Britain has a privatised rail network that covers the whole of the country, serving more than 2,500 stations. Divided into regional sections, the system is generally efficient and reliable. Parts of the network are occasionally closed for repairs, mostly at weekends, so check with your local station or online before travelling. Journeys across the country may involve a number of changes, since most lines radiate from London, which has seven major terminals. There is also a rail link with continental Europe on Eurostar, from King’s Cross St Pancras station in London and Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent.
Large travel agents and all railway stations sell train tickets. First-class tickets cost about one-third more than standard fares, and buying a return fare is sometimes cheaper than buying two singles.
Allow plenty of time to buy your ticket, and always ask about any special offers or reduced fares. An advance ticket is usually cheaper than one bought on the day, but often has restrictions on your ability to change or cancel your journey.
Consumers can buy tickets directly from the rail provider, National Rail or a third-party website, such as thetrainline.com, which is the most popular of these and worth checking first. At raileasy.co.uk, you may find discounted tickets in advance. Virgin Trains cover much of England, Scotland and Wales, and there are no booking fees.
Inspectors can levy on-the-spot fines if you do not have a valid ticket, so buy a ticket before boarding the train at all times. Many stations have automatic ticket machines. Ticket offices in rural areas may close at weekends, so if you are unable to buy a ticket a conductor on board will sell you one.
If you plan to do a lot of train travel around Britain, it is worth buying a rail pass. This can be purchased from many agents abroad, such as Rail Europe. National Rail's All Line Rail Rover gives adults unlimited travel throughout England, Scotland and Wales for 7 or 14 days. For many trips, a Family & Friends Railcard or Network Railcard saves one-third on adult and 60 per cent off kids’ (aged 5–15) fares. A Young Person’s Railcard offers discounts to 16- to 25-year-olds or full-time students attending a UK educational establishment. The Senior Rail Card entitles those over the age of 60 to a discount of one-third on most fares. There are special passes for London transport, too, and a pass that covers London, Oxford, Canterbury and Brighton. Children aged 5 to 15 pay half fare; those under the age of 5 travel free. Disabled travelers qualify for many discounts.
Keep a passport-sized photograph handy for buying passes. If you have a pass, make sure you always show it when you buy a ticket.
Britain’s fastest and most comfortable trains are those on the mainline routes. These are very popular services and get booked up quickly. It is always advisable to reserve your seat in advance, especially if you want to travel at peak times, such as Friday evenings. Mainline trains have dining cars and air-conditioning, and they are fast – travelling to Edinburgh from London, for example, takes just over 4 hours.
Porters are rare at British stations, although trolleys are often available for passengers to help themselves. If you are disabled and need help, call National Rail Enquiries to book Passenger Assistance at least 24 hours ahead of your journey. A yellow line above a train window indicates a first-class compartment. Note that even if the train is full, you cannot sit in the first-class area without paying the full fare.
Trains sometimes split en route, each section proceeding to different destinations, so always check which section you should be on. Trains stop for only a minute at each station, and doors close 30 seconds before the train is due to depart, so gather your belongings in advance and be ready to get on and off.
Some stations are a little way from town centers, but they are usually well signposted and mostly on a bus route. Trains on Sundays and public holidays can be slower and less frequent than normal.
Content provided by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides (www.traveldk.com)