Difference between revisions of "United Kingdom - General Information"

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==Country Name==
==Country Name==
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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*[[United Kingdom]]
*[[United Kingdom]]
*[[United Kingdom - Lines with Obscure or Sparse passenger services]]
*[[United Kingdom - Lines with Obscure or Sparse passenger services]]
{{Navbox United Kingdom}}

Revision as of 15:51, 12 March 2013

Country Name

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Nomenclature: "Great Britain" comprises the Kingdoms of England and Scotland and the Principality of Wales. "United Kingdom" (in full: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) comprises Great Britain and the Province of Northern Ireland. "British Isles" is a purely geographical description for the British mainland and the island of Ireland; the latter contains the Province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are usually regarded as part of the British Isles, although independent of the UK government. All but the Republic of Ireland (which is entirely independent of the UK) are under the British Crown (monarchy).

National Railway System

Infrastructure in Great Britain is owned by Network Rail. Most passenger train services are provided by operators - mostly owned by large transport groups - under franchise agreements with the government's Department for Transport (DfT), Merseytravel, the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly. Full details are given by links from the ATOC website. Maps showing where the operators ply are at Barry Doe's and Project Mapping websites.

The operator of each train is indicated in the electronic National Rail Timetable and its printed derivatives by means of two-letter codes; for a de-coder and a chronology of privatisation and transfer/re-branding of Great Britain's passenger railway franchises to date go to the Rail Chronology website. Basic customer information about and links to the websites of each TOC are available through the National Rail website. Some further information about franchise periods and past franchisees can be found in Wikipedia.

A small number of operators provide passenger services on the national network which are not franchised by the DfT. Details are available by links from the ATOC website. These include Eurostar which is a unitary undertaking (Eurostar International Ltd), owned by partners SNCF (controlling interest 55%), London & Continental Railways Ltd (a UK government owned company which owned Eurostar's UK operation; 40%) and SNCB/NMBS (5%). In addition

  • Eurotunnel operates a shuttle service for motor vehicles through the Channel Tunnel; this does not carry foot-passengers (although cyclists can be carried by arrangement)
  • North Yorkshire Moors Railway operates timetabled steam trains through between Pickering/Goathland, Grosmont and Whitby during the summer.
  • West Coast Railways operate timetabled steam trains between Fort William and Mallaig, between York and Scarborough, and between Machynlleth and Pwllheli during the summer.

Railways in Northern Ireland are owned by Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (which remains state-owned) and are operated as the N I Railways (NIR) division of Translink.

All freight trains in Great Britain are operated by competing companies under "open access" conditions. The principal companies are: DB Schenker (formerly English Welsh and Scottish Railway, now a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn of Germany); Freightliner (owned by a Bahraini investment firm, Arcapita); Direct Rail Services (owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority); and GB Railfreight (a subsidiary of Eurotunnel). Some of these also run charter passenger (excursion) trains.

There are no longer any revenue freight trains in Northern Ireland.

Neither the Isle of Man nor the Channel Isles (îles Anglo-Normands) is legally part of the UK but the Isle of Man's active railways and tramways are to be found under Tourist Lines and Trams respectively.

Official Website


English. In addition Welsh is spoken in most parts of Wales, and Gaelic is used to a limited extent in the north of Scotland.


Pound sterling. Banks in Scotland issue their own notes, which are valid throughout the UK and usually accepted without question. Channel Islands and Manx notes (but not coins) are technically legal tender in the UK, but are best changed at banks. There are several different designs of £1 coin, but all are the same size, weight and colour.

UIC code

  • Great Britain: numeric 70; alpha GB (not used on rolling stock except for freight wagons authorised to operate through the Channel Tunnel or on the now-defunct train ferries).
  • Eurotunnel: numeric 69 (used only for accounting purposes and not shown on rolling stock).


Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland)

National Rail Timetable published twice yearly (in mid December, to meet an EC directive, and mid May). In English. Services on Mondays to Fridays, on Saturdays (or Mondays to Saturdays) and on Sundays are usually shown separately. There may be several alternative Sunday services, to allow for engineering work, during the currency of a timetable.

Journey Planner


The Open Train Times site provides a quick-reference way of checking the latest schedule (or amendment) for any particular train

Downloadable Timetable


Working (Staff) Timetable

Network Rail: Our information and data > Working Timetable.

You can also check for the latest variations to working timetable details for specific trains on the Open Train Times or Realtime Train Info websites.

Printed Timetable

Rail Times published by Middleton Press and GB Rail Timetable published by The Stationery Office (search for "GB Rail Timetable").

Engineering Information


Northern Ireland

In English.

Journey Planner


Downloadable Timetable


Printed Timetable

A series of four free leaflets.

Engineering Information

www.nirailways.co.uk/latesttravelnews.asp then click the "NIR" button.


Printed Maps

  • The Rail Atlas Great Britain & Ireland by S.K. Baker gives detailed and accurate coverage of the UK railway system, and is widely available. It is mostly at 1:350,000, but with enlargements of many urban areas; an updated edition is published every 2-3 years.
  • TrackMaps publish a series of track diagrams (Quail Track Diagrams) in regional volumes, based on the former British Rail regions.
  • Northern Ireland Railways are in a volume covering the whole of Ireland published by Quail Map Co.
  • Historic atlases have been published by various other publishers.

Web-based Maps


There is no distance-related fare tariff in the UK, and fares are charged on a market basis. Certain fares are regulated and the amount by which train companies can increase some fares depends on punctuality and reliability standards achieved.

Standard walk-on fares are high, but a wide range of discounted fares is available. These are subject to restrictions as to days and times when they can be used. It can be difficult to obtain accurate information as to fares and their availability, even from official enquiry offices, because the pricing structure is complicated and the different train companies are all making their own special offers. The most heavily discounted fares usually oblige the passenger to travel on specified trains (with no opportunity to alter these) - and only a limited number of tickets may be issued for each service.

Overseas visitors should endeavour to purchase a rover ticket, such as a BritRail or InterRail pass, before travelling to the UK. Various rail rovers are available within the UK, but they do not offer the value or wide validity of those available to foreign visitors.

In various areas where all stations have automatic ticket machines, including on the London Underground and most other tram and metro networks, a penalty fares system applies. Passengers found without a ticket are likely to have to pay a fine on the spot.

The three class fare structure disappeared piece-meal from 1875, after the Midland Railway redesignated its Second class accommodation as Third class - at the lower fares. The curiosity of having no Second class was abandoned when Third was redesignated Second from 3 June 1956, to be further redesignated Standard from 11 May 1987. First class tends now to be found only on principal routes; in Northern Ireland it is limited to principal trains on the international route between Belfast and Dublin (where NIRailways call it "First plus" while partner Iarnród Éireann call it "Premium"). Eurostar maintain three classes: Standard; Leisure Select; Business Premier.


Infrastructure Authority

Network Statement

Network Rail: Our information and data > Sectional appendix > National Electronic Sectional Appendix


  • Great Britain: Standard
  • Northern Ireland: 1600 mm [5 feet 3 inches]


  • Great Britain: Mostly 25 kV 50 Hz. 750 V dc third rail is used on some lines in south east England and around Liverpool.
  • Northern Ireland: no electrified lines.

Rule of the road



  • Great Britain: the best source is the Network Statement
  • Northern Ireland: no source known

Other railways

Eurotunnel operates the Channel Tunnel under a long-term concession from the two governments. HS1 Ltd (owner of the link between London and the Channel tunnel) is held by private capital under a 30-year concession from the government. BAA plc owns the railway between Hayes & Harlington and London Heathrow Airport. Facilities exist for special through running between the national system and some tourist lines. British American Railway Services (a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific Holdings of the USA) operate two lines (Weardale Railway and Dartmoor Railway); both function as tourist lines, while the former also operates freight traffic through to the national system.

Tourist lines

A current listing of UK and Irish heritage railways can be found at the UK and Irish Heritage Railways website.


London (Docklands Light Railway [DLR], an automatic LRT system in east London, is separate from the London Underground system), Newcastle, Glasgow. Although part of the national railway system, the Merseyrail Electrics network in Liverpool is like a Metro. DLR, Glasgow and Merseyrail are third rail, Newcastle is 1500 V dc overhead and London Underground is four rail 660 V dc (two conductor rails). There are several lines where London Underground and main line trains share the same tracks. London Overground is part of the national system on which the franchising has (in effect) been devolved to the Mayor of London.


Birmingham/Wolverhampton (Midland Metro), Blackpool, Croydon, Llandudno (cable worked), Manchester, Seaton (Devon) and Sheffield. The Croydon, Manchester, Midland Metro and Seaton systems include extensive running over lines that were previously part of the national railway system. The Seaton and Llandudno lines are essentially tourist operations, and both are narrow gauge. There are other tourist lines of a mile or more at the National Tramway Museum (Crich, near Matlock) and at Beamish Open Air Museum (near Gateshead), plus several other shorter lines. On the Isle of Man are the Douglas Horse Tram and the Manx Electric Railway, an inter-urban line; both are narrow gauge.

Recent and Future Changes

Privatisation of the railways in Great Britain has been completed, but there continues to be debate about the fragmented, expensive and complex nature of the system that has emerged, under the general oversight of the Department for Transport.

Route Closures and Service Reductions

Having undergone extensive cut backs in the 1960s, the present passenger network seemed relatively secure, but current pressure to curb government spending has again raised the spectre of cost-cutting by line closure. However, closure of a passenger railway in the UK currently involves a lengthy legal process, and short-notice closures usually occur only if there is a sudden and dramatic infrastructure failure,or if the closure is deemed a "minor closure". A number of passenger services introduced in recent years were designated "experimental" enabling them to be withdrawn with minimal notice, but all such experimental designations have now expired. Lines closed in recent years are: the Sheepcote Lane curve, London (trains between Kensington Olympia and London Waterloo ceased) [May 2004]; the Barkston link, Grantham [replaced by a new triangle at Allington October 2005]; the Maindee curve, Newport, Gwent [December 2005]; Stratford - North Woolwich, London [December 2006 part being converted to part of Docklands Light Railway and the remainder as part of Crossrail's Abbey Wood line]; Reading West Junction - Oxford Road Junction [summer Saturday service last ran September 2008]; Darlaston Jn - Pleck Jn (West Midlands) [reduction to one Walsall to Wolverhampton train, December 2008]; Acton Main Line - Mitre Bridge Jn [Cross Country Brighton services withdrawn December 2008]; Trowell Junction - Trent Junction [reduction to 2 or 3 trains a week from December 2008]; Farringdon - Moorgate, London [March 2009; note that the London Underground line between the same stations is not affected]; and Manchester - Oldham - Rochdale [October 2009 for conversion as part of Manchester's tram/metro system]; Stechford - Aston (closure of open-access operator Wrexham & Shropshire January 2011); [Kensington Olympia - ] Latchmere Junction - Longhedge Junction [ - Wandsworth Road] (December 2012); [Wandsworth Road - ] Factory Junction - Battersea Park (reduced to single round trip December 2012). One such route - between Stratford and Tottenham Hale - regained regular interval service from the December 2005 timetable change, while another - the Rose Street curve, avoiding Inverness - had its service improperly withdrawn in June 2006 but restored again from September 2006.

Some routes have been reduced to just one or two trains per day (or, in some cases, per week) in order to reduce operating costs without having to go through the closure procedure. These are included in the list of sparse services.

Passenger services via, or in connection with those through, the Channel Tunnel do not enjoy statutory protection from closure, and - from Eurostar's transfer to St.Pancras International on 14 November 2007 - their services no longer serve Waterloo International; in consequence, passenger services were then withdrawn between Nine Elms Junction and Linford Street Junction and between Fawkham Junction and Southfleet Junction.

Trains between Belfast and Portrush or Londonderry have been diverted via Bleach Green Junction and, as a result of this, passenger services between Lisburn and Antrim have been withdrawn.

Stations at Airports

In addition to airports served by stations on through lines, branch lines or extensions have been opened over recent years and now serve airports at London Stansted, Manchester, Newcastle and London Heathrow (where Heathrow Express/HeathrowConnect and London Underground have three separate pairs of stations: Terminals 1-2-3, Terminal 4 and Terminal 5).


Main line electrification in Great Britain had been virtually at a standstill, because private sector train operators and rolling stock companies preferred the flexibility of diesel traction. The most recent schemes had been the line between Crewe and Kidsgrove (near Stoke on Trent) (electrified for diversionary use), the reconstructed Larkhall branch line in Scotland and High Speed 1 (the Channel Tunnel rail link) [see below].

However, in 2009 DfT policy shifted towards extending electrification, and approval has been given to electrification of the following routes: the original Liverpool & Manchester Railway via Earlestown; between Huyton and Wigan via St Helens; between Manchester and Blackpool North via Bolton and Preston; the Great Western lines from London Paddington to Oxford, Newbury, Bristol and Cardiff (this route was anyway to be electrified as far as Maidenhead under the Crossrail project (see below)); and the trans-Pennine route between Manchester, Leeds and York. Scotland has ambitious plans for wholesale electrification over the next five years in the Central lowlands, including Edinburgh - Glasgow via Falkirk and via Cumbernauld; the Paisley Canal branch was electrified from November 2012.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Major work has been carried out to upgrade the West Coast Main Line, including the London to Manchester route, for 125 mph running (although the tilting Pendolino trains will not be able to reach their design maximum speed of 140 mph). The scheme included the construction of additional running lines on parts of the Trent Valley section in Staffordshire.

The first 70km section of the Channel Tunnel rail link, between Dollands Moor and Southfleet Jn, opened to passengers on 28 September 2003 and the 40km second phase, between Southfleet Jn and London St Pancras International, opened on 14 November 2007. The whole CTRL is now dubbed HS1 ("High Speed 1"). Internal services (at enhanced fares) between London St.Pancras International and destinations in Kent commenced on a trial basis from June 2009, and in full service from December 2009.

There are plans for major infrastructure schemes to increase the capacity of the rail network. These include reconstruction of the Thameslink route through central London, in connection with which the line from Farringdon to Moorgate has closed (see above), and a new Crossrail east-west tunnel under central London between Paddington and Whitechapel, whence two "branches" will project. Enhancements elsewhere in east London are under way, to accommodate traffic for the 2012 Olympics.

Debate has opened on a high speed line ("High Speed 2") between London and the provinces but, under any scenario, opening is many years away.

The main line between Belfast and Dublin has been upgraded, and new and faster trains provided. This service is operated jointly by NIR and Iarnród Éireann.

Re-openings and Openings

Most projects involve upgrading existing routes, but some re-openings have occurred and are about to do so. Restoration of passenger services between Barry and Bridgend (Wales) took effect from June 2005, while in the Scotland, the route between Maryhill and Anniesland re-opened in September 2005 and the reconstructed and electrified branch between Hamilton and Larkhall re-opened from the December 2005. The line between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff (Wales) reopened in February 2008 (a link to Newport should reopen later) while the line between Stirling and Alloa (Scotland) reopened in May 2008. The long-closed line between [Airdrie -] Drumgelloch and Bathgate (Scotland) re-opened on 12 December 2010. Work has started on reopening the "Borders" line between Galashiels and Edinburgh. Two short curves - each completing a triangular junction - are planned in conjunction with electrification: at Dalmeny and and at Barnhill (Glasgow).

In England, Docklands Light Railway extended to Woolwich Arsenal in January 2009 and to Stratford International in August 2011. The first phase of the resuscitated East London line (partially reopened/partially new construction) opened in April 2010, with full service extending into south London the following month, and direct connection with the North London and Victoria lines restored in February 2011; the links from Canada Water to the South London line and between Wandsworth Road and Clapham Junction reopened in December 2012. The only other projects making progress are also in London: the long-awaited Thameslink project (from which the former suffix "2000" has been dropped in embarrassment and which, in "line" terms, has involved only a line closure - between Farringdon and Moorgate, from March 2009); Crossrail (see above); and a new link between the LUL Watford branch and the erstwhile Watford - Croxley Green branch (which would result in the closure of the Watford LUL station but the re-opening of most of the Croxley Green branch).

In the private sector, the Welsh Highland Railway - 2ft. gauge, closed in 1937 - has been rebuilt and extended to run between Caernarfon and Porthmadog (25 miles). The final section - including a flat crossing with the standard gauge line in Porthmadog, to effect a link with the Ffestiniog Railway - opened in April 2011. Moorland & City Railways intend to reopen the 18 mile line between Stoke-on-Trent, Leek Brook Junction and Caldon Low (which they call Cauldon Lowe). Services between Leek Brook Junction and Caldon Low (operated as an adjunct to the Churnet Valley Railway) started in November 2010 and work is now proceeding to resuscitate the line to Stoke.

Special Notes

Trains, other than Eurostar, are not identified in timetables and on departure sheets by numbers. Services are publicly identified by their journey and departure time, but with variations to allow for intermediate stops. There is no standard convention, but as an example a train would be described as the 09:00 London King's Cross to Edinburgh, though at an intermediate stop would probably be announced as the "10:32 Doncaster to Edinburgh, the 09:00 from King's Cross". Some trains, mainly in the London area, display route numbers. However, an alpha-numeric system is used for operating purposes and these train reporting numbers can be found through traveline (remember to uncheck all Mode of Transport boxes except "Train" and ensure end points are "Railway Station"); in the results see the column labelled Service". Some operators have their own four-digit train numbering systems for reservation purposes which is displayed on train sides and reservation tickets.

Departure sheets listing trains from a station in chronological order are rarely used. The usual format is to list destinations in alphabetic order, and provide details of all trains to each. Principal stations have electronic displays, which indicate all departures (and often arrivals) within the next hour or so.

Facing pairs of seats in trains have traditionally had the same number, being distinguished by being either "facing" or "back" relative to the direction of travel. They are distinguished on seat reservation labels and tickets by suffixes F and B. This can cause some confusion with seat reservations on trains that reverse en route. The practice is being replaced by most operators (including Eurostar) by numbering each seat uniquely, particularly on new trains.

There are very few long-distance overnight trains in Great Britain (and none in Northern Ireland). Couchettes are not provided and seating, when available, is in saloons with non-reclinable seats, where passengers may have no control of the lighting.

Some carriages remain in service where it is necessary to open a window and use an outside handle to open an external door from inside but (apart from heritage operations) all doors are now centrally locked when trains are underway. Accommodation for bicycles is limited on most trains, and some train operators require space to be reserved in advance.

Train services at weekends, and especially Saturday evening and Sunday until mid-afternoon, can be extensively altered because of engineering work. With the paucity of alternative routes and a growing aversion to temporary single line working, buses frequently substitute for trains in such circumstances.

The risk of terrorism in Great Britain should not be over-stated - but this is due in part to stringent precautions, so very few stations have left luggage facilities or litter bins. Unattended luggage may be removed by the police and processes to check that it is safe can be very destructive.

Railway enthusiasts are welcomed on stations - for guidance when on and about stations refer to National Rail's advice.

No stations sell international tickets or can make international reservations (although there are facilities to make through bookings from certain stations by Eurostar and there is an independent travel agent at London St. Pancras International which can effect such bookings). Even the range of tickets available from Eurostar UK is very limited. For guidance on booking travel to and from Europe visit The Man in Seat Sixty-One's website.

See also