Making the journey easy

Live train departures

This is your reality check – you can see the trains listed for departure now, with the platform and expected time of departure
  • National Rail  is the industry website, giving live train running information
  • Real Time Trains uses information from the National Rail system but has more sophisticated software to give more accurate predictions of departure and arrival times.  An Android application is also available for smartphones. Live signalling diagrams have been created for the South Western Main Line.
  • Real time Departure Boards has a direct feed from Darwin, the Network Rail system, so you will know what's going on at the same point the Regional Operating Centre does, before most other systems and train staff.
  • Alert Me by Messenger - you can sign up for messages telling you how disruption and crowding may affect your journey, suggesting alternative routes.
From June 2022, the requirement for train companies to set timetables 12 weeks in advance was abolished; they can now change their timetable for any given day at any time up to 2200 the day before. Therefore Railfuture recommend that use a journey planner to check that your train times have not changed, and check your journey at the National Rail website and most operator websites to see whether it will be affected by unplanned delays or planned engineering works.

Upgrading to first class

Most train operators offer an upgrade to first class at weekends for a reasonable price.  You can buy the upgrade either with your ticket or separately, in advance, at the ticket office or on the train (unless you are travelling on a season ticket, when the upgrade has to be bought before joining the train). 

If buying an advance ticket remember to check the price of first class – sometimes first class advance tickets can be cheaper than standard class, or offer free food, drink and lounge access which are worth the difference.

Seatfrog allows you to bid for first class upgrades on several operators' services but there has been some poor feedback on the process.

Avoid overcrowding

The Google Maps smartphone app gives real-time crowding information for train services and stations. The TfLGo app also provides real-time crowding information in London.

Food and drink at stations 

You can often have a cup of tea, coffee and even a meal at rail stations, or grab a takeaway to carry on to the train.   There are station buffets and cafes run by chains - register online for the BITE card and get 10% discount at many including Pumpkin, Upper Crust, The Pasty Shop and Cafe Ritazza, on top of their loyalty cards which offer a free coffee after buying several. There are some very individual outlets too.  Our members have recommended the following:
  • Downham Market Railway Arms pub on platform 1, named Camra's best cider and perry pub of the year 2013
  • Etchingham in East Sussex, on the line to Hastings
  • Malton station Whistlestop Café in Yorkshire, open Tuesday to Friday 0745 to 1430, Saturday 0745 to 1500, Sunday and Monday closed. Contact telephone: 01653 696558.
  • Ridgmont Station Tea Rooms, on the Marston Vale line in Bedfordshire, run by the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. Open Tuesday to Sunday 0900 to 1700, contact telephone: 01525 287120.
  • Carriages Café at Newark Castle, open Monday to Friday from 0700-1700 and Saturdays from 0800-1600.
  • The Little R'Ale House at Wellingborough in the Grade 2 listed former ammo room on platform 1. Real ale, ciders, wines, soft drinks. Open 1100-2100 (1800 on Sundays).
  • The Railway Cafe, Worksop
  • Community cafes at Bricket Wood and Shawford stations.
In the Railfuture competition in 2017, Coffee Station at Hebden Bridge was voted best station cafe.

Rail experts nominated the following Top ten station cafes:
  • Barnstaple (Devon), Carnforth (Lancashire), Grindleford (Derbyshire), Huddersfield (Yorkshire), Kyle of Lochalsh (Wester Ross), Manningtree (Essex), St Erth (Cornwall), Woodbridge (Suffolk), Worksop (Nottinghamshire), Wymondham (Norfolk).
and highly recommended the following:
  • Bridlington, Corbridge, Crediton, Delamere, Dewsbury, Dingwall, Great Malvern, Haverfordwest, Hebden Bridge, Northwich, Spean Bridge, Sherborne, Skipton, Stalybridge, Westbury, Yeovil Junction and York.
If you would like to recommend a station cafe, please email editor at railwatch.org.uk.

There are also at least 120 station pubs. The Loco2 ticket website picked their top ten. The Railsmartr ticket website has a map showing which station pubs offer the cheapest pints.

Food and drink on trains

Only First Great Western still have real restaurant cars, only on some trains.  However when travelling in first class, some operators provide complimentary food or drink:
  • East Coast and Virgin Trains provide free food, drinks and alcoholic drinks
  • East Midlands Trains, First Great Western and Greater Anglia provide free drinks
Many trains have a counter or trolley service for light refreshments; some operators offer a voucher for £4 at time of booking which gives £5 of value.

Enjoy the journey

Community Rail Partnerships support many local lines and run events to promote rail travel.

Bus and Train User has lots of interesting hints and stories

Download the Scenic Britain by Train booklet.

Enjoy Let's go to London.

Travel London Kings Cross to Sunderland in 20 minutes.

Toilets are a rarity on London Underground - this map shows where they do exist.

Disabled support

You can arrange assistance during your journey, such as help getting on or off the train or ramps for a wheelchair, by calling the train operator and giving at least 24 hours notice.  Assisted Travel contact details can be found in the "Support and Information" section of the appropriate Train Company page on the National Rail website.  

Stations Made Easy shows access routes to stations.


Planning your journey | What type of ticket | Finding the best price | Getting to and from the station | When things go wrong | Rail tours | Going abroad