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Another Train Travel Question

We've traveled to England for many years and always have a rental car. My husband loves to drive there but I want to plan a trip by train only to give it a try (easier on my nerves). What I'm thinking is going from London (after spending 3 days there) to York and spending about 5 or 6 days there. From there take the train to Liverpool. Spend 3 days there and then fly home from Liverpool or Manchester. We are limited on our train experience. My husband is concerned about lifting the bags onto the trains and having to watch them the entire time during the trip. I feel this would mean we would have to pack much lighter than we do so the bags wouldn't be that heavy. He also feels you waste a lot of time waiting for trains and that eats into vacation time. I'm wondering what your experiences are with train travel? Thanks so much.

Posted by
4637 posts

Train takes two hours from London to York. There is no way he can make it that fast by car. Bus takes five hours. Travel between cities in England is almost always faster sometimes much faster by train than by car so car will eat into your vacation time. In many cases if you buy your train ticket sufficiently ahead you can save significant amount of money.

Posted by
16856 posts

I do advocate each packing one bag that you can easily handle yourself in a variety of situations. The number of stairs to board a train is roughly 2, fewer than if you had to take a flight of stairs in a small B&B. I have not checked whether any of those stations require stairs to and from the train platform, but there's often a way around it, for handicapped access.

If you store your bag above your seat, it's not particularly hard to keep track of.

Waiting for a train takes only as long as you plan, unless you miss the one you wanted. You will know the train departure times and also might decide to lock in times well in advance for a ticket discount. There's no need to arrive very early to the station; you only need time to walk through it, perhaps go through a ticket turnstile, and find your correct track. And you've only mentioned taking 2 or 3 trains, and these routes all offer direct train options, with no connection time needed on most departures.

Posted by
7205 posts

If you're on the direct train London->York without stops there's no need to keep an eye on your luggage at all times. Yes, it IS important to keep your eye on your purses or laptop bags. But just keep them beside you and there'll be no worries.

Too many tourists have that knee-jerk reaction of "rental cars save time" and "must have rental car". Hardly EVER is that the case. Give up the car, take the train, and finally feel what it means to travel freely. Grab some cheese, fruits, crackers, pastries, a bottle of wine and watch the scenery from your window.

Posted by
1395 posts

I'm sold. Now I'll see if I can sell him. Thanks!

Posted by
11262 posts

Since a car is only a hassle and expense in London, York, and Liverpool, and since the train is almost twice as fast as driving, trains make good sense for this trip.

To find train schedules for England and to buy tickets in advance, use National Rail: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/

If you know your travel days in advance and can commit to non-refundable and non-exchangeable tickets (and it sounds like you can), you can save a fortune with Advance tickets. For best chances of getting these, buy them when they go on sale (I believe it's 11 weeks before travel).

Yes, you have to carry your bags through the station, and up a few steps to get onto many trains. You then have to put them overhead (small bags can go at your feet). Your trip isn't that long, and they have laundrettes in England, so there's no need to pack heavy for this trip.

As for concern about wasting time waiting: you will know the train schedules in advance! It's not like you stand for hours, waiting for a train that may arrive "whenever." For these, trains, you only need to get to the station 15 minutes or so in advance; the platform may not even be posted sooner. Of course, if you want to use a toilet, buy some food, etc, you'll want more time. This is assuming you have tickets in hand.

As for watching the bags, you don't do that "the entire time" - only when you're stopped in a station, and only if your bag isn't directly overhead or right at your feet. (Large bags that don't fit overhead go in racks at the end of the car). When he's driving, doesn't your husband check carefully at stop signs before proceeding, or look carefully at signs in roundabouts to find the correct exit? When you're driving, there are times you have to pay more than usual attention; it's the same with trains. The difference is, when you don't have to pay special attention on a train, you don't have to pay attention at all (don't try that driving a car!). Not to mention, theft from trains is rare, and if your valuables are in a bag at your feet (that you can take with you to the toilet), you don't need to worry excessively.

Since you're not experienced with trains, a big thing to know about is to find out the stop before yours, as well as your estimated arrival time. About 5 minutes before arrival, start gathering your belongings and make your way to the exit (you'll see others doing the same). This way, you are ready to get off before others get on. If you wait until the train stops before getting your stuff, you will be "swimming upstream" as others are getting on; this is particularly difficult with luggage.

For MUCH more on trains in England, try the rail guru The Man In Seat 61. Here's his page on luggage on trains: http://seat61.com/luggage-on-european-trains.htm

And here's his page on trains in the UK: http://seat61.com/UK-train-travel.htm

Posted by
4697 posts

Plus, trains don't have to be parked! Best way to go between cities like you'll be doing.

Posted by
4666 posts

British long-distance trains are usually punctual. It's not like some Amtrak routes where multi-hour delays are the norm.

Posted by
44 posts

Here is a reservation tip that worked to my benefit and could help you and your husband when using train travel that is unfamiliar.

When I purchased an Advance ticket for York to Penrith though the National Rail website, the journey I wanted had one change at Manchester Piccadilly with 10 minutes to transfer platforms. This period seemed short to me especially after looking at the station map which showed the platforms on different levels. I'm sure signage is very good inside the station and the average person can accomplish the walk time. But in a large, unfamiliar place the transfer time seemed too short given my slight mobility issues. BTW, the station map has great popup photos and detailed information for various features to help familiarize travelers, even including photos of the urinals inside the Gents.

So the tip: in the Nation Rail “Train times / Buy tickets” form there is a “more options” section which offers a way to “allow extra time to change trains.” I increased the time from “use recommended” to “1/2 hour extra.” This changed my initial departure time in York from 10:40 to 9:53 which is ok, and now gives me the opportunity to buy a newspaper and a coffee at Manchester Piccadilly without a mad dash between platforms. My Penrith arrival time is the same as before.

As others have noted, the Seat61 website gives excellent information on using British trains.
http://seat61.com/UK-train-travel.htm

Posted by
1395 posts

Thanks, Roy. Shows how inexperienced I am with trains - hadn't thought about having to change - was thinking we would just get on the train and go directly to our destination. So, I will have to check that out. Thanks!

Posted by
11262 posts

If you go to the National Rail website http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ and put in your journey, date, and desired departure time, you then get a list of possible train routes and prices. One of the columns for each route shows the number of changes. If you click "Details" next to that, you can see where you have to change and how much time you have for the change. Under that, you can click "Show Calling Points" to see all stations and scheduled arrival times at each one.

Just for a test, I just put in York to Liverpool Lime Street for Tuesday February 28, leaving at 9 AM. I see that some routes are direct with no changes, and others have one change at Manchester Piccadilly. The routes are of various durations and prices.

Play around on that website to get an idea of what trains you will be taking, which will involve connections (London to York is direct with no changes), and how long the routes will take. If you pick a date about 10 weeks out, you can see the cheapest Advance tickets. Then click "other tickets" to see all the options, and mouse over the ticket type to see the restrictions.

Yes, there is a learning curve for trains if you've never taken them. But it's not hard, and once you get the hang of it, you'll wonder why you ever thought of driving on this particular itinerary.

Potential point of confusion: Liverpool's main station for trains outside the immediate area is Liverpool Lime Street, not Liverpool Central.

Posted by
2785 posts

I agree with Mrs. EB about being able to handle my own luggage-even when with my husband, who always has too much of his own to help with mine. That being said, there's nothing like the comfort and convenience of English(and German) trains if they go to your chosen destinations. I have navigated both on my own(or with my then 7th grade daughter) with no problems.

Posted by
2619 posts

My experience with riding the trains in England has been that it is fast, stress-free, and a lot of fun.

"He also feels you waste a lot of time waiting for trains and that eats into vacation time."
The best way to buy your train tickets is in advance, as many others have stated. However, because of a change in our plans when we were in London in May 2016, we ended up just walking up to the ticket window in one of the stations and buying.
We went to Waterloo Station on the morning we wanted to travel (not at rush hour), about 10:00 AM. Went to the ticket window, bought two tickets to Salisbury. The lady at the ticket window said, "Your train leaves in 10 minutes from track 3." and pointed down the concourse. We quickly got ourselves to track 3, boarded the train, and 10 minutes later we were on our way out of London.
We did not wait any time for a train. It did not "eat into vacation time".

Note: That was the most expensive way to buy a train ticket. You don't want to just walk up on the day and buy a ticket. (But you can if you have to.) Our trip plan changed, so that's why the spur-of-the-moment departure.

Know that if you buy in advance, for a certain train at a certain time, and you do not make that train, your ticket is worthless and you will have to buy another.
Best to choose "Anytime" for tickets rather to pick a time.......unless you are absolutely sure you and hubby can make the train (time) you choose.
Also choose "Off Peak" which means you will not travel at rush hour, thus making tickets cheaper.

Another note about your husband's fear you will waste time waiting in train stations.
Enjoyable ways to spend your time in a London train station follow:
1. Most of the London train stations have many places to buy food, coffee, snacks/croissants/muffins, etc.
So you could settle in for a snack while you wait.
2. Most of the London train stations are architecturally interesting, so you may wish to walk around, looking at the details.
3. Take a seat and people-watch. Always interesting.

Posted by
2619 posts

About luggage......the less you take, the easier your life gets.
Here's the one piece I took, a carry on tote:
https://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/116137?feat=tote%20bag-SR0&page=carryall-tote-print&attrValue_0=Bay%20Blue%20Floral&productId=1604496
My husband took a lightweight duffel bag, carry on size with a cross body strap.

The trains we rode in England (May 2016) were not crowded. So I kept my tote on the seat beside me, and the conductor who came through from time to time did not ever tell me to put it in the overhead rack.

If the train had started to become more crowded, I would have put my carry on bag in the overhead rack,
because someone may have needed to occupy the seat beside me.

You want to avoid taking large pieces of luggage with you for train travel.
You don't need an extensive wardrobe, just several pieces of clothing to mix and match.

Posted by
4 posts

We drove up to York last summer and got caught in a massive traffic jam around Doncaster. It added nearly two and half hours to our trip. So, if you are worried about maximizing your time, take the train. I would add that you may want to rent a car from York in order to explore the Yorkshire Dales and Moors (drive out to Whitby). Make a reservation from York; it will likely be cheaper than renting it from an airport.

Posted by
3465 posts

One of the most difficult things for Americans to believe is that travel by train in the UK or Europe in general is better than driving. The US is built for cars and things like trains are an after thought. Europe is built for train travel.

While I have no problem with driving if I have to, when I go to the UK or Europe I never rent a car unless there is no other way to get where I'm going. It is a whole lot less of a hassle to simply show up at the station and get on the train to go wherever I'm header that day in comfort having a few drinks and a nice meal served to me (if I go 1st class), than to deal with parking of a car, fueling it, making sure the car doesn't get damaged and I get stuck with an outrageous repair bill, and fighting traffic. And if I am the driver, focusing on the road instead of watching the scenery go by. As others have mentioned, the train goes on average twice as fast as you could possibly do in a car so whatever time you feel you waste waiting for the train is easily made up by how much earlier you arrive at your destination.

Posted by
1838 posts

The trains in Britain do not have multiple steps up into the carriages as the platforms are much higher in the UK - you are not climbing up from ground level. (The trains are also lower than Amtrak). Trains between major cities usually run at half hour intervals - sometimes even less. On most main lines linking major cities, expect to be travelling at 100 to 125 mph. (The Brit’s are just about to start building a new line where the speed will be about 230mph)!

Britain has several private ‘heritage lines’. This one in within travelling distance of York:> http://www.nymr.co.uk
www.traveline.info will help you find bus (& rail) routes.
Also consider a day trip from York to Durham by train. (You could even go from York to Edinburgh for a night or two and then down the western side to Liverpool or fly home from Scotland). www.skyscanner.net should show you airlines.

Readers will find more tips here:https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/how-to-save-money-on-railfares-not-pre-book

There's some mention above about keeping an eye on your luggage on trains?

Can I reassure you about baggage safety?. I've been travelling on trains for years. I dump my suitcase on the luggage rack at the end of the carriage and don't give it a second thought throughout the journey. Nor will anyone else. Sometimes I leave it and go to another carriage to find a seat. My only worry is reminding myself to pick my case up when I get to my destination.

I keep my laptop bag with me of course; I'd never leave that on a luggage rack; and also a handbag with valuables.

But I have never seen or heard of anyone stealing suitcases from luggage racks on trains, nor have I ever considered (as someone advises above) checking it at every station stop (because then you'll be getting in people's way.) Your suitcase may get moved around the rack by someone trying to get theirs in or out, but the likelihood of someone stealing what will probably just be a case full of clothes is very slim. I've seen advice on this forum about locking cases to a luggage rack - don't do that. Space can be at a premium and sometimes we need to do a bit of suitcase jenga and move other luggage around.

To add to Emma's reply:

There will generally be an announcement shortly before arriving at each station, giving you a couple of minutes to collect your luggage and get yourself ready by the doors.

Also the National Rail app is really good - there's a Live Trains section that tracks your journey plus gives you platform numbers. I find it really useful.

Posted by
2619 posts

Hello MrsEB! Yes, it's a great bag.
Glad you are enjoying the same bag!
I may get one of the solid colors like yours while they still make them.

It held everything I needed for my trip to England.
2 pair of nice knit pants--1 black, 1 navy
1 pair of capri pants
1 short sleeve blouse
2 nice dressy T-shirts
1 lightweight fleece jacket
scarf
socks-several pair
several sets of undies
toiletries
papers with trip schedule and reservations printed out
maps

Outfit I wore on the plane: nice (dressy) jeans, long sleeve T-shirt,
scarf, lightweight rain jacket with hood, running shoes.

It would ruin a trip for me if I had to take several large pieces of luggage with me and lug them everywhere--on and off trains, up stairs at B&B's--ugh!

Posted by
2619 posts

"One of the most difficult things for Americans to believe is that
travel by train in the UK or Europe in general is better than driving.
The US is built for cars and things like trains are an after thought.
Europe is built for train travel."

I agree with you, Mark and Emma.

Posted by
1847 posts

Trains built America.

Then the motor industry came along and drove then out of business

Posted by
4637 posts

emma, there are countries where I allow myself to be little bit less alert with my luggage like Germany, Switzerland, UK, Benelux, and others and then there are countries where I watch my luggage with a hawk's eye; examples - Italy, Romania .... . I know, one should not generalize but life teaches you.

Posted by
25716 posts

Be savvy with your bags. I assume every train has a thief planning to
grab a bag. Store your luggage within sight, rather than at the end of
a train car. Before leaving my luggage in a compartment, I establish a
relationship with everyone there. I’m safe leaving it among mutual
guards. I don’t lock my bag, but to be safe, I often clip my rucksack
straps to the luggage rack. When a thief makes his move in the
darkness of a train tunnel, and the bag doesn’t give, he’s not going
to ask, “Scusi, how is your luggage attached?”

eh?

Posted by
25716 posts

When a thief makes his move in the darkness of a train tunnel,

There was a time when Rick Steves bragged that each book was checked and revised every year. Somebody drop a ball???

By using the term "scusi" I guess he is tarring Italians. Even though in these modern days even the Italians have discovered the electric light.....

Posted by
4527 posts

Are there incidents of bag theft on trains? Yes there are. The British Transport Police have a series of videos about things to look out for, as well as other petty crime on trains or at stations. It may not be common, but it happens.

I think the last train made with compartments in the UK was first class in the class 442, but they were removed in a refit.

Posted by
2619 posts

On the link given by Marco, also watch the videos about pickpockets.
"The Stall" was used on us in the tube during our London visit in May 2016.
A woman entered a train car, then stopped immediately (2 feet inside the doors), pretending to use her cell phone.
Other people were jammed up in a pile behind her, including me, when I was bumped from behind.
My shoulder purse (which was zipped) had 5 pounds stolen from a small side pocket (which was also zipped).
No other valuables were in my purse; just Google maps I had printed on my home printer, showing locations of restaurants.
My valuables were in my money belt.

Posted by
9767 posts

Coincidentally, tonight on Channel 5 in the UK was the last in a series of "The Trains That Built Britain." According to the show, the automobile almost destroyed train travel in the UK in the 1960' but it was the Intercity 125 that saved it.

I think RS was referring to Italian trains with his previously mentioned line about thieves on trains. (Afterall, he does sell moneybelts.)

But I asked the expert himself, The Man in Seat 61, what he does to prevent theft. He said, he puts his main bag above his seat and keep valuables with him. When he is traveling alone and goes to the loo or the dining car, he leaves his main bag but takes the smaller bag with his valuables. He isn't worried about people stealing his clothes.

Posted by
351 posts

I prefer train travel to any other mode of transportation. It helps that I've done a lot of it both for my daily commute and for travel (business and leisure).

Why I Love Trains, by Motorgirl

  • No need to turn up very early. With a few exceptions, you don't need to be screened or check in. You arrive, find your track, board your train.
  • Everyone has the same experience. The entire party can watch out the window, play cards, converse.
  • You can fall asleep. If you're worried about missing your stop, set an alarm on your phone for 20 minutes before the scheduled arrival time.
  • You don't need to worry about making a wrong turn or finding a bathroom. Trains have bathrooms (that get progressively ickier as the journey progresses, but there are always multiple to choose from)
  • You can get up and stretch your legs
  • You can (in the UK and on the Amtrak NE Corridor at least) get drinks from the bar car. Sadly the MBTA is not so enlightened, though I did occasionally get a contact buzz from the beer fumes emanating from Bruins fans
  • City center to city center travel. That's usually where you start and end your travel day, so why schlep out to an airport and back?

As everyone has mentioned so far - make sure you can lift your own bag and if you have more than one bag that you can carry them on and off the train in one trip. If you can't meet both those criteria, get a rental car. I see this all the time on the T to the airport here in Boston - people with too many and/or too heavy bags that they can't handle who should have taken a taxi.