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Around the UK by Train

Travelling by train is an enjoyable experience and great way to see a cross section of the UK that includes sceneries of the countryside, meadows, farmlands, small country towns and quaint villages. The railway network and train service in the UK is one of the most extensive and efficient in Europe. The trains are usually quick, often on time and comfortable.

Travelling by train is often quicker than by coach (long distance express bus) to get to your destination. On long distance journeys, it’s more comfortable travelling on the trains since there’s more leg room. On the other hand, it cost a lot more to travel by train. However, with a little research and planning you can usually find discounted train fares for advance bookings, group travel, senior citizens, travelling during the off peak periods and rail passes for multiple travel.

Trains at Charing Cross by mattbuck

Rail Travel on the UK Mainland

The UK mainland has an extensive railway network known as National Rail, comprising of 34,000 km (21,000 miles) of railway tracks and over 2,600 stations. The network covers most of the UK mainland, stretching from southern England to northern Scotland and westwards into Wales. National Rail comprises of Network Rail (the government-owned railway infrastructure including stations and tracks) and the private companies that operate the trains. There are about 30 train companies operating different routes throughout the UK mainland including Arriva, Train Wales, East Midland Trains, First Capital Connect, ScotRail, Mersey Rail and Northern Rail.

Arriva train in Wales by Au Morandarte

London is the hub for rail travel on the UK mainland connecting with cities and towns in all directions across England, Scotland and Wales. Make sure you get to the right railway station since there are several railway terminals in London.London is the hub for rail travel on the UK mainland connecting with cities and towns in all directions across England, Scotland and Wales. Make sure you get to the right railway station since there are several railway terminals in London.

  • London Waterloo Station is the largest and busiest railway station in the UK and the terminal for the South Western Main Line running along the southwestern region of England.
  • London Victoria Station is London’s second busiest station and the terminal for trains on the Chatham Main Line travelling southward to Dover.
  • London Liverpool Street Station serves the Great Eastern Main Line, West Anglia Main Line and the Stansted Express travelling to London Stansted Airport.
  • London Bridge Station serves several train services travelling to Kent, Surrey, East Sussex and towards the southern coast of England.
  • London Euston Station is the southern terminal for trains on the West Coast Main Line travelling on the western region of England to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
  • London Charing Cross Station is the London terminal for trains on the South Eastern Main Line running along the southeastern region of England.
  • London Paddington Station is the London terminal for trains on the Great Western Main Line heading westward towards Bristol.
  • London Kings Cross Station is the southern terminal for trains on the East Coast Main Line running along the eastern region of England to Edinburgh.
London Waterloo Station by Lewis Clarke

The Trains

Intercity trains travel at a top speed of 200 kph (125 mph) but faster on some services at 225 kph (140 mph) while regional trains travel at a lower speed of 140 kph (90 mph). Most intercity trains provide free seat reservations, on board dining, wireless internet (a charge may apply) and baby changing facilities. The trains have two classes of carriages i.e. ‘standard class’ and ‘first class’ offering more comfortable seats and leg room. Trains tend be overcrowded during peak periods and you can avoid the crowd by travelling during the off peak period, which is usually around midday.

Tickets

You can purchase tickets from the ticket office or machine at the railway station, by phone or from appointed travel agents. You can also purchase tickets from several train travel related websites including those by the train operators. However, the operators’ websites only allow bookings on their individual services. National Rail does not sell tickets but its website can search and list all the train operators and their fares serving a given route. You can then click your preferred operator and redirect to their website to purchase tickets.

Ticket machines at Danescourt Station in Cardiff by Jaggery

Rail Travel in Northern Ireland

The railway system in Northern Ireland is Northern Ireland Railways (NIR), which owns both the railway infrastructure and trains. Railway travel in Northern Ireland centres in Belfast, which has four stations that include Belfast Central, Great Victoria Street, Hospital Street and Botanic Stations. There are four lines radiating from Belfast serving routes to Dublin, Londonderry/Derry, Larne and Bangor. Intercity trains on the NIR travel at a top speed of 145 kph (90 mph). You can purchase tickets at the stations or online at the NIR website and discounted fares are available.

Lisburn Station in Northern Ireland by Albert Bridge

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