing so is complex and expensive. So instead they run the very minimum service that the law requires: just one a week, in one direction only, usually at an inconvenient time. Other parliamentary trains are used to keep up driver familiarity with unusual movements. An example of the latter is the once-daily Chiltern Railways train to London Paddington instead of the usual London Marylebone, since trains are occasionally diverted there.
Some examples of parliamentary trains include:
- London Liverpool Street to Enfield Town via South Tottenham, Saturday at 0531 (trains normally go via Stoke Newington)
- Wolverhampton to Walsall direct, Saturday at 0638
- Gillingham to Sheerness-on-Sea, weekdays at 0456 and return at 2132
- Northampton to Crewe stopping at Polesworth station, Monday to Saturday at 0723
The companies’ behaviour is cynical and it's tempting to incite a flash-mob to board all such trains (ghost-costumes optional) then write to their MPs to say what a splendid service it was, that must please be kept running. There is however an upside to this. Unlike the stations and lines closed during the "Beeching Axe" when Britain lost half its rail network in the span of not even a full decade, stations (only) served by a "Parliamentary Train" can become regular stations with frequent service rather quickly. It does not happen maybe as often as some would want, but there have been instances of lines going from the bare minimum of "train service" in order to avoid the lengthy process of shutdown to regular and actually useful service.
Planning your trip
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 1162 km (722 miles). It is operated by either a four coach Class 220 Voyager or five coach Class 221 Super Voyager diesel train, and is prone to overcrowding at busy points on the journey. A delightful travel piece in the Telegraph recounts a father and son's experience of the complete journey on a summer's day.
The best source of information is the National Rail website at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/. 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 (however "split ticketing" may still be cheaper, see #Split-journey tickets). Most of these services are also available by telephone from the National Rail Enquiries phone service on +44 3457 48 49 50. 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:
- Great Western Railway is a privately owned train company which uses an easy-to-use ticketing system and unlike most websites also sells some rovers online here. As with all train company websites, it gives information and sells tickets for all services in Great Britain operated by any company.
- Other useful websites include virgintrains.co.uk, northernrail.org, scotrail.co.uk, southwesternrailway.com and splitticketing.com/
It is advisable not to use the various independent train booking websites that also exist, which often charge unavoidable additional fees for tickets which can all be purchased without the fees from any train companies website! (e.g. for booking, using a debit card, using a credit card, receiving tickets by post or collecting them at the station).
- Do not use third-party ticket websites: tickets sold on thetrainline.com, redspottedhanky.com, mytrainticket.co.uk or raileasy.co.uk can be purchased at a cheaper rate and without any booking or card fees from any train company's website! Some third-party ticket websites charge booking/collection/credit card fees, while the official train company websites do not. thetrainline.com advertises frequently in the media in the UK, leaving some people convinced that it's cheaper, however in reality it's impossible to get a cheaper deal there no matter what anyone tells you!
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. You buy tickets at station ticket offices or ticket machines. Smaller stations may have no ticket office and very minor ones will not have a machine; in this situation you should buy your ticket on-board from the conductor as soon as you can. 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 from one of the companies listed in the Passenger Rail Companies section above, you can receive your tickets in a number of different ways (depending on provider):
- Post: you can have tickets sent to you by post (takes 2–3 days), but this may have to be to the address that your bank card is registered at.
- Collection: you can pick them up at a train station you specify that has an automated ticket machine. If you are collecting tickets from a machine, you need any bank card plus the ticket collection reference in your confirmation email. If travelling from an unstaffed station without a ticket machine, it will not be possible to collect your ticket there. You should use another method or collect your ticket from another station before travelling. However, if travelling within Scotland, ScotRail unofficially accept seeing your confirmation email instead. If travelling to a station with barriers, they may ask you to collect your ticket there to leave the station. For example, boarding a train at Achnasheen, you would show the conductor your confirmation email. When arriving in Inverness, you may need to print out your ticket from the machine there. In this case, select Inverness as your collection station when buying the ticket.
- Print at Home: you can print the ticket at home on your printer (only on some routes).
- Mobile: you can have your ticket delivered to your smartphone, which you just present on the train (only on some routes).
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.
Point-to-point tickets come in three types: Advance, Off-Peak and Anytime. There are also 'Rover' tickets, for unlimited journeys in a particular area. You can usually book any of these up to three months in advance, and less expensive tickets are more likely to be available the further in advance you book. You can choose between flexibility (generally more 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. Services are much more expensive outside these off-peak times. In increasing order of cost, tickets are classed as:
- Advance - are usually the cheapest tickets (although if you are making a return journey, a return ticket can sometimes be cheaper than two Advance tickets). Advance tickets must be bought in advance and you must travel on a specific train, at a specific time. Most train companies allow booking up to 6PM the evening before travel, but some companies sell advance tickets up to 15 minutes before departure, notably CrossCountry, via their mobile app. Advance tickets are limited, so once a set number have been sold, the only tickets available may be Off-Peak or Anytime tickets. If you get a different train to that stated on your ticket, you will need to pay for a new ticket (at full price) and on some trains you will also have to pay a penalty fare (at least £20 extra). You can not board or leave the train at any station except those stated on the ticket unless you have another ticket to that station.
- Off-Peak - Buy any time, must travel at 'off-peak' times, ticket is more expensive than Advance ticket. Change in travel plans possible. You can break your journey anywhere en route. Some lines also offer Super Off-Peak tickets with more restrictions that may be cheaper, but they will still be flexible.
- 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; however these are not always the best value, particularly for return journeys. Advance tickets are released for sale in limited numbers approximately 12 weeks in advance, and these tickets can only be used on the train specified on the reservation. To check how far ahead 'Advance' tickets are available, visit National Rail's "Booking Horizons" page[dead link]. 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.
If you are purchasing a less restricted off-peak or anytime ticket, return fares are often only a small amount more than a single (one-way ticket). Off-peak and anytime return tickets usually allow travel back up to a month after departure, outbound travel must be completed the day the ticket was purchased except if the journey is not possible to complete in one day, the ticket was purchased after the last through train left, or you are using a sleeper. However, you can change trains as many times as you want en-route if you want to get out and take in the sights. For shorter distance journeys a cheaper "Day Return" may be available, where outbound and return travel must be completed on the same day (a "day" is defined at ending 04:29 the following day). Tickets are valid until 04:29 the day after the 'valid until' date shown on the ticket. Tickets purchased after midnight are valid until 04:29 the following day (28 hours after purchase). These fare are extremely flexible allowing you to travel on any train operated by any company and break your journey as many times as you like. On some intermediate-length routes, e.g. between London and Cambridge, both returns and day returns are available. Often people (including ticket officers) will use "return" to mean "day return"—this can cause confusion. It's always best to specify when buying your ticket either "period return" (return within a month) or "day return" (return the same day) just to be sure you're getting the right one.
There are various ways to obtain discounts, for some people, some of the time. The simplest way to get cheaper tickets is always to book as far in advance as possible.
Note that the below focuses on tips that mainly apply outside London; travel within (and near) London is somewhat more complex and is covered in the dedicated Optimising London public transport article.
An example of the complexity and lack of logic in ticket pricing is that it can sometimes be cheaper to split a journey into two or more segments, and buy a separate ticket for each segment. This can apply to any of the ticket types listed above. For example, as at August 2018 a standard-class off-peak return ticket from Reading to Bristol costs £63.20. If you are making that journey in a day, however, it would be better to buy day return tickets from Reading to Didcot costs £6.60, and from Didcot to Bristol costs £24.90 - a total of £31.50, saving over 50%. You would buy both tickets before starting the journey.
These tickets are valid only on trains that are scheduled to stop at the relevant intermediate station. In the example above, you would have to use a train that stops at Didcot - some Reading-Bristol trains do so. But there is no need for you actually to break your journey at the intermediate station, unless you wish to. There is little rhyme or reason as to which journeys can be made cheaper by this tactic, although it seems that journeys starting and finishing at major locations tend to be relatively more expensive (in our example, Reading and Bristol are both much bigger places than Didcot). It also tends to be cheaper to split journeys without day returns into two shorter journeys with day returns (also seen in our example). You have to do your own research by using the National Rail site mentioned above. Splitting at most locations increases the cost rather than decreasing it.
There's little risk if you're using more than one separate ticket for different segments of the journey on one train. However, this strategy carries risk if you're using more than one train: If you have two low-price, advance-purchase tickets which can only be used on specific trains and the first train is late and you miss your second, connecting train, then, although you are completely legally entitled to use a later connecting train as long as you have allowed the set 'connection time' (at least 5 minutes, up to 15 minutes for the largest stations - see BR Times and enter the station name for details) at your interchange station, some staff who are unaware of this rule may still demand that you purchase a new ticket for the second leg of your train journey. This is likely to be at eye-watering, wallet-destroying cost as walk-up fares can be extremely expensive for journeys that are not short. If you are inexperienced with travelling by train in the UK, it is safer to purchase a through-ticket direct to your destination. This means that if one of your connecting trains is late, you should still be able to travel to your final destination at no extra cost.
You can buy tickets from any station in the UK to any other station in the UK at any ticket office allowing to purchase "split tickets" you can not buy these from self service machines. If the station you are starting your journey at has no ticket office, you can buy the first ticket from the self-service machine, and in some cases tickets from other stations as well. If not, then you can usually then board the train with the first ticket and then immediately find the conductor to purchase the rest, but this is not guaranteed.
- splitticketing.com and https://trainsplit.com/ are websites which finds split tickets and allows you book them online (for a small fee) if you want.
Third-party booking sites
There are some third-party websites (the most popular being Trainline) that can book tickets for train travel within the UK. Given that these websites charge a booking fee, this is usually a bad idea, as you can easily book a ticket from any train operator in the UK (for anywhere in the UK, even if the journey is with a different operator) without paying a booking fee. There is no reason to use them (with the exception of the split-journey tickets case described above).
Specifying a route or train company
There may be several different possible routes to your destination, with different fares. A ticket valid via "any permitted" routes may be more expensive than a ticket that is restricted to a specific route or to a specific train company.
Change of route excess
A little known secret is the possibility to excess a ticket to a different route. This allows you to save money when travelling on a cheaper route one way and return on a more expensive route. Take for example off-peak returns from Dundee to Inverness. There are two different tickets available. One is free of any restrictions, bearing the inscription "any permitted", the other requires you to travel via Aviemore. The former costs £56.10, the latter only £36.90. An online journey planner will offer you the "any permitted" ticket in this case. At a ticket office you'll however be able to buy a ticket via Aviemore and a change of route excess for the direction where you want to travel via Aberdeen (not passing through Aviemore). The change of route excess is only half the difference between the two tickets. You'll pay only £46.50, a saving of more than 17% compared to the "any permitted" ticket.
Similarly, on a small number of routes it's possible to get a cheaper ticket if you travel with a specific operator. Usually this involves taking a slower or less frequent train. For example, a single with no restrictions between Glasgow and Edinburgh is £12.50. A ticket for CrossCountry only is £8.50. Similarly look out for Avanti West Coast only fares between the south and Scotland or Greater Anglia only fares between Cambridge and London. However, tickets restricted by a specific operator can not usually be excessed, except in special circumstances.
Break of Journey
Most tickets (other than advance tickets) allows you to break your journey as many times as you like within the day. So if you're going from A to C but getting off at B on the way, and B is on a valid route between A and C, you only need one ticket rather than two separate ones.
A growing trend in Europe is for low-cost intercity rail companies that operate single-class "no frills" services, in competition with budget airlines and coaches. As of 2022, only one such company operates in the UK: Lumo runs along the popular East Coast route between London King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley, taking 4 hr 30 min via Newcastle and Morpeth; a single evening southbound service also calls at Stevenage. The company launched to much hype in autumn 2021, touting single fares of £20. However, there are early reports of some travellers paying in excess of £70 for some trips. Still, there are bargains to be had, and you could even save on trips starting or ending beyond Edinburgh and London, by purchasing the additional portions separately. Make sure to check which ticket you're buying: truly low-cost tickets are only valid on Lumo, whereas the "valid for all routes" don't offer any savings but you can use them on any company's trains. As a newcomer, Lumo only operate twice a day in each direction, with the aim of increasing to five a day at some point in 2022.
Discounts are available for:
- Children - up to the age of 15, normally a half fare
- 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
- Some European railway staff
The most widely used system of discounts on National Rail are Railcards. Railcards cannot be used for Eurostar fares. Railcards can be purchased from any station ticket office (after completing a form and providing of proof of eligibility and a photograph) or online[dead link]. 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; if you are spending more than about £90 then the railcard would pay for itself. Some railcards are available in digital form where an image of the railcard is displayed through a mobile phone app; if you want one, be sure to state it when you apply for one online.
Note that most railcards have a lower-bound on the fare during the morning peak (of about £12); this should only impact people making a short trip though.
- 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 (with a suitably stamped form from a university). £30 per year or £70 for three years. This railcard does not have a lower-bound on the fare during July and August.
- 26-30 Railcard offers a discount of 1/3 on most tickets for anyone aged 26 to 30. £30 per year, only available as a mobile 'app'.
- Family & Friends Railcard offers a discount 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. £30 per year or £70 for three years.
- Senior Railcard Offers a discount of 1/3 on most tickets for anyone aged 60 or over. £30 per year or £70 for three years. This railcard is not valid for most trains during the morning peak
- Two Together Railcard New card introduced in 2014 offering a discount of 1/3 for two named people (over 16) travelling together. Both people must have their photos on the card, and must stay together for the whole journey. If you change travelling companion you have to buy a new railcard.
- 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 £30 a year.
- Disabled Persons Railcard Offers a discount of 1/3 to eligible disabled or mobility restricted passengers. £20 for one year or £54 for three years. This railcard does not have a lower-bound on the fare.
- 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.
There are also several localised railcards that focus on a specific region. A full list of such railcards is available at https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/regional-railcards.aspx
Britain's most overcrowded train
The popularity of train travel in the UK has soared since the 1990s. Some parts of the network - mostly commuter services around big cities - suffer from overcrowding. Planning journeys outside the rush hours (06:00 - 09:30 & 16:00 - 19:00) can make tickets cheaper and journeys significantly more comfortable.
Commuters can get some savings (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. That being said, if you can avoid having to get a season ticket, do so, as they are still rather expensive (and in particularly inflexible in that if you don't use it, you lose it). For example, if you have a disabled persons railcard (recall that it's valid on peak trains without a minimum fare), a season ticket is likely to be more expensive. Similarly, for the 16-25 railcard, given that the lower-bound on the fare applies only to the morning peak, consider whether a season ticket is actually cheaper as a result. The same applies to "flexi" tickets, which is a "8 in a month" pass, and hence designed for people working in a hybrid settings. The discounts are computed from peak fares, which makes them rather expensive.
If a friend or family member has an annual "Gold Card" season ticket, they can purchase tickets for you to travel together at a discount (and also get a discounted railcard). When travelling with children, this can often be a substantial discount.
There are three 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 and sleeper trains.
- InterRail is a pass for EU citizens. Two different Interrail passes cover the UK. Interrail Great Britain is valid for travel throughout England, Scotland and Wales, while Interrail Ireland is valid for travel in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
- Britrail[dead link] can be purchased by any non-UK resident, but must be purchased online or in your home nation before you depart for the UK. Britrail passes cover travel in Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland.
- Eurail is a pass for non-EU citizens that is valid for travel in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, along with most other countries in Europe.
See European rail passes for more information.
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, including options such as "three days in seven". 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 January 2023, they cost £540 (7 days) or £818 (14 days) for standard class, and £818 (7 days) or £1250 (14 days) for 1st class, with discounts for children and railcard holders.
- Spirit of Scotland Travelpass: 4 days in 8, or 8 days in 15 - £134 and £179 respectively, with concessions for children and railcard holders.
Compared to Interrail/Britrail, the All Line Rover is considerably more expensive even with a railcard (and usually less flexible), and hence tourists who have a choice should not take the All Line Rover. For those looking to travel within a specific region, there are Britrail passes valid for a specific region; compare the cost with the closest Ranger/Rover alternative (using Railcards if applicable) to see which is the better choice.
- PlusBus. An add-on ticket, which can be purchased with National Rail train tickets in Great Britain. It allows unlimited travel on participating bus operators' services, and in some cases trams, in the whole urban area of rail-served towns and cities (notably except London). You can either buy the PlusBus ticket at the same time you buy your train ticket, or you may show your valid train ticket at your destination's ticket office if you decide to buy PlusBus on arrival. You can buy PlusBus from any Ticket Office, by phone or at ticket machines operated by Abellio Greater Anglia, East Midlands Trains, South Western Railway and Southern. Several operators now allow you to buy PlusBus from their website. The best value PlusBus tickets tend to be for major metropolitan cities since the ticket often covers the whole metropolitan area for a fraction of the cost of a normal day ticket. Between £1.60 and £3.50, depending on destination.
- Travelcards are an option for most regional services in the South East, offering a return journey to London and then unlimited travel by bus, train, underground, tram, or DLR within Greater London. For example, an Oxford to London off-peak day return costs £26.60 without a travelcard. However, the day travelcard would cost £31.30, giving unlimited travel around London for less than £5.
- 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 £5, but distance trains there is no complimentary at-seat service in first class at the weekend.
Using the train
The National Rail website has an information page for every railway station in Britain, with details of access, facilities, ticket office opening hours and recommended connection times. The 'live' Departures & Arrivals screen for every station can also be viewed online, with up-to-the-minute train running information.
At the 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 larger stations, there is often another screen labelled "Fastest train to..." followed by a list of popular stations. If your ticket doesn't tie you to a particular train, this screen is an easy way to determine the upcoming departure which will get you to your destination in the shortest time. 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, notably those that start with "This is a platform alteration." Many stations use automated subway-style ticket barriers: you insert your ticket face up, left end (with the arrows logo) first into the first slot facing you; your ticket is then returned from the slot on the top of the machine, and the act of taking it causes the barrier to open. In some cases, you either scan the ticket (if it has a barcode) or, in London, tap an Oyster card on a reader. 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 scheduled departure time (using the 24-hour clock), train company and destination (e.g. "The 14:15 CrossCountry service to Manchester Piccadilly"). If there is a delay to the train's departure, the original scheduled departure time is still used to identify it. Only a few trains carry names, such as The Flying Scotsman between London King's Cross and Edinburgh, The Northern Lights between London King's Cross and Aberdeen and The Highland Chieftain between London King's Cross and Inverness.
While at the station, be aware of what's going on around you. Try not to get in the way, make sure you stand well back from the platform edge (there is usually a yellow line to stand behind), and do not use flash photography, as this can distract drivers, and front-line staff.
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 (A-B-C-E, for example). Be careful to distinguish between the coach number and seat number: some seat numbers include the letters A (airline-style), F (facing direction of travel) or B (back to direction of travel). Most trains have power-operated doors, however you must press a button to open it, and they close automatically when the train leaves. There may be a significant gap between the train and the platform edge. 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 was a safety feature aimed to prevent doors being opened with the train moving, although nowadays the doors are always locked when the train is moving).
Finding your seat
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. It is usual on most long-distance services to have an unreserved carriage, although if you are not joining at the start of the train's journey, seating may be limited, especially if travelling with others.
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. Always keep hold of your ticket until it is retained by the barriers or you leave the station!
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.
On some trains, especially inter-city services, there may be a special luggage area which can be helpful if you have a large bag. For example, CrossCountry's Voyager trains have a luggage area in Coach D (see section below on different types of trains used). On LNER's inter-city services to and from London King's Cross, it is possible to place your bag in a luggage area if you are going to the end of the line for that train (e.g. to Leeds, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Inverness out of London; or to London from anywhere). Ask the train guard or platform staff. On their InterCity 225 trains luggage can be stored in the luggage van/driving car at the opposite end of the train from the power car/locomotive. In InterCity 125 services, it can be stored in the guard's area at the end of Coach B, next to the power car (there is no Coach A on LNER services).
Food and drink
Getting food on the rail network can be a variable experience. Many long distance services provide a buffet car with a snack bar or a small shop, while others may have a trolley service wheeled to your seat. In most cases, refreshment provision doesn't extend beyond pre-packaged sandwiches, hot and soft drinks, fruit, and confectionery items. Transport for Wales include a full three-course meal on their Business Class service between Holyhead and Cardiff. LNER and Avanti West Coast include light meals for first class passengers on many services. Local services generally don't have any catering at all.
Only Great Western Railway offers a full dining car, and these Pullman services operate only on a limited number of trains on the London-Plymouth and London-Swansea routes. GWR's restaurants offer à la carte meals prepared by a proper chef and served 'silver service'. Spaces are limited and the prices are high, but it is worth trying if you fancy a treat. Although priority is given to first class passengers, standard class passengers may dine in the restaurant if space is available. Despite the Pullman name, the meals are served in ordinary first class carriages.
The Caledonian Sleeper has a 'club' car serving drinks and light meals. The Night Riviera Sleeper's lounge car has a bar and snack counter.
Private charters, rail tours and heritage railways may offer dining car experiences on some services, even the occasional Pullman recreation, albeit for a premium ticket price.
Many stations on the UK rail network have catering outlets. Whilst some stations have locally run independents, which see trade from both passengers and locals alike, outlets of fast food franchises, coffee chains or convenience stores are more typical. Major termini or hubs have a larger assortment of outlets. Marks and Spencer stores usually offer the best range of food and drink in-station, though are on the pricier side. Full service restaurants on stations are a rarity, as are platform side pubs. Some terminus stations are adjacent to grand railway hotels which offer restaurants.
If you want to be sure of having something to eat or drink, then bring your own. There are few restrictions on bringing your own food or drinks. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed anywhere on Scotland's rail network, and are also prohibited on TfL services in London.
Most train services have on-board toilets, except a few short distance commuter trains. Provision varies, but there's usually one every two carriages. Most trains have at least one wheelchair-accessible WC and these usually have a baby-changing table which folds down from the wall. Cleanliness levels are about the standard of other public loos in Britain; they could be better, but they're not disgusting.
Where there is an electric door on the toilet, there is usually a separate button for locking the door which you must press in addition to the one which makes the door close. If you don't press this button, people from the outside can open the door while you're inside. Likewise, you will not be able to open the door to get out without first pressing the unlock button.
Toilets are sometimes put out of use when the train is sat at its terminus station. If you're desperate, go before this happens.
Smoking and alcohol
Smoking is illegal on board trains in Great Britain (and in fact in any enclosed public place in England, Wales and Scotland). Trains are fitted with smoke alarms, including in toilets. If you are seen smoking, train staff will arrange for the British Transport Police to be waiting at the next station and you will be arrested and fined. Smoking is also illegal on station platforms and any other railway property, 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. Vaping electronic cigarettes is not allowed on board trains, but some train companies allow you to vape on the platform.
Whilst alcohol consumption on most trains and on stations is not necessarily banned, you may get disapproving looks from fellow travellers and from railway staff, if you consume it openly on the platform. Some exceptions to this are noted below.
During some events, and at certain times, train companies may restrict alcohol consumption on their services (for example trains going to popular sports events) and will publicise such restrictions on the train or at stations. If you are found consuming alcohol where it is restricted, it will be confiscated. You will only be fined if you fail to surrender your alcohol or continue to drink after being warned.
British Transport Police can also remove you from any station or train, at any time if you are deemed to be unfit to travel through intoxication, and railway staff show no hesitation in requesting their intervention to enforce the Railway by-laws, when required.
In Scotland on trains operated by ScotRail, it is illegal to be in possession of alcohol or consume alcohol before 10AM or after 9PM. This ruling does not apply to the Caledonian Sleeper Service.
Under separate by-laws, specific local transport networks such as the London Underground also implement alcohol bans.
There are approximately 2,560 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 major stations (e.g. 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 in the centre of towns or cities, or within walking distance. However, a station ending in Parkway (e.g. Bristol Parkway, East Midlands Parkway) has a large car park so commuters can drive to it and then take the train: this means it is far from the city/town centre, often in a distant suburb or even in the middle of nowhere. If there is a choice of stations, 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 for the centre of 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.
Many stations that date back to the Victorian era, such as the famed St Pancras in London, are architecturally very impressive, and may be worth the trip to have a look even if you are not travelling by train.
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 20th century, is very much within it. Bold type indicates a terminus-only station; most London stations are termini as only a few lines cross the capital.
Major regional stations
Outside London, National Rail list the following as major connecting stations, where passengers most often need to change trains on multi-leg journeys.
Trains and rolling stock
|“||Faster than fairies, faster than witches! Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches!
And charging along like troops in a battle! All through the meadows the horses and cattle!
—Robert Louis Stevenson, From a Railway Carriage
Most trains are modern, comfortable and accessible to people with disabilities, although especially on commuter trains and some older rolling stock, tall people will find legroom a problem. 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. Those still using locomotives are generally set up in a push-pull configuration, with a second locomotive or a non-powered driving trailer at the rear allowing the train to be driven "backwards" and doing away with the need to run around locomotives at the end of the line. A number of rail tour or steam charter trains are still loco-hauled.
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.
HS1 is the UK's only operational high-speed railway, and links London St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel. In addition to international Eurostar services, Southeastern Highspeed operates a domestic high-speed train, which was built by Hitachi in Japan. Officially designated Class 395, but normally known as the Javelin, these "mini Shinkansens" travel up to 140 mph (230 km/h) between London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Canterbury, Dover and other towns in Kent. This is marketed as "Britain's fastest" train, though the Eurostar trainsets travel considerably faster. Tickets for the Javelin service are a few pounds more expensive than other Southeastern services, but this is by far the quickest way to travel between Kent and London as there are no other inter-city lines in the county. The 395 has 6 carriages per set, though two sets can be combined to form a 12 car train. The Javelin nickname comes from their origin in 2012 as a high-speed shuttle service for the Olympic Park in Stratford; 24 of the units are named after British Olympians and Paralympians.
Inter-city trains in the UK usually travel at up to 125 mph (201 km/h) (the maximum speed for all lines except HS1) and tend to have the most facilities, including wireless internet access, and often an on-board shop or buffet. Some intercity services (e.g. between cities in Scotland) use Turbostar trains which are described in the regional section below.
Intercity Express Train and Azuma
The 800-series (class 800, 801, 802) are inter-city trains built by Hitachi in County Durham and Italy, and deployed on several main lines of the network. The Class 800 was introduced in shambolic style on Great Western Railway (GWR) services on 16 October 2017, when the inaugural service arrived in London Paddington almost an hour late due to multiple technical problems. They were introduced on LNER services in May 2019.
They have been named the Intercity Express Train (IET) by Great Western and Azuma (which means east in Japanese; like the javelin trains, these sets use Japanese Shinkansen technology) by LNER. The class 800 units are bi-mode - they run on overhead electric lines where they are available and switch on the move to underfloor diesel engines where they are not. The class 802 are simply class 800 trains with more powerful diesel engines and bigger fuel tanks. The class 801 units are pure electric trains. The trains have five, nine or ten carriages, and travel at 125 mph (201 km/h) in electric mode and 100 mph (160 km/h) in diesel mode.
Each carriage has luggage racks at each end and large luggage racks above the seats, and there is a mix of tables and airline-style seats with electric sockets. The trains have been criticised for hard, upright seats, but they offer good legroom and more spacious interiors than many inter-city trains. GWR offers a refreshment trolley on most IET services, while LNER's Azuma services include a buffet. Ten-carriage trains are formed of two five-carriage trains joined together, and it is essential to board the correct section if you have a seat reservation or wish to use GWR's Pullman restaurant, as there is no gangway between the trains.
Once the mainstay of Britain's inter-city network, and being replaced by "Inter City Express" or Azuma units, "HST" (short for "High Speed Train") or InterCity 125s are still found across Great Britain on inter-city and long-distance regional services, from northern Scotland to London to the far south-west of England.
One of British Rail's few major successes, the trains introduced 125 mph (201 km/h) diesel service in the late 1970s and still hold speed records for a diesel train. Apart from three written off due to accidents, all remained in service for more than forty years due to their excellent design, and some still run as of 2020. All have been comprehensively renovated in the last decade and are effectively all-new inside. They have more luggage storage than many more modern trains, with a large rack at each end of the carriage. 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 drinks. A full-size InterCity 125 set is made up of seven or eight carriages and two power cars (one at each end), but ScotRail and GWR run shorter formations under the "Inter7City" and "Castle class" names respectively. The trains are being modified with automatic electric doors, but unmodified trains have hinged external doors with door handles on the outside only: to open the door from the inside you slide down the window and reach out.
If you travel on LNER's inter-city services between London King's Cross and York or Leeds, you will likely be on one of these electric trains introduced in 1990. They were designed for 225 km/h (140 mph), hence the name, but they are limited to the line's speed limit of 125 mph (201 km/h), because for safety reasons all trains in the UK travelling above 125 mph must have in-cab signalling and it has not been installed on most of the network so far. The InterCity 225 sets have nine carriages operated in push-pull configuration, with an electric locomotive at the north end and driving van at the London end. All InterCity 225s have 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 125s, but they still fill up quickly so board as early as you can.
The Class 390 Pendolino is an electric inter-city tilting train 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 125 mph (201 km/h); but like the InterCity 225, were designed for 140 mph (230 km/h), though they lack cab signalling, hence the limit), 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 standard class, Coach H in first class. Pendolinos were built as 9-carriage trains, but many have now been extended to 11 carriages. 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
The Class 220 Voyager and Class 221 Super Voyager are inter-city diesel trains, introduced around 2001; Super Voyager differs mainly as it tilts when going around bends to allow faster speeds. Operated by CrossCountry and Avanti West Coast, they usually have four or five carriages and travel at 125 mph (201 km/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 as it was built by the same manufacturer and also travels at up to 125 mph (201 km/h) but it can be much longer, up to 7 carriages, is less cramped and it does have a shop/buffet.
Regional, local and commuter services
Turbostar and Electrostar
Bombardier's diesel Turbostar and electric Electrostar multiple units are the most numerous trains built in the UK since railway privatisation in the 1990s. Turbostars can travel at up to 100 mph (160 km/h - you'll hear the engine under the floor of each carriage in Turbostars), 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, 171 and 172 Turbostar trains operate local, regional and some inter-city services and usually have digital information displays and automated announcements. There may be a trolley service but no buffet, and not all have plug-points. They have two to four coaches and are sometimes coupled together to make a longer train. Electrostars are similar, introduced in the past ten years to replace hordes of elderly units in the south and south-east of England. Class 357, 375, 376, 377, 378 and 379 Electrostar trains operate regional and commuter services there and like Turbostar can reach 100 mph (160 km/h) but with faster acceleration (being electric). As with the Turbostar, there may be a trolley service but luggage space is not as much as an inter-city train.
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 90 mph (145 km/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, but they are infamous for their poor air conditioning which often fails on hot days.
Sprinter and SuperSprinter
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 75 mph (120 km/h). They do not 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.
These electric multiple-unit trains (classes 365, 465 and 466) were introduced in the early 1990s. Class 365 Networker operates Great Northern services up to 100 mph in north London and the east of England, with comfortable surroundings, air conditioning, etc. Classes 465 and 466 are used on local and commuter lines south of London operated by and can reach 75 mph (120 km/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.
All rolling stock used to be built in the UK, but Siemens (of Germany) have been building lots 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 100 mph (160 km/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. In late 2012 London Midland started to run their Desiros at 110 mph (177 km/h) on their services between London and Stoke and beyond. First TransPennine Express also operate a fleet of 10 Class 350s on routes from Manchester to Edinburgh and Glasgow alongside their Class 185 diesels.
To make up for a shortage of diesel multiple-unit trains suitable for longer journeys, GWR have modified redundant InterCity 125s to form 'Castle Class' trains for their long-distance regional services. These trains have been shortened to four carriages between two power cars, and the traditional 'slam' doors have been replaced with electrically-operated sliding external doors. They retain their intercity-standard interiors with air conditioning and electric sockets, but have no catering facilities on board. These trains are used on stopping services between Penzance, Plymouth, Taunton and Cardiff, and travel at up to 100 mph (160 km/h).
Heritage and steam railways
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. 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 East and West 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 mi (26 km) through Worcestershire and Shropshire in the west of England, starting adjacent to 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") run for 11 mi (18 km) 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 line's southern terminus at Porthmadog is shared with the Welsh Highland Railway, while the northern terminus at Blaenau Ffestiniog is shared with mainline services. There are also connections with mainline services at Minffordd.
- The North Norfolk Railway or Poppy Line is a preserved railway from the 1960s. The museum operates steam and diesel services on decommissioned trains, which were originally used as passenger trains in the county (Norfolk). Today, the trains operate on single- and dual-track lines between Holt and Sheringham (via Weybourne), making for beautiful views over flat, East Anglian countryside and the North Sea.
- The Wells Walsingham Light Railway is the longest narrow-gauge railway in the world. Now a visitor attraction, the current railway is constructed on the trackbed of a former standard gauge line. The previous railway used to be part of the national network and was closed during austerity measures in the twentieth century. Stations at Wells-next-the-Sea and Little Walsingham.
- The West Somerset Railway runs from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead, within the county of Somerset. It is the longest heritage railway in the country.
- The Jacobite is not a heritage railway per se but a steam operated excursion service that operates regularly scheduled trains from Fort William to Mallaig, on the West Highland Line. Also a treat for Harry Potter fans, as it crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, just like in the films.
Bristol is famed for its rail heritage. There are many tributes to Isambard Kingdom Brunel who established the Great Western Railway, including a railway museum at the Harbourside.
London St. Pancras is the terminus for Eurostar high-speed trains to Amsterdam, Brussels, Lille, Paris, Rotterdam and seasonal French destinations such as Avignon, Lyon and Marseille (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, RailEurope and staffed ticket offices to European destinations. Eurostar operate two different classes of rolling stock; Alstom's British Rail Class 373 (or Eurostar E300) which have been in service since the Channel Tunnel opened 1994, while BR Class 374 (Eurostar E320) have been progressively entering service since 2015, and are built by Siemens. The e320 is part of the Velaro family of which other localised variants were bought by RENFE (AVE), DB (ICE) and the Russian railways (Sapsan) among others.
German national rail operator Deutsche Bahn are planning to operate new direct services to Germany, though this has been postponed since a proposal for a service starting in 2012, so don't hold your breath.
Eurotunnel, Le Shuttle
In addition to the Eurostar passenger-only service, it is possible to travel between Britain and France in your own vehicle on board a Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. The connection is between Cheriton (near Folkestone) and Coquelles (near Calais). Prices are relatively cheap compared to some flights and ferry bookings, and the journey is significantly shorter. For ticket prices and bookings, you can visit the Eurotunnel Website. To access the Channel Tunnel Terminal from the UK, you can use the M20 motorway (junction 11A from London) or the A20 between Maidstone and Folkestone. Once in France, you can drive straight onto the A16 autoroute.
From any Greater Anglia station, it is possible to book a 'Dutchflyer' rail and ferry ticket to any station in The Netherlands. The Rail & Sail scheme means that it is possible to book a ticket for £55 from London Liverpool Street to selected Dutch stations (correct as 24/05/2019). Of course, you will need your passport, and the route involves a ferry connection between Harwich and the Hook of Holland operated by Stena Line. A typical route between London Liverpool Street to the Hook of Holland would require a through journey between Liverpool Street and Harwich International Station and a Stena Line ferry to the Hook of Holland, where Dutch rail connections can be found.
Airports with railway stations
These airports have railway stations, usually on a through route. It's worth checking with the airport or National Rail Enquiries to make travel plans:
- Aberdeen Dyce - (advertised only as 'Dyce') - A separate bus journey (and ticket) is needed to get to/from the airport terminal.
- Edinburgh - A tram line links Edinburgh airport to the city, which calls at 4 train stations on its way, in the following order:
- Edinburgh Gateway - for trains to Fife and North East Scotland as well as some trains heading to England.
- Edinburgh Park - for trains to Stirling and Perth, as well as trains to Glasgow via Livingston.
- Haymarket - major station serving the central region as well as trains to most Scottish cities and the wider UK
- Waverley (At Andrews Square tram stop) - Major train station for connections to most of Scotland and most major English cities as well as the sleeper trains to London.
- Birmingham International
- Cardiff Airport - the station is called "Rhoose Cardiff International Airport" with an hourly rail connection to Barry and Cardiff Central, some of which continue to Cardiff Queen Street, Pontypridd, Aberdare or Merthyr Tydfil. In the other direction, there is an hourly link to Bridgend. All services are operated by Arrive Trains Wales on a local network. The airport is not in walking distance, though the 509 shuttle bus regularly links the station to the airport for a competitive price. There are plans to improve connections to the airport with a new South East Wales Metro in the near future.
- East Midlands Parkway (also close to Derby, Loughborough & Nottingham
- Liverpool South Parkway, for John Lennon Airport
- London City (on the Docklands Light Railway, part of London's urban transport system)
- London Luton
- Manchester Airport station is a terminus station off the West Coast Main Line; it is served by Northern Rail, First Trans Pennine Express and Arriva Trains Wales. There are regular services to Manchester Piccadilly. Manchester Metrolink trams also serve the station.
- Newcastle upon Tyne (is connected to the Tyne and Wear Metro light rail, where you can change at Newcastle Central station)
- Prestwick - Remarkably well served by the main Glasgow to Ayr line. Make sure to buy you train ticket to Prestwick from a ticket desk as showing a valid airline ticket will get you 50% off your train ticket from anywhere in Scotland. This isn't available when buying online or from a machine so ensure you go to a person.
- Southampton - the station is called "Southampton Airport Parkway"
- Teeside Airport - this is one of the least used rail stations and airports on the UK network and a 15-20 minute walk from the airport. Only one train per week in each direction stops at the station. However, there are plans to rebuild the station far closer to the airport.
These services are operated by trains branded as "Express" services. Beware that they are sometimes much more expensive than local services, and cheaper services on other operators may be available:
- London Gatwick - Gatwick Express: regular, non-stopping service between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport. Trains run every 15 minutes with a journey time of approximately 30 minutes. This is a guideline and you should always leave extra time for your journey. Other Services: The station is served by Southern, who run services to destinations like Brighton and Southampton, as well as London terminals. Thameslink, who operate through services between Brighton, London City Centre (e.g. Finsbury Park & London Bridge), London St Pancrass and Bedford directly. At St Pancrass, onward connections can be made to the North of England, Scotland, Luton, Cambridge, Ely and Kings Lynn. Great Western Railway operate a service to Reading via Guildford. At Reading, onward connections to the South West, South Wales, Bristol, Oxford, Swindon, Birmingham and Manchester (limited) can be found.
- London Stansted - Stansted Express services are regular 15-minute services run by Abellio. The service runs from London Liverpool Street, usually calling at Tottenham Hale and Stansted Airport. At Liverpool Street and Tottenham Hale, connections can be made to London Underground services. Other Services: Stansted Airport is served by other Abellio Greater Anglia services to London Liverpool Street and Bishops Stortford, where a connection can be made to Stratford. Greater Anglia also have a somewhat regular service between Cambridge and Stansted, calling at Audley End and Whittlesford Parkway. Cross Country operate very regular services between Birmingham New Street/Cambridge and Stansted Airport. Services from Birmingham call at Leicester, Melton Mowbray, Stamford and Peterborough, amongst other stops. Between Cambridge and Stansted, the train calls at Audley End but not Whittlesford Parkway. At many of these stations, onward connections can be made to North Wales, the North, Scotland, Liverpool and Manchester.
- London Heathrow - Heathrow Express: An expensive, non-stopping service between London Paddington and the airport, operated by the airport itself. From Paddington, onward connections can be made to Berkshire, West London, the London Underground, Reading, Oxford, Bristol, the South West and South Wales.
- London Heathrow - TfL Rail: A cheaper alternative to the Express, operated by Transport for London in preparation to the start of Crossrail services in 2019/2020. This service begins at Paddington (for onward connections), calling at Ealing Broadway, West Ealing, Hanwell, Southall and Hayes & Harlington. These services go directly to Terminals 1,2,3 & 5 only. There is a free shuttle between the Terminal 1,2 & 3 station and Terminal 4.
- London Heathrow - London Underground Piccadilly line services are a very cheap but much slower connection between central & north London and the airport. Arriving at all terminals, the line begins at Cockfosters in North London while stopping at a number of stations including King's Cross St. Pancras (where onward connections can be made to the North and East), Leicester Square and South Kensington. It is part of the integrated TfL network, and bookings cannot be made. There are no toilets, catering or WiFi on most London Underground services.
Most airports without integrated rail services offer a bus connection to the nearest station. Bristol Airport, for example, is served by a 20-minute bus ("A1"). Tickets are available as part of the National Rail Network.
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 National Rail.
- Ardrossan (Harbour Station - there are 3 stations in Ardrossan) for ferries to the Isle of Arran
- Aberdeen for ferries to Orkney and Shetland
- Ayr for coaches to Cairnryan connecting with ferries to Northern Ireland
- Birkenhead for ferries to Belfast, Northern Ireland
- Dover for ferries to France
- Fishguard for ferries to the Republic of Ireland
- Gourock for ferries to Dunoon and Kilcreggan
- Harwich for ferries to the Netherlands
- Heysham for ferries to the Isle of Man
- Holyhead for ferries to the Republic of Ireland
- Largs for ferries to Cumbrae
- Liverpool for ferries to the Isle of Man
- Lymington for ferries to the Isle of Wight
- Mallaig for ferries to the Small Isles, Skye, South Uist and Knoydart
- Newhaven for ferries to Dieppe
- Oban for ferries to the Inner and Outer Hebrides
- Poole for ferries to Guernsey and Jersey
- Portsmouth Harbour for ferries to the Isle of Wight, France and Spain
- Southampton for ferries to the Isle of Wight
- Thurso for ferries to the Orkney Islands
- Wemyss Bay for ferries to Rothesay
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. This is also the number to contact if you have concerns about something which although not immediately dangerous, represents a possible safety or crime issue (such as unauthorised persons trackside, or damaged lineside fencing.) You can also text (SMS) the BTP on 61016, which is widely advertised across the rail network and is the preferred way to contact the BTP discreetly.
Due to a history of terrorist incidents in the UK using placed explosive devices, any unattended luggage may be treated as potentially being such a device by the authorities, leading to closure of entire stations, (particularly in London, with even major termini being occasionally affected) whilst specially trained officials investigate and render any suspected device "safe". Both posters and announcements will often ask passengers to keep a sharp eye for and report any unattended bags straight away.
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 fewer major accidents. 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 aboard the train:
- Get the attention of a member of staff, any staff member will do.
- 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. Pulling the emergency stop handle between stations will make it more difficult for emergency crews or police to reach the train.
- If you are in immediate danger try to move to the next carriage, internal doors can be pushed apart if necessary. Do not pick up personal items. It is usually safer to remain on the train.
- If you must leave the train, 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 at the door with instructions.
- If this is not possible, leave through an emergency window which will usually be identified as such. There may be a hammer next to it. If there is no indicated window, use the most convenient one facing away from any other tracks if possible.
- 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.
- You should lower yourself carefully from the train and move away from it as quickly as possible.
- Look and listen for approaching trains, and possibly the electric 3rd rail. Do not step on any rails; you could be stepping on the 3rd rail, depending on how the track is electrified. Get off the track as quickly as possible.
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 (with the exception of certain commuter routes in the South East). 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 throughout the train. Emergency brakes are also available, but a heavy penalty can be levied against someone who unnecessarily stops the train. 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.