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Britain by Train and BritRail Passes for the Clueless

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Jun 2nd, 2008, 06:40 AM
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Britain by Train and BritRail Passes for the Clueless



Hi:
I've been traveling the rails in Britain for decades - usually with some kind of BritRail Pass and have used probably 30 passes all told on separate trips. In previous days as a travel writer i researched and wrote many things about Britain and British trains.

I totally love trains in general and British ones in particular. They are not nearly the most modern in Europe, the most comfortable nor certainly the most punctual, but every train ride in Britain is to me an adventure, a good way to meet the locals and just a great way to get around as there are trains at least hourly going practically everywhere the normal tourist will want to go.

I'm intending this thread for folks pondering a British rail trip who really have little knowledge of what it's all about - to understand the rail system, give sample itineraries, explain all about passes and point to point regular tickets which, depending on plans, can be the better option, etc. In all i will seek to show why the British train option is a great way, especially for novice British visitors to tour the country (and of course not have to deal with driving on the 'wrong' side of the road)

Questions and comments from others about their experiences are welcomed anytime as are comments from others experienced in the ins and out of the British Rail system.

TBC; Sincerely,
Dr Richard Beeching; PhD in British Rail Studies, Univ of Oxbridge, England
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Jun 3rd, 2008, 10:04 AM
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Things planned to be covered:

The nature of the British rail system and why it is a tremendous way to get around

Good sources of information on British trains

Types of trains from quaint rural branch lines to mainline trains

Caledonian Sleeper trains to/from Scotland and London

Trains in the London area

Sample Itineraries

Using trains - difference between classes, on board facilities and even such things as to how to open those doors to get out! Seat reservations, seat availability without reservations, etc.

Scenic train routes such as the two fab Scottish Highland railways

Luggage concerns

Station facilities - baggage check rooms?

Fares - www.nationalrail.co.uk

and a lot on BritRail Passes, which i will highlight as a great way to do Britain by train - they are not for everyone however - comparing to local fares

Passes to be covered:

BritRail Pass
BR England Pass
BR Days Out of London Pass
BritIreland Pass
Scottish Passes

Youthpasses
Party Pass (50% off for third thru 9th travelers traveling together on one Party Pass)

Senior Passes

Pass holder fares on Eurostar trains to Paris/Brussels

Back soon, Dr Beeching

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Jun 3rd, 2008, 11:45 AM
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And forgot also

The Family Pass where kids under 16 get a free pass to match what their parents buy

and the Off-Peak BritRail Pass (Nov-Feb) where all adult passes are discounted about 20%

Flexipasses vs Consecutive Day Passes

and two current specials

right now thru the end of June, 2008 an extra day will be added to all BritRail Passes (incl youth and England) and don't have to be used until within six months of issue

And also throughout 2008 anyone buying a Eurail Youthpass of any kind gets 50% off any adult price on a BritRail Pass

And Airport trains

Back Soon - Dick Beeching
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Jun 3rd, 2008, 12:37 PM
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Terrific! Looking forward to benefitting from your train expertise.
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Jun 4th, 2008, 11:31 AM
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Thanks LC

<BRITRAIL>

First to dispose of a common misunderstanding Americans have about the term <BritRail>

Though British Rail was the nationalized rail system of Britain for many during the Thatcher era and after it was decided to privatize the entire BritRail system and the word British Rail went to the scrap bin of history (with much controversy in Britain to say the least)

What took its place is the current 'franchise' system where an overall rail regulatory authority awards franchises to run various parts of the former British Rail network. Currently i think there are about 27 separate independent rail franchises.

Franchises are granted for several year period then are re-bid or taken away for poor performance, etc.

But all this music chairs of franchise ownership and 27 rail lines means little to the foreign tourist except for ticketing as each franchise sells their own tickets which often cannot be used on similar trains on the same route or the fare structure may be all different, etc.

But for anyone using a BritRail pass it all means nothing as the passes are valid on each and every train franchise just as it was on all of the former British Rail.

So today BritRail refers only to the passes that are good on all regular passenger trains in Britain.
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Jun 4th, 2008, 12:05 PM
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So, do these "franchises" overlap their territories?

I was helping my daughter make some reservations online a couple of years ago and it was quite confusing. They seemed to overlap and it was difficult to determine the best route to take. Finally we just made a decision rather than obsessing about it and it worked out perfectly well.
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Jun 5th, 2008, 12:11 PM
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yes franchises do overlap - some routes may have more than one franchise running trains on that route - like Cross Country trains would run often bizarre routings the length of the country and then in between share tracks and stations with other franchises and also serve the same two stations.

Thus when buying tickets you can only use them i think on the franchise you bought them on - not any old train, like you can do with the pass.

www.nationalrail.co.uk indicates the train franchise that operates each train.

And screwy also is that IME you have to go to the right station to buy a ticket - only to a station, say in London, serving that franchise. not like in the rest of Europe go to any station in a country and buy a ticket for any train in that country.

Of course most Brits these days would probably buy tickets online.
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Aug 15th, 2008, 06:40 AM
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Topping to start working on again soon
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Aug 15th, 2008, 07:33 AM
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"Thus when buying tickets you can only use them i think on the franchise you bought them on - not any old train, like you can do with the pass."...

is one really misleading - indeed under practically all circumstances, downright wrong - piece of advice you need to edit out in the rewrite.

To take a route frequently used by visitors to this site: any ticket, other than one that's for a specific train, from Oxford to London is valid for:
- the direct First Great Western, or
- Cross Country to Reading, then FGW to Paddington (useful if you've just missed a train and don't want to wait half an hour for the next fast one), or
- Cross Country or FGW to Reading, then South Western to Waterloo (useful if you really wqant to be in south London), or
- FGW to Slough, FGW to Hayes, Heathrow Connect to Paddington (an important routing as part of a typical Cotswolds - New York or Hong Kong- Central London - Cotswolds round trip: you just add a return Connect Hayes-Heathrow onto an ordinary Oxford-London return)

Saying ONLY is risky when it comes to train fares. But the only multi-operator routes I can think of where you will be denied boarding or penalised if you've not bought your ticket from the right operator are the premium airport services operated by Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express.
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Aug 15th, 2008, 07:39 AM
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"And screwy also is that IME you have to go to the right station to buy a ticket - only to a station, say in London, serving that franchise. not like in the rest of Europe go to any station in a country and buy a ticket for any train in that country."

is also cobblers, BTW.

I regularly buy tickets to and from other stations, including from stations that aren't used by the operator concerned. No-one even turns a hair. The entire system is based on the assumption that operators at any station can sell practically any ticket, apart from a few online specials and the like.
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Aug 15th, 2008, 07:58 AM
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Why did i have to go to Euston station recently to buy a ticket on the Caledonia Sleeper - Kings X refused to sell it to me and told me i had to go to Euston, from where the night trains to Scotland depart.

But i will take note and edit as to what you say and i thank you very much. The above was writ before you admonishing on a more recent thread.
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Aug 15th, 2008, 08:02 AM
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'cos the night train is a special service?
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Aug 15th, 2008, 08:06 AM
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I'm sure there are other exceptions. But the sleepers do rather seem to be a law unto themelves.
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Jan 6th, 2009, 12:07 PM
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BritRail Off-Peak Special

Each winter, from Nov 1 thru Feb 28/29 BritRail offers a 20% discount off all BritRail Passes (including BritRail England) - saver passes, youth passes, etc. (Days Out of London passes not reduced i believe)

BritRail Passes, for what they offer - fully flexible travel on any train any time, are bargains even at full price but at 20% off they are even more so.

And for anyone who has a Youth Eurailpass they can buy any BritRail Pass at 50% off - and in off-peak would pay, i believe, would get a further 20% off the 50% off price!

BritRail Passes are not sold in U.K. stations and Brits cannot normally use them. In the U.S. i always highlight two great BritRail vendors - www.ricksteves.com and www.budgeteuropetravel.com because these sites give tons of objective useful info along with the usual pass prices and add to cart button. The latter reference has on their site the excellent European Planning & Rail Guide which has a good chapter on traveling Britain by train.
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Jan 7th, 2009, 11:31 AM
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One mistake above - Youth BritRail Passes are not reduced 20% off-peak - only 'adult passes'

But still the Off-Peak sample prices as i calculate right now are:

8-day BritRail England pass (flexipass - any 8 unlimited calendar travel days on any train anytime in an overall 2-month period:

2nd class (p.p.) $383 for 8 days or $48 a day or about 30 pounds a day

1st class $572 for 8 flexi days or about $70 a day or about 39 pounds a day

1st class Senior Pass (60 and over) 8 day flexi = $488 or $61 a day or about 40 pounds a day - all these for fully flexible travel on any train any time.

even the highly restricted often hard to get fares on www.nationalrail.co.uk (represents all 28 or so privatized rail franchises and gives schedules and fares and can book on as well and retrieve in the U.K.) may stack up poorly to the fully flexible pass that can be used on any of the 28 or so British rail franchises.
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Jan 8th, 2009, 01:17 PM
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And the BritRail PARTY PASS lets the 3rd thru 9th traveler whose name in on the same pass as the first two full pass paying adults pay 50% of what the first two adults do:

2nd class (p.p.) $192 for 8 days or $24 a day or about 15 pounds a day

1st class $286 for 8 flexi days or about $35 a day or about 23 pounds a day - $35 a day for unlimited fully flexible first class travel -AN ABSOLUTE BARGAIN

1st class Senior Pass (60 and over) 8 day flexi = $244 or $30 a day or about 20 pounds a day - all these for fully flexible travel on any train any time. $30 A DAY FOR UNLIMITED FULLY FLEXIBLE TRAINS ALL OVER ENGLAND - EVEN MORE AN INCREDIBLE BARGAIN!
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Jan 12th, 2009, 11:32 AM
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And you have the FREE FAMILY PASS as well, where with each adult one kid under 16 gets a free pass to match their parents - add tho the PARTY PASS and you could have a max of 17 people all on the bargain Party Pass for ridiculously cheap travel in the unlikely event of such a group. (Kids under 5 always free.)
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Jan 14th, 2009, 05:15 PM
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PalenQ

Thank you for starting AND updating this thread. I was confused by all the different rail systems in Britain.

I appreciate the time you've taken to straighten it out for me!

I haven't been on a British train for 30 years so I desperately needed a refresher.
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Jan 15th, 2009, 10:03 AM
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In many ways the British Rail trains you took 30 years ago were better IMO than the hodgepodge system of 28 or so privatized rail franchises simply because trains are so so crowded now - especially on regional trains which can resemble third-world cattle cars. First class IMO is well worth the price - pass wise or ticket wise - 2nd class being so dirty and so stuffed full at times.

But trains are still a great way to get around Britain - the sheer number of trains going everywhere all the time means you will get around - even if trains are endemically late IME - show up at the station for the 10.15 am train and you may be able to hop the late running 9:15 train IME.

But i still love riding the rail in Britain - in first class - 2nd class is like a greyhound bus IMO
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Jan 15th, 2009, 10:25 AM
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For goodness sake.
I have recently been making regular trips to London from the North West of England, using Virgin.
I travel 2nd class and have found it perfectly clean and so far the trains have been on time. Yes, I find that you need to book a seat, but the idea that travelling 2nd class is like something out of the Third World is just daft.
As for meeting the locals, I want to sit quietly and read my book or newspaper. I don't want daft Seppos bouncing up to engage me in conversation.
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