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5 Essential Tips For Riding the Train in the UK

Updated on October 24, 2016
A train ride from London to York
A train ride from London to York | Source

Riding the train is a very common way for people (particularly young people who haven't yet learned how to drive) to get between towns and cities in the UK, and purchasing a ticket, discount cards and finding a train station is fairly simple. Mechanised rail systems for public use have been around in England since the 1820s, and remain a common form of transport for most of the world today.

If you plan on visiting the UK, or if you're planning a train trip on your own, here are some useful tips for travelling by rail. Public transport is different in every country, and it's good to know what you have to do before you go, and what to expect on your journey.

Choosing times, dates and stations
Choosing times, dates and stations | Source

1. Planning your trip

You can easily plan your trip by scheduling dates and times between specific stations on the National Rail website. This way, you can easily see what time the train is scheduled to leave, which stations you have to change at (if applicable), and what platform you have to be on. Some train stations have ten or twenty platforms, so it's always important to know which one you have to get to in time. On each individual platform is a screen telling you the planned route for that platform, so you'll easily be able to check that you're on the right one (see photograph).

It's nearly always cheaper to plan ahead for your trip, instead of buying tickets on the day. Unlike countries such as Japan, where train tickets stay the same, the price of a train ticket can flunctuate quite a lot depending when you buy it. This means that if you leave buying your ticket until the last minute, you might end up spending more money than you needed to. Check fares in advance for the best deal.

Train ticket example
Train ticket example | Source

2. Buying your ticket

Also on the National rail site is where you can buy your tickets. The Trainline website is also worth visiting to compare prices. If you choose to buy your tickets online, you can choose to have them posted to you for a fee, or choose to have them ready and waiting for you at the ticket machines at the station. This is free, but it means you have to get to the station slightly early, with the card you used to purchase the ticket as well as the reservation number, to collect your ticket from the machine.

Are you flexible with your times? Compare different times and dates to get the best deal.

Make sure you get the type of train ticket you need. An open return is a little more expensive than one with fixed times, but it means you can return on any train within several weeks.


3. Discounts

Some train lines sometimes have special offers going on at certain times of the year, such as 'buy one, get one half price'. If you're in the UK for a while, it might be worth purchasing a railcard.

With a railcard, you get 1/3 off all your ticket prices, no matter where you're going or which train line you're travelling with. You can get a 16-25 railcard if you're between the ages of 16 and 25, or if there are two of you, a 'Two Together Railcard' if you're both aged 16 or over. Other types of Railcards, some valid for a year and some valid for three are available. Click here for types, prices and availability.

Extra tip: If you're a student, or becoming a student, it's worth getting a student account with Santander, because they give you a railcard for free.

Make sure you always carry your railcard with you, and have it ready with your tickets to show the guard.


4. Train Lines

Some routes can only operate on certain lines. For example, the train route through Cumbria (Carlisle, Maryport, Workington and Whitehaven) only operates on Northern Rail. Other, longer routes, such as Edinburgh to London, have several different routes with different train companies.

Some lines are more pleasant to ride than others. For example, Virgin rails, East Coast and Transpennine offer certain services that smaller train lines might not, such as first-class carriages, a cafe and a Quiet carriage. Depending on your route, your journey can be as luxurious as you like. Travelling on First Class is more expensive, but now and then you can get a great deal - sometimes First Class is only £1 or £2 extra.

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5. Time

Make sure you get to the train station at least 10-15 minutes before your train is due to leave, and slightly longer if you decided to collect your tickets from the machines at the station. Finding your platform is simple enough - there are plenty of signs pointing you in the right direction, and in smaller stations, there might only be one or two platforms (bigger cities will have more, so leave time for that). Keep your tickets and, if applicable, railcard with you somewhere safe, board the right train, and away you go. Riding the train is a fun experience where you can see a lot of pretty British countryside whilst relaxing with a cup of tea or coffee. Enjoy!


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