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Britain by Train and BritRail Passes for the Clueless

Britain by Train and BritRail Passes for the Clueless

Jan 15th, 2009, 10:41 AM
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I too travelled by Virgin just before Christmas and like you travelled 2nd.
I don't know if it was just the time of year, but an attendant went through the train distributing goody bags to the children.
You certainly needed to book your seat in advance, but the train was clean and somebody came along at regular intervals to collect litter.
Our train arrived dead on time.
My only criticism would be the luggage space.
The overhead racks were a bit too small for large cases and the bit at the end wasn't really big enough for everyone's luggage.
MissPrism is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 11:09 AM
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Yup Virgin mainline trains are IME much better than others. The trains comprising the old Inter City network are decent - if way below comfort standards on the Continent.

Seats are tinier in Britain trains because the car widths are more narrow than on the Continent i believe - second class seats are much more cramped. And more times than i can remember seats have fallen off when i sat down in them - never ever happened anywhere else - you slide to the floor with the seat someone has detached.

It's the zillions of regional trains that resemble third-world cattle cars at times.

I commuted several days into London and even out of rush hour trains were packed it seemed and very filthy.

I cannot remember ever stepping into a pool of vomit before - it was under some newspaper someone threw over it.

First class is a whale of a difference - more different than any European rail system i have been on - not only because of the tiny seats (and often IME low-slung - folks physically challenged may have a hard time getting out of them once they plop down)

But first class is right up there with the very best in Europe - and like on Virgin you get complimentary food and drink the whole route - actually more food than you really want - always coming by to refill coffee or tea and with snacks.

And in zillions of first-class train trips i have never not found an empty seat - usually one with a window and an aisle.

Regional trains however are apt not to have any first class or if they do 2nd class people occupy them without impunity. And more than a few where packed about like trains i took in India - incredibly packed.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 11:13 AM
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I have to tell ya, 2nd class in Britain sounds a whole lot better than the LIRR or Amtrak to NYC!

Does Virgin go to the North East? We're looking at York, Nottingham and Lincoln from London.
soogies is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 11:25 AM
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I too use the train system in Britain. In the "old" days 2nd class was ok. With privation it has gone down hill on certain lines. The main lines are still quite good. London to York or Edinburgh are good, however I have taken some lines that are really sub par. In my opinion Northern and First Great Western are the worse. Filthy coaches. A lot of the local train companies are very good. So, except for the main line trains, it is a bit of a crap shoot.
rogeruktm is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 12:32 PM
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Does Virgin go to the North East? We're looking at York, Nottingham and Lincoln from London>

don't think so. but go to www.nationalrail.co.uk for all train schedules of all rail franchises and if you see VT that means Virgin Trains runs that service.

It was from Lincoln i took a regional train that was just like ones in India - so stuffed you could not turn around - bicycles blocking the exit, etc.

Again the mainline trains out of London are rather decent, if still not up to par with most of Europe.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 01:47 PM
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Virgin does the North West. From London to York and Edinburgh take NXEC. To Lincoln, transfer at East Midlands train at Newwork north Gate.
rogeruktm is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 03:29 PM
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There are some services where there are differential fares. e.g London to Birmingham on Virgin, which is fast, is more expensive than the London Midland service which stops more frequently along the route. You are unlikely to be able to board the Virgin train service if you do not have the correct ticket and would have to buy a new full price ticket on the train. Trains in the UK may not be perfect but they are perhaps not as exciting and exotic as they are portrayed. Unfortunately they are used by the local inhabitants who fill the seats and travel to work, conferences, visit family and have holidays. Worse still some take their bikes with them. But surely this quaintness is what makes travelling so interesting. You can segregate yourself into 1st class but it can be crowded when businessmen on expenses are travelling.
helen_belsize is offline  
Jan 15th, 2009, 04:05 PM
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This thread is an absolute keeper for me. Wonder how I missed it up till now? Thanks a lot.
azzure is offline  
Jan 16th, 2009, 07:11 AM
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Helen, this thread Was about passes not individual tickets. Passes are good on all trains.
rogeruktm is offline  
Jan 16th, 2009, 08:43 AM
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I took Virgin to Manchester last Feb and they made an announcement for passengers to be sure they were on the right train because it they had a ticket for another train then they would be charged the full second class fare (i think about $200 one way!) by the conductor - many of the cheaper individual fares are train specific and non changeable nor refundable - this is what helen mentioned above.

Go to nationalrail.co.uk and see how really expensive full fare on long distance trains can be and first class even more so. A few trips at full fare can make the railpass pay off. But if you say are going London to Scotland and back and that is all and you do not want to stop off at York or the Lake District between London and Scotland and back to London then you may be able to cop some incredibly cheap (and highly restricted) fare. (Though Caroline from Edinburgh has responded more than once that she can never get such a ticket for the trains or days she wants to travel - so you have to be flexible as to travel times perhaps.)
Again the pass provides for totally flexible travel on any train anytime. And though second class is more and more full as some describe above (due to the online discount advance tickets i think) you can always make seat reservations - often for free - if done by the day before the train i believe.

So like the scenario going to Scotland and back it's nice to stop off at York perhaps for a few hours - put your luggage in a luggage locker in the station - and hop back on the next convenient trains (they run about twice hourly) to continue on to Scotland.
And return from Scotland down the West Coast line - staying a few days at the Lake District en route, etc.
With the pass you just take any train but on the discounted online fares it probably will not be allowed to make such a stop en route as at York.
Passes take all the planning of making train specific reservations not needed.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 16th, 2009, 01:05 PM
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RE Food Service

As said Virgin Trains in first class on many of its routes gives complimentary food and drink out - but most other rail franchises only give free 'tea or coffee' and perhaps a pastry or cookie complimentary to first class passengers - but still nice with lots of refills always it seems.

Food service in first class is at your seat. Second ('standard class in Britain') class has no complimentary food (though i note above one poster said they recently got some) but there is a 'buffet' you can go to and buy drinks and snacks on most long-distance services (but rarely on regional trains) - and a trolley cart may come thru the train.

The old joke about the buffet car announcement that it is open is the ubiquitous tag "and any small change will be appreciated".

Otherwise just like across Europe you are free to bring whatever food or drink aboard you want. So far there are only some sporadic regional trains that may ban booze though on trains to towns with major soccer matches may temporarily ban booze on those trains for the day to prevent soccer hooligans from running amok throughout the train i guess.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 19th, 2009, 10:22 AM
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In addition to the classic all Britrailpass, which covers England, Scotland and Wales (but not Northern Ireland) there is the BritEngland Pass that of course just covers England - and a Scotish railpass that covers trains in Scotland as well as many ferries to islands.

The London Plus Pass (aka Days out of London - not sure which name they are using this year) is a railpass covering trains throught SE England, including to Bath and Stratford (new recently) as well as everything practically in about a 100 mile radius of London. This pass includes Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick Express trains as a separate voucher that can be used outside the validity of the actual pass.

There is also the Brit-Ireland Pass covering all of the UK, including Northern Ireland, and all of the Republic of Ireland - but is so priced IMO that few will find it economical.

None of the above passes are sold in any train station in the UK to my knowledge and Britons cannot use them.

Again the passes are for completely flexible travel - just hop any train anytime.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 21st, 2009, 10:58 AM
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Anyone under 26 who qualifies for using a BritRail (or BritEngland, etc.) and buys a Eurail Youthpass (or actually any railpass i believe for Continental use) can buy any BritRail type pass at 50% off - making youth travel a great bargain.

And to recap the above mentioned Party Pass and Off-Peak and Family Passes:

The Party Pass lets the 3rd thru 9th person whose name is on the same railpass as two adults will pay only 50% of what the first two adults pay.

The Off-Peak Pass gives an about 20% discount BritRail Passes between Nov 1 and Feb 28/29 each year. (Travel must be completed by the end of Feb).

The Family Pass allows one child up to 15 yrs of age travel free for each adult buying a pass. (kids under 5 always free).
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2009, 09:30 AM
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The quality of British trains varies greatly IME between the fastest long-distance trains and the slower local services. Again BritRail Passes are good on all regular passenger trains - all, including airport express trains (but not on Eurostar trains from France or Belgium - the only exception i know of).

In the days of British Rail long ago there was an InterCity network that linked dozens of major cities with the faster trains. Today these InterCity trains are run by various rail franchises, some of which may compete with each other on services.

These trains, esp in first class, are fairly modern and can go up to 125 mph or so (once called InterCity 125 on some routes i believe - such as Virgin's Pendolino trains to the North).

But there is a vast difference IMO between first and standard (or second) class. First class, except for the shaky ride due to track conditions much less perfect than on the Continent, is as good or better than any first class i've been on it Europe and the service as well. First class seats are very roomy and in all my years of traveling on British trains i have yet to find not a few but often quite a few empty seats so reservations are not needed like they are in standard class to guarantee you will not be standing.

And like previously said in first class on InterCity type trains you inevitably get complimentary 'tea or coffee' and a snack (or in Virgin Trains, often a full-course meal IME) - served at your seat - the coffee cups will be set up at your table when you board.

On some trains there may be various grades of first class - such as Gold, etc., with Gold or its equivalent fancy sounding names being plusher than regular first class. At times discount online first-class fares must sit in the lesser first-class cars and may not get complimentary food, etc and all seats may be full.

But on most trains there is just one first class. In any case with a railpass you need not worry about what first class type carriage you can sit in as you can even sit in Gold class, if exists.

Having much more room for baggage is another perk for first class as there are fewer people in the train car (same size car as in 2nd class) and thus more space in overhead racks. But as i've said i've never not seen empty seats and i always it seems get, in first class, an isolated seat - one with aisle and window and the seat opposite me or across from me, etc. may be vacant as well so i usually have my luggage in an adjoining seat.

PalenQ is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2009, 10:11 AM
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Let's interrupt Uncle Pal for a moment to point out one crucial thing he's missing out.

If you're based in London and want a couple of days out, pre-paid "All you can eat" passes rarely make much sense, for two important reasons:

- they're practically unavailable in the UK, so they're priced in dollars or euros and with the state of the pound that makes them REALLY expensive.

- there's a special discount card(the Network RailCard) you can buy from any railway station for £20 that gives you and your travelling companions 35% off all weekday offpeak fares and all weekend fares within 100 miles or so. For a few trips to Oxford, Brighton and Winchester, that's almost certainly cheaper than a prepaid pass: a typical return fare with the card is £15 or so to Oxford (though from London, the amazingly frequent buses are usually the cheapest - if slowish - way of getting to Oxford. This isn't really true of anywhere else, though).

- If you're 60 or over the Senior Railcard offers similar discounts (wherever you're from, but it still costs £20), but isn't limited to the 100 miles radius and has slightly fewer restrictions. But it gives the discount only to the cardholder - not his companions.

Now within 100 miles or so of London things are a bit different from Uncle Pal's description.

- there's hardly ever any advantage in advance booking. The walkup fare is the cheapest you can get.

- Fares go down sharply around 0915/0930. The rack price drops - but you've got the Network Card discount on top. On one trip I regularly do, the 0735 train is four times the price of the 0935.

- First class is PHENOMENALLY pricier than second, because there aren't any cheap fares in first. And for a 90 minute journey, First really can't ever make sense. As an example, I regularly find a man in the second class coach with me. He's a Lord, and used to be Foreign Secretary - the second highest political job in Britain. He's well off (they get a decent pension, and he's got a few other income streams) - but he'd no more dream of paying for First than he'd fly to the moon. His Lordship pulls out his Senior Railcard like everyone else and sits making silly faces at the flannerpooch.

So which makes more sense: buying bit by bit, or getting a pass?

You need to do the calculations for your particular circumstances. But for a two-week stay in London, with a trip out with an area bounded by Cambridge/Stratford/Weymouth every three or four days, buying a discount card, using it to get walk-up fares and then going Second is almost always the best value on offer
flanneruk is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2009, 11:48 AM
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Here are my thoughts. I purchased an 8 day 1st class rail pass which I will begin using Feb. 2. with my senior discount and winter off season discount I paid near $400 or about $50.00 per trip or perhaps 30 pounds. I will use it from London to Aberdeen, Lots of other Trips like Aberdeen to St. Bees and I feel that I am not paying a an inflated price. Flanneruk, I disagree with you. Plus, I also don't have to stand in lines in the Buffet car as you do. I feel that I get great service for a very reasonable cost.
rogeruktm is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2009, 12:44 PM
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Roger - sometimes locals forget the difference between a tourist, oft laden with luggage, and a commuter, laden with brief case.

And flimflanner in another post once said he only took the Eurostar trains in first class - when he is traveling and not commuting.

That said i thank flanner.co.uk for his valuable to many perhaps info. But him taking the same train line all the time into London does not put him in a position of many tourists - taking many different trains on many different lines.

I assure you he would not be commuting in 2nd class on many of the regional and commuter trains i have been on.

I think he must ride the Cotswold Line into Marylebone - a line with so few riders that it should have been axed long ago and is know for losing tons of money that local taxpayers have to put in periodically to keep it afloat.

You just cannot generalize in Britain's trains by the experience on one train line.

And i'd wager like most Brits Flim rarely takes the train to anywhere else in Britain other than to London which is a matter of necessity really.

But hey with the Pound in free fall and the Network Card yes passes like the London Plus Pass may not be great deals there were when the Pound was $2.10 to $ - i expect British railpasses to be reduced in price across the board soon - one reason not to buy very far in advance. Eurailpasses were reduced about 15% last month due to the strengthening dollar and i expect BritRail folks in Quebec to follow suit soon.

But if you want the absolute cheapest way to travel the trail in UK go to www.nationalrail.co.uk and scan the discounted and highly restricted fares and book them early if on long-distance trains.

However if you want complete flexibility look at that benefit - some folks going to say Stratford or Bath for the day want to start earlier than 9:30am weekdays - not possible if you have to take off-peak trains for the Network Card to give a discount i believe.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 26th, 2009, 12:24 PM
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More about Flanner's most recent post (and Flanner is a tremendous resource about British travel (he's English) and i thank him for his contribution, which has much of value.

I will again say however you cannot generalize about train travel on all of Britain's 28 or so privatized rail franchises by habitually riding just one as they are IME wildly different in terms of competence, crowding, etc.

Flanner ole chap rides i think the train from Cotswolds to Paddington - rather a commuter type rail line. And IME second class on these type local commuting trains is the way to go. Because:

- if they do have any first class seats it may just be a cubby hole with a few seats separated from the bulk of the train by a "1st Class" sign and be very little different. And IME it is not unusual to find locals who have standard class tickets sitting in these supposedly reserved for first class travelers area. Thus it would be foolish to pay the much higher train fare - esp when multiplied by frequent travel.

But on long-distance inter-city type trains (which i'd wager flanner never takes) there is a vast difference between the classes.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 27th, 2009, 01:06 PM
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At one time nearly every major British train station had left-luggage facilities where you could leave bags whilst you got off the train for a few hours en route to your final destination - or as i often do on the Continent where most stations have luggage lockers - leave my heavy backpack there overnight and i waltz luggage-free to my hotel, putting essentials in a day pack.

But the IRA and other sundry more contemporary terrorist threats ended luggage storage in many British stations long ago. But major stations such as London's several main ones, York, Edinburgh, etc. still have left luggage - with baggage screening machines. But at a cost of 5-6 pounds per bag this is not all that cheap.

And whereas in the days of British Rail it was often possible to check luggage thru to your destination station so you did not have to deal with it en route this is no longer possible (though in stations sometimes you may find private parcel delivery firms that may do it at the cost of an arm and a leg.

PalenQ is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 12:20 PM
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Well as always for any kind of train trip my advice is to PACK LIGHT!

And though British train stations have done a great job lately for making platforms accessible to physically challenged folks with new lifts, etc. train travel still means going up and down stairs and train stair steps can be rather high (rarely flat floor it seems) and train corridors can be tight - have wheels on whatever you bring and make sure you can lift it above your head and into overhead racks if necessary.

British trains often have some space under the aisle seats but in a packed second class train finding space for largely unwieldly bags may be hard.

Another perk of first class is that, due to the inevitably empty seats, i at least have always had an empty seat either across from me or next to me that i put my luggage in.

There are presently no security checks when boarding trains but once aboard pay heed to the warnings not to leave unattended baggage anywhere in a station or on the train - it could be taken away and blown up!

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