Without a doubt, all Executive Assistants will book rail travel on a regular basis. There are a number of different operators you can use to check rail times, select fares and to book tickets. However, despite any messages to the contrary, there is no need to find the right operator’s site or to compare prices on different sites.

All train operator websites sell all tickets for all operators’ trains at the same prices!!!

So it’s really a matter of selecting your preferred site.

Obtaining General Rail Information

  • The site to use is nationalrail.co.uk. This site doesn’t sell tickets itself, but shows the times/fares for all rail networks and routes. It will a list all the operators for your journey, with the most relevant operator listed first.
  • You can also call National Rail Enquiries on 0845 7 484950 for the same information (calls are charged at a local rate). Lines are open 24 hours a day.
  • This site provides information on the UK rail network (e.g. delays, strikes), station facilities (e.g. taxi services, lost property) and customer service departments for each train operator.
  • To check if your train is on time, you can go to nationalrail.co.uk/ldb/ to see a live departures board of all the departures and arrivals for the next couple of hours.

Buying Tickets

  • It is possible to purchase rail tickets approximately 12 weeks prior to departure.
  • Train operators’ own sites don’t charge a booking or credit card fee. So if you are buying in advance, this is generally the best option. In addition, virgintrains.co.uk and http://www.virgintrainseastcoast.com will allow you to select your seat – this comes in useful if you are booking for a group and want them to sit together.
  • Tickets can be collected at the station free of charge, posted to any UK address or in some cases printed at home.
  • You can also select one of the following independent retailers to purchase your ticket:
  • These sites all offer the same tickets at exactly the same prices.

A Guide to Rail Tickets

  • The various categories for UK rail tickets can be a little confusing. Essentially, these are divided into three types of fare:
    • Anytime
    • Off Peak
    • Advance
  • They can be further split into standard and first class. All rail companies now use the same categories for their tickets.

Anytime Tickets

  • These are fully flexible and can be used any time of the day, on any train and by any operator. These are usually the most expensive types of tickets and are aimed at business travellers, who travel at peak times of the day.
  • They have unlimited availability and enable the passenger to get on any train. Seat reservation is optional.
  • The one-way tickets are valid for 2 days. If you purchase a return ticket, the outbound ticket is valid for 5 days and the return can be anytime within a month.
  • They are valid on any permitted route unless a specific route is shown on the ticket. The journey can be broken in either direction.
  • If you need to cancel this ticket, it is refundable, minus the cost of an admin fee.

Off Peak Tickets

  • These tickets are valid on any train, except peak times on a Monday to Friday. They are a much more affordable option that the anytime tickets, particularly if you don’t know your return time.
  • Time restrictions vary by route and destination. The best way to establish what is classed as peak time is to run a journey enquiry into a website such as thetrainline.com. This will show which trains the ticket is available on.
  • Generally they are valid on trains after 10.30 on Monday to Friays and at weekends.
  • They have unlimited availability and enable passengers to get on any train, providing it is not a restricted “peak” train.
  • The outward tickets are valid on the date shown on the ticket. Return can be any day within a month.
  • Passengers can travel via any train operator and by any permitted route, unless a specific operator or route is shown on the ticket. The journey can be broken on the return leg, but often not on the outward or on a one-way ticket, so it is best to check this.
  • These tickets are refundable, minus an admin fee.
  • Some companies have “Super Off Peak” tickets, which are essentially less expensive but more restrictive versions of the Off Peak tickets.

Advance Tickets

  • Advance purchase tickets are the cheapest fare available. It is possible to get some great deals with these tickets, such as Leeds to London for £15 each way.
  • These are only valid on the specific train you have booked.
  • No refunds are available on these tickets and no amendments to the travel are allowed.
  • Availability on these tickets is limited. Prices increase as the departure date approaches, so the cheaper tickets tend to sell out quickly.
  • They must be booked in advance by 6.00 pm on the day prior to travelling.
  • Seat reservations are automatically included on the specific train you have booked.
  • No breaks of journey are allowed, therefore if you miss your station you cannot join the journey en route.
  • Advance tickets are priced as one way fares, so you can search for the cheapest fares on both the outward and return sections of your journey.

Booking Onward Travel

  • Taxis – Check the National Rail Enquiries site – not all smaller stations have a taxi rank available. If you need to book a taxi at the arrival station, to save waiting in a taxi queue, traintaxi.co.uk is a useful site that offers up to date numbers for taxi firms at each UK rail station.
  • London Underground tfl.gov.uk provides information on the London Tubes, buses, Docklands Light Railway, Croydon Tramlink and the congestion charge. This will also advise if there are any delays.
  • Buses traveline.org.uk provides local bus times across the UK. You can also call them on 0871 200 22 33.
  • On Your Bike? – Some trains will carry bikes for the health conscious amongst you, occasionally for free or for a small fee. Head to atob.org.uk/bike-rail/ for info on each train operator’s policy.