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train questions

We are traveling to the UK this June and I have been reading the Man in Seat 61. I have a few questions that I am hoping some experienced UK travelers can answer.

We will travel by train to Bath from London, from Oxford to York, and York to Edinburgh. We also will travel from Waterloo train station to Kew one way (planning to take boat back).

  1. I plan to buy Advance tickets which I gather are available 12 weeks ahead of time but my reading suggest that the cheapest ones often don't show up until 8 weeks ahead of time. Is this correct? How would you strategize to get the cheapest tickets?

  2. We just turned 60 and so could buy either the senior card or the two together rail card. Is there an advantage to one or the other? Something I read made me think that the two together card (for both of us) was 30 pounds while the senior card would be 30 for each of us. Is that correct?

  3. Regardless you can buy the advance tickets online but must buy pass in person at a railroad station as cards are not delivered outside UK. There is no number required to indicate your specific pass. Is this correct?

  4. I read also about digital cards which seems like a good option but then when I clicked on the link for buying cards outside UK I got the information for 3 above. I wasn't sure if that is because site had not been updated since digital cards became a possibility or if you needed to be a resident of the UK to buy a digital card. Does anyone know?

  5. We are staying at Premier Inn London County Hall which is near the Waterloo station. There is a somewhat longer train from there to Bath which is where we are going after leaving London. I was thinking it might still be easier and maybe not any different in total time than going to Paddington Station with our luggage. Thoughts?

  6. I also have read about 2-4-1 tickets for attractions. We will take the train from Waterloo to Kew Gardens and that will allow us to buy 2-4-1 tickets for Kew. Is this correct?

Thanks for the help! Trains are certainly more complicated in the UK than anywhere else I have traveled.

Posted by
13275 posts

I'm only going to address your question about the senior rail card vs. the two-together card, because there are others on the forum who are far more knowledgeable than I am about UK trains in general. I've been thinking about those two rail-card options myself.

You're right that you only need to buy one two-together card, which saves you 30 pounds. However, my understanding of the rules is that the card can only be used if the two of you are traveling together. If, for example, you buy tickets for a side-trip with the card and one of you feels a bit under the weather that day but the other wants to make the trip, the would-be traveler is out of luck because he doesn't have a valid ticket as a solo traveler.

Odds are you won't find yourself in that situation; perhaps you even know for sure that there's no way you will ever split up on travel days, but it's something to be aware of.

Posted by
1717 posts

The 2 Together Railcard means that the 2 of you must always travel together and yes, it is £30 for both of you whilst the Senior Railcards would cost £60 for 2 people. Last time I checked the rules, on weekdays, the 2 Together card can’t be used before 9.30am whilst the Senior Card could. You can pre-book your Advance tickets for specific trains on the assumption that you have the railcard - even though you don’t already have it. Don’t forget to click the Railcard option when pre-booking the tickets. You will get a Booking number and collect your ticket from a ticket machine - OR (preferably at a quiet time of day) - go to a manned ticket office with your Booking numbers and the clerk will issue you the tickets - which could, if so desired, be for all your journeys.

The Advance tickets generally show up around 11 weeks ahead. If you play around with dates on www.nationalrail.co.uk you will see what it would cost to pay on the day - then click ‘Tomorrow’ and then click for say 11 weeks ahead and maybe 6 weeks ahead. That will give you some idea of the price variables. For short hops - like to Kew, just pay on the day at the station.

The train from Waterloo to Bath takes a longer route than the ones from Paddington and is usually cheaper. (Max speed is 90mph v 125mph on the ones from Paddington). If getting the train from Waterloo - beware that it will split at Salisbury - so make sure you are in the correct half. Salisbury is worth a visit as it has a medieval cathedral. It also has a shuttle bus service to Stonehenge. I think you have to split the ticket at Salisbury if you wish to get off. However, if you are making a day return trip from London to Bath, I don’t think you would have time for Salisbury. If you are going one way to Bath and staying in Bath, then that could be a possibility. That would mean that you would eventually leave Bath for Oxford - without going back to London.

Map of Rail system:>http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/images/structure/css/nationalrailnetworkmap.pdf

Posted by
814 posts

acraven and james Thank you for the information. It is my husband and I and traveling between cities so will be together. I played with the schedule and you are right that there is a discount for senior cards before 9:30 and not for two together. The discount, however, for early morning tickets is not very much. I think I will buy the two together cards.

Does split tickets mean that you buy two separate tickets? So in this instance Waterloo to Salisbury and then Salisbury to Bath? We are going to be staying in Bath but would like to see the Cathedral. Is there any where to leave luggage at the train station?

Alternatively we could return to Salisbury a different day from Bath.

harleydonski-thanks for pointing out my spelling error! It did not look right to me but the spell checker seemed to ignore it and so I did not check!

Posted by
14784 posts

That's OK, they don't pronounce "Pittsburgh" as Pittsbura. The locals pronounce it with the "t"s silent.

A certain Scotsman from Fife made his fortune there, I think writing self help books.

No, wait! I'm getting Andrew and Dale mixed up.

Posted by
9 posts

It would be useful if you advised "us" of your intended itinerary. It could make a big difference in the suggestions you will receive. How many days will you be in the UK, etc.

For example, last fall I flew from the US to Heathrow. Two weeks later I few back to the US from Heathrow.

While in England I traveled to London, Bletchley Park, Bath, York, Liverpool, and back to London. Plus Heathrow to London, and London to Heathrow. I was going crazy trying to piece together all the transport . . . until a friend of mine suggested getting the BritRail England Pass. I purchased the Senior (over 60) 8-Day Flexi pass (of which I used seven days). Given the BritRail Pass is an "any-time" ticket, I did not have get any specific train so my schedule was my own. At the end of the day I saved over $300.00. And note that the BritRail Pass is for Days of Travel, not per trip. For example, I did a day trip from London to Bletchley to London: One day of travel.

As you are going to Edinburgh you would use the BritRail Pass.

I am going over again in April . . . and I have checked the prices from the various vendors. The best prices by far are from the Rick Steves link.
https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/britain-rail-passes

Hope this helps.

Posted by
1717 posts

Bob D - an off-peak pay on the day day return from London to Bletchley is £20.20. How much does 1 day work out with the Britrail Pass? If it is more than that, you lost out - well, on that trip at least.

https://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury
http://www.thestonehengetour.info/timetable

You are correct with your assumption about split tickets. Be careful to select the 2 Together Railcard (that;’s 1 Railcard) option from the menu and the fact that 2 adults are making the journey. The prices that then appear will be for the 2 adults including the Railcard discount. As an example, say you stop at Salisbury and can’t predict when you wish to continue to Bath - which is 55 minutes away, you walk into Salisbury station and buy on the day a 1 way ticket to Bath for 2 people with the senior railcard. You will be charged £25 for the 2 of you. Now, if you were to pre-book in advance a specific train, you could get the fare down to £15.20 for the 2 of you. So, consider, is it worth saving £10 and having to be back at Salisbury station for a specific train?

When you go from Bath to Oxford, it may be cheaper to split the ticket at Swindon. When you go from Oxford to York, you can travel on one train all the way. Sometimes it works out cheaper to split the ticket - even though you stay on the same train. Bonkers I know - but that is the crazy pricing policy on British trains. This site may help you. Put in for journeys and without proceeding to actually book the journeys, it will tell you the split points that may reduce the fares. https://new.trainsplit.com

Saturday travel is generally cheaper and does not have the 9.30am rule for 2 together railcards. Try and avoid rush hours near major cities. Sundays can be prone to engineering work. If you are going say from Bath to Oxford, you will probably have to change at Didcot. Be ready to leave the train with your baggage as they don’t hang about for long. Announcements are made when you are approaching stops.

Posted by
814 posts

Bob D
Here is our itinerary. I couldn't figure out the flexible pass part but continuous days looked like more than we would be spending if we buy advance tickets. But I am not sure. Years ago when we traveled in our 20s we never found that rail passes paid so I guess I never even considered them for this trip.

Sunday June 16 arrive Heathrow. Take Tube to Premier Inn London County Hall. 5 nights in London.
Day trip to Kew Gardens one way by train. Return by boat.
Friday June 21 Train London to Bath. Bath 4 nights. Day trips to be determined. May take train to Salisbury and then shuttle to Stonehedge or may go with van tour.
Tuesday June 25. Take van tour to Coswolds that will drop us off with luggage. 3 nights. Hiking between villages.
Friday June 28. Taxi to Morton-in-Marsh. Train from Morton-in-Marsh to Oxford. Then train from Oxford to York. York 3 nights
Monday July 1 train to Edinburgh. Fly home from Edinburgh.

Trains.

Train from London to Bath
Train from Moreton-in-Marsh to Oxford, and Oxford to York
Train from York to Edinburgh.
Day trips to Kew garden one way, perhaps Salisbury from Bath day trip both ways.

Posted by
1717 posts

The pay on the day rail fare from Bath to Salisbury as an off-peak return for 2 people with the 2 together railcard is £25.20 - providing you leave on the 9.36 or later if it is a weekday. So, only 20 pence more than the one way ticket! You can reduce this slightly by pre-booking certain trains in advance but I don’t think it is worth the bother for the loss of freedom to return when you desire.

Whilst in Bath, you might also wish to consider going the other way on the train to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. (It takes just over an hour). Not sure that you would have time to also visit St.Fagans Castle & Museum - which is about a 25 minute ‘Easyway’ bus (32A from Westgate Street).https://museum.wales/stfagans/castle-and-gardens/
https://www.visitcardiff.com
https://www.cardiffcastle.com

The walk on train fare to Cardiff would be £28.80 for the 2 of you as off-peak returns with your railcard. On weekdays, that means the 9.35am from Bath but on weekends, that rule does not apply- so all trains will be that price.

Posted by
814 posts

Thanks so much for the information. I think I am beginning to figure out the train website.

James-I had not thought of going to Stonehenge on the way from London but I think that is what we are going to do now. We are going to stay one more night in London which means we will be there on a Saturday and can take a 9 am parliament tour which is something I really want to do. Then we will take an early afternoon train to Salisbury and then take the shuttle to Stonehenge.

I had not realized that Cardiff was so close to Bath. If we had time for one day trip would you go to Cardiff or to Salisbury to see the cathedral? We won’t have time to see the cathedral and Stonehenge on our way from London.

Posted by
10752 posts

I did not read all the responses so do not knew if your Kew question has been answered. So. . .

Yes, your train ride to Kew Gardens will get you 2-4-1 admission there. Make sure to hold onto your tickets to show at the ticket office at Kew. This means going through the manned exit gate. The regular turnstiles will devour your ticket.

Print out the voucher ahead of time from the Days Out Guide, or find one innthe booklets stocked at the train stations ( but often they run out).

Posted by
1717 posts

I think it is about a 12 minute walk from Salisbury station (shown on map with interlocking red arrows) to the Cathedral. Have you considered staying 1 night in Salisbury and heading to Bath the following day? That way, you could leave your baggage in the hotel while you go out to Stonehenge.https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Salisbury/@51.0669073,-1.8047216,1276m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x48738c5536009bb7:0xda3e080f25eaa06!8m2!3d51.068785!4d-1.794472!5m1!1e1

Posted by
814 posts

Thanks for the responses.

My husband and I had a long talk last night about whether to stay one night in Salisbury and decided against it. It obviously makes some sense but have found very short stays to be more exhausting than day trips.