Travelling by train in the UK

Train travel can be extremely enjoyable when it works well; many stations have a particular feeling of romance and excitement, and there are few things better than sitting by a train window watching the world whizz by.

Unfortunately, train travel can also be crowded and expensive. Many trains on popular lines are regularly over-full, with little room for passengers, let alone their luggage; and the pricing structure of the different rail tickets is often quite baffling.

Train journeys and train companies vary hugely in comfort and reliability, depending on where you live. You’ll probably already know if your local train service is good or not.

If you’re travelling long-distance, have a serious think about using coaches as an alternative; they’re often cheaper and more reliable, and if you book in advance you have the comfort of knowing that you will have room for yourself and your luggage.

If you still want to travel by train, here are a few tips :

  • Booking in advance, and for particular trains, is often cheaper than buying your ticket at the station just before you go. You can buy through your local train company, the National Rail website  or Virgin Trains without any booking fee and they will show you the cheapest options for your journey. Third-party operators, such as thetrainline, charge a fee and don’t offer any particular advantage over the train company sites.
  • Try to avoid travelling at peak times such as Friday evenings – as journeys will generally be more expensive and more crowded. If you do have to travel at peak time, try to reserve your seat in advance.
  • Look out for special offers or promotions – sometimes train companies offer lower-priced group tickets at non-peak times or very low fares for under-16s travelling with an adult.
  • A young person’s railcard for 16 -25 year olds gives you 1/3 off standard fares. If you have one, make sure you include it when booking your ticket.

If you have a disability that requires assistance, for example in getting on or off a train, you are asked to contact the relevant train company 24 hours before your journey so that the necessary arrangements can be made – see more details here.

Despite its drawbacks, train travel does seem to attract loyal supporters more than any other form of transport and these supporters can be a very useful source of advice. The Man in Seat 61 is a really excellent and reliable website with extremely comprehensive and practical tips for all sorts of train travel, in the UK and abroad.