Rail Travel in Britain

Travel Information on Rail Travel in Britain

Some people prefer not to drive on the “wrong” side of the road whilst others simply enjoy the convenience of gliding through the countryside and soaking up the scenery whilst you travel; either way, touring Britain by rail is very popular with overseas visitors to the UK. And with your adeo Travel Britain Expert on hand to advise you every step of the way, planning your Britain rail tour couldn’t be simpler.

Since Victorian times we have had a wide-reaching rail network with frequent and regular services to most areas, especially along popular routes. This, combined with a range of flexible passes specifically designed for overseas visitors (Britrail Passes) or direct route tickets, make a rail tour of England, Scotland or Wales both excellent value for money and a convenient way to travel during your Britain vacation. As official Britrail agents, adeo Travel can offer the full range of passes perfect for any rail tour or tickets for one-off or return journeys to complement your self-drive, coach or mini-coach tour.

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The British Rail Network

The rail network in Britain is the oldest in the world and dates back to 1851 when the first public service opened. Having played a major role in the transport of heavy goods after the industrial revolution, Britain’s network grew considerably in the 1800s and 1900s and, despite line closures in the late 20th century, remains today one of the world’s, busiest and densest networks. Today, use of the network for rail vacations in Britain is more popular than ever.


The rail network in Britain is comprehensive and far-reaching with almost 10,000 miles of track reaching to the corners of our small island.

England – England is possibly best suited destination for a rail tour with almost all major cities and most prominent towns connected via the rail network, though sometimes services at the outer reaches (such as in Cornwall) are more limited and infrequent. Many of the larger towns and cities (such as London, Birmingham and Manchester) act as rail hubs with several mainline stations and links to many surrounding towns and places of interest; for a convenient England rail tour and travel it can be useful to base yourself at one of these hub cities for several days and make journeys to nearby locations such as on the London and Beyond rail tour.

Scotland – Scotland’s rail network is excellent around the central belt and the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh however is more sparse, as you would expect, in the remote Scottish Highlands where the terrain is rough and there is little population. By making use of additional bus connections, however, a Scotland rail tour is still a great way to explore this nation and Scotland is also home to some of the most scenic and rewarding rail journeys Britain has to offer. Edinburgh and Glasgow can both be reached from London on high-speed rail links with a journey duration of just 4.5 hours.

Wales – Wales sees a similar situation with major routes in the south and in the north but very little in the way of track coverage through the mountainous central region of Wales which means that a Wales rail tour passing from north to south (or vice versa) is all but impossible by rail alone without back-tracking across the border in to England. Again though, as you might expect from such a rural nation, Wales is home to some real gems in terms of scenic rail rides. The Wlesh capital of Cardiff is well connected by rail and can be reached from London in just over 2 hours.

Subway Systems – Some cities in Britain have their own subway systems (most notably the London Underground system or “tube”) but it should be noted that these are not considered part of the national network and rail passes will not be valid on these networks.

High-speed / dedicated lines – In some locations you will find high speed services (used in areas of high volume of passengers or where large distances will be covered. The most notable of these are the Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express Rail links which take you from London’s major airports directly in to central London stations. There is also a high speed link between London and Edinburgh and London and Glasgow which stop at just a few major stations on route (as opposed to lots of little stations). These services are all considered part of the national rail network and your Britrail pass can be used for travel as usual.

Popular Routes and Services

  • London to Edinburgh – using the East coast mainline connecting London with York and Edinburgh this is one of Britain’s most important rail lines and enjoys high-speed services meaning you can travel between the English and Scottish capitals in just 4.5 hours (a journey of more than 7 hours by car and 9-10 hours by coach).
  • London to York – again availing of the highspeed connection this journey can be done in just over 2 hours and is very popular with people enjoying a rail tour of England.
  • York to Edinburgh – speedy but scenic, just over two hours takes you through the beauty of the north Yorkshire and the Scottish Lowlands from one of England’s most picturesque cities to the elegant Scottish capital.
  • London to Cardiff – In just 2.5 hours you can be away from the metropolis of London and in Wales’ first city ready to explore an entirely unique culture and countryside. London to Bath – Just two hours from England’s capital city lies one of England’s historically significant cities where you’ll find architecture from the Romans first settlement through to medieval time and Georgian splendour in the city of Bath.
  • London to Liverpool – uncover the thriving city of Liverpool and its Beatles history on a rail ride from London which lasts just over 2 hours.

The Trains and Service

Rail tours of England, Scotland and Wales and train travel in Britain is generally very comfortable and, whilst in the past, the system has been criticised for delays, in recent years the rail companies have made many steps forward in improving services. Whilst the tracks are all maintained by a government funded organisation (Network Rail) the trains themselves are operated by a number of private companies who are contracted to different regions, routes and services. By taking your Britain rail tour in conjunction with the Britrail Pass system, your passes are valid on all trains with any operator and so there is no need to worry about who to buy tickets from and where they are valid.

Most trains on the system are modern and comfortable making touring Britain by rail a very popular and convenient option, especially when travelling over longer distances. Carriages (especially those on regional/long-distance services) generally have plenty of luggage storage space, on-board bathrooms and food carts or restaurant carriages to purchase on-board snacks and refreshments. Some seats will have power-points, where passengers can recharge phones or plug in laptops and there are usually some table seating available for groups of more than two.

There is often little difference between first class and standard class seating on British trains however if you are looking for something a little special you may choose to travel in first class. Below we list the advantages of first class travel over standard class, please note that not all of these services are available on all trains. It should also be noted that not all trains have first class carriages so please check with your Britain Expert if it is worth upgrading on your particular itinerary. An upgrade is generally most beneficial on a rail tour of England (especially in the south east) as this is where the network and trains are busiest.

First Class Travel Benefits

  • Access to first class lounges at stations (where available).
  • Boarding closer on the platform to the gate at departure stations.
  • Larger luggage storage areas.
  • More spacious, comfier on-board seating.
  • Air conditioned carriages and curtains to shade from sunlight.
  • Complimentary wifi access and newspapers.
  • Power-points available at all seats.
  • Complimentary refreshments including glass of wine and full meals on certain services.

Luggage on board British trains

There is no weight restrictions on luggage that you can take on board a train. Technically you are limited to three items of luggage (two large items such as a suitcase or rucksack and one smaller item such as a carry-on bag or lap-top bag). However, luggage restrictions are rarely enforced unless you are carrying bulky or oversized items (such as a bike or golf clubs). There are luggage storage areas at theend of each carriage (where you can stow your suitcases/rucksacks) and over-head shelves or under-seat storage for smaller bags. The thing to remember when packing for your rail tour of Britain is that you need to handle your luggage yourself through the train stations and on and off of trains which can mean up and down steps and sometimes over a small gap. For this reason we would always recommend travelling as light as possible and either using aback-pack or a suitcase with wheel that can be dragged. You should be able to lift your bags yourself and be able to carry them off the ground over a short distance. Assistance with luggage is only available for disabled passengers at manned stations and by prior arrangement with station staff.

Rail Travel Etiquette

There are some unwritten rules regarding rail travel, don’t forget the following when enjoying your rail tour of the UK:

  • Allow people to disembark before trying to board the train yourself.
  • Don’t use cell/mobile phones in the quiet carriage of a train (you will see a sign denoting the quiet carriage) it is frowned upon.
  • Check seat reservations – some people will have pre-booked seats, try to avoid these seats even if they are unoccupied – their owners may be boarding at the next station.
  • Have your tickets and personal ID to hand; you may be asked for this both at the station to pass through the turn-styles to the platform and on board the train by the conductor.
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