TEN TOP UK RAIL ROUTES
Alex McWhirter selects a range of train journeys to try, whether for their scenery, speed or frequency
Our hotlist of scenic and speedy train services to try across the country
This year’s round-up of ten top UK rail journeys covers a variety of routes mainly suitable for business but also leisure travel. Rail fares are a minefield and peak-hour flexible fares are costly. But travel off-peak and prices tumble (see “Blurred lines”, December 2016-January 2017 issue).
Alternatively, you can choose an Advance ticket where available. Most carriers require booking by 6pm the day before but the deadline is much closer with Virgin Trains East Coast and Cross Country. The former recently reduced the Advance booking period to two hours before departure on selected services, while the latter goes further with a 15-minute deadline (purchased online only).
Remember to claim Delay Repay if your train is delayed. UK rail probably has the most generous compensation in Europe, with firms paying out if the delay is 30 minutes or more, or 15 minutes in the case of some firms (see“The claim game”, April 2017 issue).
1. London Euston-Glasgow Following years of decline during the British Rail era, Anglo-Scottish rail is on a roll. In last year’s route round-up (July/August issue) I featured the Virgin Trains East Coast line to Edinburgh – this time it’s the turn of Virgin Trains West Coast. Spectacular scenery can be enjoyed north of Preston. Hourly trains; best journey time four hours 31 minutes. virgintrains.co.uk 2. Leeds-Edinburgh Cross Country’s hourly trains speed up the East Coast Main Line in only three hours – no wonder there’s no air service on this route. There’s dramatic scenery to be had between Newcastle and the Scottish capital when the line runs close to the coastline north of Alnwick. crosscountrytrains.co.uk 3. London Liverpool StreetNorwich Fans of former British Rail stock will be pleased to know that Greater Anglia still operates these trains on its halfhourly schedule. New Stadler and Bombardier trains are arriving in 2019-2020. Journey time one hour 50 minutes. greateranglia.co.uk 4. London King’s Cross-York Many readers have told us they prefer the British Rail-era HST diesel trains to more modern stock. And this is what you will find on all Grand Central services that link London with the popular tourist city of York. Between Monday and Friday (fewer at weekends), there are five services a day with a journey time of under two hours. grandcentralrail.com 5. Birmingham-Plymouth Another route that Cross Country has all to itself, seeing as Plymouth airport has been closed. Journey time about three hours 30 minutes; hourly trains. crosscountrytrains.co.uk 6. Edinburgh-Inverness North of Stirling, there are splendid Highland views before reaching Inverness. Trains depart Edinburgh every two hours; best journey time three hours 20 minutes. scotrail.co.uk 7. London King’s Cross-Newcastle Unless you are based near, or transiting, Heathrow then Virgin Trains East Coast’s half-hourly trains are a natural choice for this fast and popular mainline route. Journey time two hours 50 minutes. virgintrainseastcoast.com 8. London Paddington-Bristol Brunel’s famous mainline will speed you there in just over one hour 40 minutes with Great Western Railway, running every half-hour. gwr.com 9. Sheffield-Manchester A most scenic route across the Peak District with Trans-Pennine Express and East Midlands Trains, which together provide a half-hourly service with a journey time of about 55 minutes. Hourly Trans-Pennine trains continue on to Manchester airport, which can be reached some 85 minutes after leaving Sheffield and is popular with air travellers. tpexpress.co.uk, eastmidlandstrains.co.uk 10. London Euston-Liverpool Liverpool has long called for a direct air service to London in vain. Really, there’s little need for an air link (unless transiting one of London’s many airports), as Virgin Trains’ fast Pendolino trainsets operate hourly and cover the distance in only two hours 14 minutes. virgintrains.co.uk
Above: Great Western mainline near Bristol Left: Virgin Trains Pendolino
From top: Peak District views between Sheffield and Manchester; Cross Country train near Durham