Train service within Scotland is generally run by ScotRail, one of the most efficient of Britain's service providers. Trains are modern, clean, and comfortable. Long-distance services carry buffet and refreshment cars. Scotland's rail network extends all the way to Thurso and Wick, the most northerly stations in the British Isles. Lowland services, most of which originate in Glasgow or Edinburgh, are generally fast and reliable. A shuttle makes the 50-minute trip between Glasgow and Edinburgh every half hour. It's a scenic trip with plenty of rolling fields, livestock, and traditional houses to view along the way. One word of caution: there are very few trains in the Highlands on Sunday and services throughout the country are generally limited on Sunday.
Most trains have first-class and standard-class coaches. First-class coaches are always less crowded; they have wider seats and are often cleaner and less well-worn than standard-class cars, and they're a lot more expensive. However, on weekends you can often upgrade from standard- to first class for a small fee (often £10 to £20)—ask at the time of booking.
Fares and Schedules
The best way to find out which train to take, which station to catch it at, and what times trains travel to your destination is to call National Rail Enquiries. It's a helpful, comprehensive, free service that covers all Britain's rail lines. National Rail will help you choose the best train to take, and then connects you with the ticket office for that train company so that you can buy tickets.
Train fares vary according to class of ticket purchased and distance traveled.
Before you buy your ticket, stop at the Information Office/Travel Centre and request the lowest fare to your destination and information about any special offers. There's often little difference between the cost of a one-way and round-trip ticket. So if you're planning on departing from and returning to the same destination, buy a round-trip fare upon your departure, rather than purchasing two separate one-way tickets.
It's much cheaper to buy a one-way or round-trip ticket in advance than on the day of your trip (except for commuter services); the closer to the date of travel, the more expensive the ticket will be. Try to purchase tickets at least eight weeks in advance during peak season summer travel to save money and reserve good seats. Check train Web sites for deals. You can also check the trainline, which sells discounted advance-purchase tickets from all train companies to all destinations in Britain. It's worthwhile to compare several sites.
National Rail Enquiries (0845/748-4950. www.nationalrail.co.uk.)
ScotRail (0845/601-5929. www.scotrail.co.uk.)
the trainline (0871/244-1545. www.thetrainline.com.)
All major credit cards and cash are accepted for train fares paid both in person and by phone.
Reserving your ticket in advance is always recommended.
Tickets and rail passes do not guarantee seats on the trains. For that you need a seat reservation, which if made at the time of ticket purchase is usually included in the ticket price, or if booked separately, must be paid for at a cost of £1 per train on your itinerary. You also need a reservation if you purchase overnight sleeping accommodations.
To save money, look into rail passes. But be aware that if you don't plan to cover many miles, you may come out ahead by buying individual tickets. If you plan to travel by train in Scotland, consider purchasing a BritRail Pass, which also allows travel in England and Wales. All BritRail passes must be purchased in your home country; they're sold by travel agents as well as BritRail or Rail Europe. Rail passes do not guarantee seats on the trains, so be sure to reserve ahead. Remember that Eurail Passes aren't honored in Great Britain.
The cost of an unlimited BritRail adult pass for 4 days is $263/$393 (standard/first class); for 8 days, $373/$549; for 15 days, $549/$813; for 22 days, $689/$1,029; and for a month, $809/$1,209. The Youth Pass, for ages 16 to 25, costs $213/$319 for 4 days, $299/$439 for 8 days, $439/$653 for 15 days, $553/$823 for 22 days, and $649/$969 for one month. The Senior Pass, for passengers over 60, costs $263/$333 for 4 days, $373/$469 for 8 days, $549/$693 for 15 days, $689/$873 for 22 days, and $809/$1029 for one month. Another option is a Flexipass, which allows a particular number of days of travel within a given period: for example, 4 days in 2 months for $479.
The Scottish Freedom Pass allows transportation on all Caledonian MacBrayne and Strathclyde ferries in addition to major bus links and the Glasgow underground. You can travel any 4 days in an 8-day period for $249 or any 8 days in a 15-day period for $329.
ACP Rail International (866/938–7245. www.acprail.com.)
BritRail Travel (866/938-7245. www.britrail.com.)
Rail Europe (0844/848-4078. www.raileurope.com.)
There are two main rail routes to Scotland from the south of England. The first, the west-coast main line, runs from London Euston to Glasgow Central; it takes 5½ hours to make the 400-mi trip to central Scotland, and service is frequent and reliable. Useful for daytime travel to the Scottish Highlands is the direct train to Stirling and Aviemore, terminating at Inverness. For a restful route to the Scottish Highlands, take the overnight sleeper service, with soundproof sleeping carriages. It runs from London Euston, departing in late evening, to Perth, Stirling, Aviemore, and Inverness, where it arrives the following morning.
The east-coast main line from London King's Cross to Edinburgh provides the quickest trip to the Scottish capital. Between 8 am and 6 pm there are 16 trains to Edinburgh, three of them through to Aberdeen. Limited-stop expresses like the Flying Scotsman make the 393-mi London-to-Edinburgh journey in around four hours. Connecting services to most parts of Scotland—particularly the Western Highlands—are often better from Edinburgh than from Glasgow.
Trains from elsewhere in England are good: regular service connects Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Bristol with Glasgow and Edinburgh. From Harwich (the port of call for ships from Holland, Germany, and Denmark), you can travel to Glasgow via Manchester. But it's faster to change at Peterborough for the east-coast main line to Edinburgh.
Although many routes in Scotland run through extremely attractive countryside, several stand out: from Glasgow to Oban via Loch Lomond; to Fort William and Mallaig via Rannoch (ferry connection to Skye); from Edinburgh to Inverness via the Forth Bridge and Perth; from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and to Wick; and from Inverness to Aberdeen.
A private train, the Royal Scotsman, does all-inclusive scenic tours, partly under steam power, with banquets en route. This is a luxury experience: some evenings require formal wear. You can choose itineraries from two nights ($3,610) to seven nights ($10,680) per person.
The Royal Scotsman (0845/217-0799 in the U.K.; 800/524-2420 in the U.S. www.royalscotsman.com.)
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