United Kingdom - General Information

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Country Name

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Nomenclature: "Great Britain" comprises the countries of England, Wales, and Scotland. "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

Most infrastructure in Great Britain is owned by Network Rail, a company controlled by the government's Department for Transport (DfT). Most passenger train services are provided by operators under contracts with DfT, Transport for London, Merseytravel, Transport Scotland or the Welsh Government. Some operators are subsidiaries of major bus companies or national railways from other countries, for example Trenitalia. A UK Government subsidiary, DfT OLR Holdings Limited, operates services if the contractor is no longer able to do so, has had the contract terminated because of default or there has been no acceptable tender for provision of the service. Scottish Rail Holdings Limited is the equivalent in Scotland. Full details of passenger train operators are given by links from the Rail Delivery Group website. Maps showing where the operators ply are at Barry Doe's and Project Mapping websites. Passenger train operations collectively are known as 'National Rail'.

A new organisation, Great British Railways is being established to take strategic control of railways, in England at least, as well as taking over most of Network Rail's functions as infrastructure owner and operator throughout Britain.

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.

Most operators in Great Britain had a franchise agreement, under which they took most of the commercial risk. DfT was considering changes to franchising when the Covid-19 pandemic made the system uneconomic, due to greatly reduced fares income to the operators. Franchises were replaced by Emergency Recovery Management Agreements and subsequently by National Rail Contracts under which the Government meets operating costs and receives fares and other income. The operating company is paid a management fee. Transport for Wales, ScotRail, Caledonian Sleeper, LNER, Northern and Southeastern are all being operated by public sector companies.

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 passenger train operators and past franchisees can be found in the DfT and Wikipedia websites. The Wikipedia list is usually more up to date and accurate than the DfT schedule!

A small number of operators provide passenger services on the national network which are not under contract to the DfT. These include Eurostar which is a unitary undertaking (Eurostar International Ltd) managed by SNCF, which has a 55% interest in the company. Private investors acquired the UK government's 40% stake in 2015 and SNCB/NMBS owns the remaining 5%. 'Open Access' passenger operators are:

Grand Union Trains intends to start services between London and Carmarthen in 2025.

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.
  • Swanage Railway and West Coast Railways operated a service between Swanage and Wareham during the summer in 2017, but in 2018 and 2019 there was just a limited Saturday service by the local franchisee, South Western Railway. West Coast Railways again operates trains between Swanage and Wareham on behalf of Swanage Railway between April and September 2023.
  • West Coast Railways operates timetabled steam trains between Fort William and Mallaig during the summer, but in practice these get fully booked well in advance.

All freight trains in Great Britain are operated by competing companies under "open access" conditions. The principal companies are:

  • DB Cargo UK (formerly English Welsh and Scottish Railway, now a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn of Germany)
  • Freightliner (owned by US railroad Genesee & Wyoming Inc)
  • Colas Rail (part of the Bouygues group);
  • Direct Rail Services (owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority)
  • GB Railfreight (owned by Infracapital, an infrastructure equity investor).

DB Cargo UK, in particular, and GB Railfreight, to a lesser extent, operate charter passenger trains. GB Railfreight also operates the Caledonian Sleeper trains on behalf of Caledonian Sleeper Limited.

Rail Operations Group concentrates on rolling stock moves for manufacturers, leasing companies and passenger operators, but started a parcels-carrying business, trading as Orion in 2021.

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 at the UK and Irish Heritage Railways website and under Trams/LRT-Systems respectively.

Official Website

Language

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

Currency

Pound sterling. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland 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.

UIC code

  • United Kingdom: numeric 70; alpha GB
  • Eurotunnel: numeric 69 (used only for accounting purposes and not shown on rolling stock).

Historically, the only British rolling stock to show UIC numbers were wagons passed to work on the now defunct train ferries from Harwich and Dover or through the Channel Tunnel. The Eurostar class 374 trains, which entered service in 2015, were the first UK-registered passenger stock to have UIC numbers, otherwise known as the European Vehicle Number (EVN). Rail Industry Standard RIS-2453-RST Vehicle Registration, Marking and Numbering, introduced in December 2017, requires new vehicles in Great Britain to be identified by EVN. On passenger vehicles only an abbreviated version is normally show. UIC numbering is not used by NI Railways.

Timetable

Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland)

The official National Rail timetable is published on Network Rail's website (see below), twice yearly (in mid December and mid May). Services on Mondays to Fridays, on Saturdays (or Mondays to Saturdays) and on Sundays are usually different and laid out separately in the timetable; there may be several alternative Sunday services, to allow for engineering work, during the currency of a timetable. Barry Doe provides a comprehensive guide to printed and on-line public transport timetables.

Journey Planner

National Rail Enquiries Journey Planner

The Realtime Trains and OpenTrainTimes websites provide a quick-reference way of checking the latest schedule (or amendment) for any particular train

Downloadable Timetable

PDFs of the National Railway Timetable are available from the Network Rail website. These are maintained for Network Rail by Fabdigital and the version on their website may be more up to date.

Working (Staff) Timetables

Network Rail Working Timetables

You can also check for the latest variations to working timetable details for specific trains on the Realtime Trains and OpenTrainTimes websites.

London Underground working timetables. DLR is not included.

Printed Timetable

Since May 2020 there has been no comprehensive printed timetable for Great Britain and there are no printed timetable leaflets for most lines.

Engineering Information

National Rail's future engineering works

Northern Ireland

Journey Planner

On the Translink home page.

Downloadable Timetables

Translink bus and rail timetables

Printed Timetable

A series of four free leaflets is available.

Engineering Information

NIRailways Travel Updates

Maps

Printed Maps

  • The Rail Atlas Great Britain & Ireland 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 (formerly Quail Track Diagrams) in five regional volumes.
  • Northern Ireland Railways are in a volume covering the whole of Ireland also published by TrackMaps
  • Historic atlases have been published by various other publishers.

Web-based Maps

Ticketing

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 is specified by the Department for Transport.

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. Train operators are increasingly introducing special offers that can only be taken up through their website. Higher fares are charged for use of domestic trains on HS1, the high-speed line to Kent, except for through tickets between Kent and destinations beyond London.

Tickets for any rail journey in the UK can be purchased from most train operators' websites, but the best price may be available from the operator whose service is being used. It is often possible to obtain a lower price for a journey by splitting it and buying a different ticket for each section. In such cases it is necessary to travel on a train that stops at stations where the validity of one ticket ends and another starts. This requirement does not apply if at least one of the tickets is a season ticket, rail rover or similar. It may also be found that a ticket to a station beyond one's destination is cheaper, but conditions need to be checked carefully. A break of journey may not be permitted, requiring an excess fare to be paid if exiting at an intermediate station. Various websites act as 'consolidators' and will compare what is available in order to offer the best deal, including split ticketing options.

Various Railcards are available, usually giving a fare reduction of one third. These are available nationally to groups, such as young people, families, senior citizens, two people travelling together, those with a disability and military personnel. Some cards are available to all, but only valid for travel within a particular geographic area. The cost of a Railcard may be recouped immediately if a long-distance journey is planned or if purchasing a high-price ticket such as a national rail rover. Some Railcards only give a discount for off-peak travel. Details of Railcards are available at National Rail. Details can be found at the unofficial Rail Rover website.

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, and many are not valid until after the morning peak period.

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.

First class seating 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, Standard Premier and Business Premier. On some trains, including many of those operated by Gatwick Express, Great Northern and Southern, there is no difference between first class and standard class seating. If a train including first class seats is used on a service advertised as standard class only, holders of standard class tickets may use the first class seats.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure Authority

  • Great Britain: Network Rail
  • Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Railways Company Limited, through a subsidiary NIR Networks Limited

Network Statement

Network Rail. The Sectional Appendices are available here (scroll down to list of PDFs).

Translink

Gauge

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

Electrification

  • Great Britain: Mostly 25 kV 50 Hz. 750 V dc third rail is used on some lines in south east England and around Liverpool. The third rail network in south east England is by a considerable margin the most extensive such system in the world and the only place when conductor rail trains operate at up to 100 mph (160 km/hr). The line between Pelaw and Sunderland is electrified at 1500V dc overhead, to allow use by Tyne & Wear Metro. The line between Tinsley North Junction and Rotherham Parkgate is electrified at 750V dc overhead, for use by Sheffield Supertram. Most tramway systems are 750 V dc with Blackpool being 600 V dc.
  • Northern Ireland: no electrified lines.

Rule of the road

Left.

Distances

Other railways

  • Core Valley Lines (Cardiff to Rhymney, Coryton, Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Treherbert): Owned by the Welsh Government and managed by a lessee, Amey Keolis Infrastructure/Seilwaith Amey Keolis Limited.
  • Crossrail Central Operating Section is the railway under Central London from Portobello Junction (Royal Oak) to Pudding Mill Lane Junction (Bow) and Abbey Wood. It is managed by Rail for London (Infrastructure) Limited, whose ultimate owner is Transport for London.
  • East London Line: Owned by Rail for London Limited, whose ultimate owner is Transport for London.
  • Eurotunnel: A partnership between the Channel Tunnel Group Limited and France-Manche S.A. that operates the Channel Tunnel under a long-term concession from the UK and French governments.
  • Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited owns the railway between London Heathrow Airport and the junction with the Great Western Main Line near Hayes & Harlington.
  • HS1 Ltd: The investor with a 30 years concession from the UK government to operate the high-speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel, though most aspects of day-to-day operation and maintenance are contracted out to Network Rail.

Facilities exist for special through running between the national system and some tourist lines.

Tourist lines

A map of UK heritage railways can be found at the "Heritage Rail - UK & Ireland" link on the Heritage Railway Association website.

Metro

London, Newcastle, Glasgow. Although part of the national railway system, the Merseyrail Electrics network in Liverpool is like a Metro. There are two separate networks in London. The Underground system is 630V dc third and fourth rail; the Docklands Light Railway is a fully-automated 750V dc third rail system. London Overground operates under a contract let by the Mayor of London and uses Transport for London branding, but operates almost entirely on Network Rail lines. The Glasgow and Merseyrail systems are third rail and Newcastle is 1500 V dc overhead. Glasgow Subway is 4 feet (1,219mm) gauge and was originally cable-worked. There are several lines where London Underground and main line trains share the same tracks. The Tyne & Wear Metro (Newcastle) operates to Sunderland over the Network Rail line from Pelaw.

The Core Valley Lines from Cardiff are being converted to a form of metro system.

Trams/LRT-Systems

Birmingham/Wolverhampton (Midland Metro), Blackpool, Croydon, Edinburgh, Llandudno (cable worked), Manchester, Nottingham, Seaton (Devon) and Sheffield. The Croydon, Manchester, Midland Metro, Nottingham and Seaton systems include extensive running over routes that were previously part of the national railway system. The Manchester and Nottingham systems have been considerably extended in recent years. On the Manchester Metrolink system a second route through Manchester city centre came into use on 26 February 2017, and the 5.5 km Trafford Park line opened on 22 March 2020. The Midland Metro in Birmingham was extended to Edgbaston on 17 July 2022 and to Wolverhampton Station on 17 September 2023. The first stage of a line to Brierley Hill is expected to open, to Dudley, in 2024. The extension of the Edinburgh line to Leith and Newhaven opened on 21 June 2023 and plans have been announced for further lines in the city. The Blackpool system Talbot Gateway extension, to Blackpool North station, is expected to be fully open in 2023. A metro system is proposed in Glasgow, but this project is at a very early stage.

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.

The Isle of Man has three narrow gauge tramways, which operate on a seasonal basis: Douglas Bay Horse Tramway - along the promenade in Douglas; the Manx Electric Railway - an inter-urban line between Douglas, Laxey and Ramsey; and the Snaefell Mountain Railway - from Laxey to Snaefell Summit. After a period of uncertainty, the threat that the horse tramway line in Douglas might be shortened seems to have been seen off by a vote in Tynwald (the Manx parliament) in January 2017.

The Tinsley Chord, which connects the Sheffield tram system to a freight line near Meadowhall, allows tram-trains to run between Sheffield city centre and Rotherham Parkgate over Network Rail lines. Public services commenced on Thursday 25 October 2018. Sheffield tram-trains are dual voltage vehicles that can run on the 750 V Overhead Lines (OHLE) of the tram network and the 25 kV OHLE of the national rail network; however the line to Rotherham Parkgate is initially energised at 750 V because there is no 25 kV electrification in the area.

Track plans for most of the significant tram systems in the United Kingdom are available on the Railway Codes site and also on the Gleisplanweb site.

Recent and Future Changes

Some aspects of national railway operations are privatised, but infrastructure ownership has reverted to the public sector. 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 seems relatively secure. The closure of a passenger railway in the UK normally 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". However, a number of stations have closed and all passenger services over some lines have been withdrawn without the statutory procedure having been followed. Passenger services via the Channel Tunnel, or in connection with them, do not enjoy statutory protection from closure.

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.

A newly-introduced passenger service can be designated as "experimental" for a period up to five years, during which time it may be withdrawn without the usual closure procedure needing to be followed. The only "experimental" service at present is Thanet Parkway station, until 30 July 2028.

Passenger services to be withdrawn

  • The railway between Nottingham and Worksop may be diverted at Whitwell to allow expansion of a dolomite quarry. This will eliminate Whitwell Tunnel. No date is set for this, but planning permission to expand the quarry was granted in 2018.
  • Planned diversion of trains between Belfast and Dublin to a new terminal facility - the Belfast Hub - being constructed close to Belfast Great Victoria Street may see the end of regular passenger services between Central Junction (Adelaide) and City Junction (City Hospital).

Closures and significant service reductions in recent years are

Passenger service withdrawn, line still open for other than regular passenger traffic:

  • Greenford LUL Bay Junction - Northolt Junction: The Wednesdays only train from West Ealing to West Ruislip ran for the last time on 7 December 2022.
  • Cowlairs East Junction - Cowlairs North Junction (Glasgow): The summer Sunday trains between Edinburgh and Oban start and terminate at Glasgow Queen Street in 2023. Last use of the curve by the ScotRail service was on 28 August 2022. It continues to be used by the Royal Scotsman Western Scenic Wonders tour, but prices start at £5,800.
  • Barking Station Junction - Barking platform 1: No regular passenger traffic from 18 July 2022, when the line to Barking Riverside opened, but occasional diversions may be possible.
  • Dalmeny - Winchburgh Junction: Service withdrawn 23 March 2020, but without the statutory closure procedure having been followed. From 11 Dec 2022 the 22:31 FSSuX Dundee to Edinburgh and 22.58 SuO Glenrothes with Thornton to Edinburgh are scheduled to run this way with reversal at Linlithgow, but are likely to run direct via Edinburgh Gateway if there is no engineering work on that route.

Significant service reduction

  • Glenrothes with Thornton - Thornton South Junction: The frequent service via Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy became Sundays only, except for one train each way Mondays to Fridays, with effect from 15 May 2022.

Temporary Closures:

Work to upgrade the UK rail network is increasingly leading to lines being closed for extended periods. Severe weather and the age of much railway infrastructure has resulted in more temporary closures caused by landslips and other problems with earthworks. Current and planned temporary closures of four weeks or more, in approximate order of expected re-opening, are:

  • Prestwick Town to Girvan and Kilmarnock to Barassie: From 25 September 2023, probably until some time in March 2024, because of a dangerous building at Ayr.
  • Ashford East Junction, connection to HS1: Eurostar ceased calling at Ashford on 19 March 2020 and will not resume before 2025/6.

There are also extended closures of sections of the Valley Lines, north of Cardiff, at least until February 2024, for electrification work.

Re-openings and Openings

Most projects involve upgrading existing routes, but some openings have occurred or are about to do so.

New and reinstated passenger services in recent years:

New passenger services are:

  • West Midlands Metro Extension - The Royal - Wolverhampton Station (17 September 2023).
  • Westbourne Park Junction - Paddington and Stepney Green Junction - Pudding Mill Lane Junction (full opening of Elizabeth line) (6 November 2022)
  • Barking - Barking Riverside (18 July 2022)
  • West Midlands Metro Extension - Library - Edgbaston Village (17 July 2022)
  • Paddington - Abbey Wood (Elizabeth line) (24 May 2022)
  • Newport (Gaer Junction) - Pye Corner (Park Junction) (on introduction of trains between Newport and Crosskeys, 12 December 2021)
  • Crediton - Okehampton (20 November 2021; there was previously a service on summer Sundays)
  • Kennington - Battersea Power Station (London Underground, Northern Line extension, opened September 2021)

A daily service, generally hourly, was introduced between Liverpool Lime Street and Chester via Runcorn and Frodsham on 19 May 2019. Previously the curve between Halton Junction and Frodsham Junction had been used by a single unadvertised train in one direction only on summer Saturdays.

On tourist / heritage railways:

  • Llangollen Railway extended passenger services from Carrog to a provisional terminus at Corwen in October 2014 and to the permanent terminus in June 2023.
  • the Mid-Norfolk Railway ran inaugural passenger trains to Worthing level crossing (North Elmham) on 19 and 20 May 2018, but regular services continue to terminate at Dereham. The railway aspires to continue to County School.
  • The first (very short) section of the Aln Valley Railway officially opened in October 2013, from a new station on the edge of Alnwick, with a longer run available from December 2017. It is planned that the railway will reach the National Rail station at Alnmouth.
  • The first section of the re-opened Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, a narrow gauge line, is in operation between Woody Bay and Killington Lane. Extensions towards Lynton and to Blackmoor Gate are planned as the next phase of reconstruction.

Projects authorised or under construction are:

Work is under way to re-open the railway between Kirkcaldy (Thornton North Junction) and Levenmouth for passenger services in 2024. It is expected that some trains will run via Cowdenbeath, providing many more via the curve from Thornton West Junction than the current sparse service.

A Transport & Works Act Order for the introduction of passenger trains over the freight line to Ashington was granted in June 2022 and the line is due to open by December 2024. The UK Government has announced plans to re-open the railway to Fleetwood, but this may become a tramway. The UK Government is also funding feasibility studies into re-opening a number of other lines, but these are at a very early stage.

Work has started on construction of a high speed railway (HS2) from London to Birmingham, but the line will not be opened until 2026 at the earliest. A flythrough of the route is here. It is to be followed by Phase 2a as far as Crewe. It is intended that the line will subsequently be extended to Manchester with completion in the mid-2030s. It was originally planned that there would be a branch to Leeds, but this has been cut back to East Midlands Parkway (near Nottingham). The UK Government has also announced that it intends to proceed with a high-speed line from Warrington to Marsden (for Huddersfield) via Manchester.

Plans were being developed for a second Crossrail line, linking south west and north east London. All work on this stopped in autumn 2020, as a result of economies made to deal with the Covid pandemic. It is questionable whether the scheme will be revived, if there is the expected permanent reduction in commuter traffic.

Work is under way to re-open the derelict line between Calvert and Bletchley. A Transport & Works Act Order for this scheme was granted in February 2020 and services between Oxford and Milton Keynes are scheduled to start in December 2024. The longer-term objective is to re-introduce trains between Oxford and Cambridge.

Heathrow Southern Railway intends to build a new railway south-west from Heathrow Airport to link with the Staines to Windsor line, together with a branch to Virginia Water or Chertsey.

In the private sector:

  • The Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway is constructing an extension from Glengonnar to Wanlockhead.
  • Moorland & City Railways have a stated intention to reopen the line between Stoke-on-Trent and Leek Brook Junction, to a junction with the Churnet Valley Railway, but progress seems to be languishing.
  • Most ambitiously, the two Great Central Railways at Loughborough are being linked by means of a reinstated bridge over the Midland Main Line.
  • The Rother Valley Railway has obtained a Transport and Works Act Order to rebuild the railway between Robertsbridge and Junction Road (Bodiam).
  • The Royal Deeside Railway is extending its line to Crathes West Lodge.
  • Strathspey Railway is extending to Grantown-on-Spey and during summer 2014 and 2015 offered a limited service between its normal terminus at Broomhill and the river bridge at Dulnain. Further work depends on obtaining statutory powers under the Transport and Works Act and constructing a new bridge to carry the railway over the A95 main road.
  • The Helston Railway provides a short ride near Prospidnick, but plans to extend to Helston and eventually to Gwinear Road.

Electrification

Main line electrification in Great Britain came to a virtual standstill following railway privatisation, because private-sector train operators and rolling stock companies preferred the flexibility of diesel traction. The only schemes to proceed were 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].

In 2009 Department for Transport policy shifted towards extending electrification, with significant schemes proposed and a few implemented. However, greatly increased costs have resulted in projects being curtailed and delayed. Poor cost estimating, increased safety standards, over-specification and loss of practical experience of electrification appear to be among the causes. In July 2017 the UK Government announced an end to plans for further railway electrification in England and Wales, with reliance instead on bi-mode diesel/electric trains. This will included converting some electric multiple-units to bi-mode working. There have also been experiments with battery operation. In contrast, the Scottish Government required Network Rail to develop an electrification technical specification that can deliver an "efficient and affordable rolling programme of electrification".

Electrification schemes recently completed in England and Wales are:

  • Bedford to Corby (May 2021)
  • London (Heathrow Airport Junction) to Cardiff, Chippenham (Christian Malford) and Newbury (Phased introduction of electric services between May 2017 and January 2020). The scheme was cut back to omit Swansea, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Meads, Oxford and the Thames Valley branch lines.
  • Walsall to Rugeley Trent Valley (May 2019)
  • Manchester to Preston via Bolton (February 2019)
  • Gospel Oak to Woodgrange Park via South Tottenham (January 2019, but limited electric service initially, because of delayed delivery of rolling stock)

Schemes under way in England:

  • Kettering - Market Harborough
  • Manchester - Huddersfield - Leeds - York
  • Wigan North Western - Lostock Junction (near Bolton) (announced 1 September 2021, expected completion 2024/2025)

The UK Government has announced that electrification of the Midland Main Line is to be completed to Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.

The Welsh Government is sponsoring electrification of the Valley Lines from Cardiff to Bargoed, Coryton, Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Treherbert. Light rail vehicles are to be used from Cardiff to Coryton and on routes via Radyr. Tri-mode trains will be used from Rhymney to Penarth, Barry Island and the Vale of Glamorgan line, using battery power between Rhymney and Bargoed, and diesel south of Cardiff.

Following an extensive programme of electrification completed between 2012 and 2019, most lines in Central Scotland are electrified, with recent schemes comprising:

  • Holytown to Kirknewton (Midcalder Jn) via Shotts (Some electric services April 2019, full service May 2019)
  • Glasgow Central (Muirhouse Central Jn) to Barrhead (December 2023, but most trains continue to Kilmarnock or beyond, so remain diesel-worked)

The line from Falkirk to Grangemouth has also been electrified for freight traffic, but there are proposals to reinstate a passenger service.

Work has started on electrification to East Kilbride. The line from Haymarket (Edinburgh) to Dalmeny is being electrified as the first phase of a scheme to electrify routes through Fife. Transport Scotland's Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan, published in July 2020, envisages most lines in Scotland being electrified. Priorities are the Kilmarnock line; Edinburgh to Tweedbank; routes in Fife; and Dunblane to Aberdeen. Later extensions will take electrification to Girvan; Gretna via Dumfries; and Inverness to Perth, Aberdeen and Tain.

Older Changes

For details of changes more than five years ago see United_Kingdom - Older General Information.

Special Notes

Train numbers in Great Britain follow an alpha-numeric format, thus 1A22. The first digit indicates the type of train (passenger trains are 1, 2 or 9), in most cases the letter indicates its route or destination and the remaining digits identify the particular train. Different trains can and do use the same number, so long as they do not conflict geographically or operate several hours apart. Since December 2021 train numbers have been shown in the National Rail Timetable, but they are not normally used for passenger information purposes. It is more usual for trains to be referred to by their schedule, for example as the "10:00 London King's Cross to Aberdeen". International trains have four digit numbers where the second figure is 0 or 1, which can be treated as letters O and I in the UK.

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, or to provide timetable posters. Most stations have electronic displays, which indicate all departures (and often arrivals) within the next hour or so.

It is unusual for information displays and announcements at stations and on trains to be in any language other than English (and Welsh in Wales), though most station name signs in Scotland appear in Gaelic as well as English. Multi-lingual information is normally restricted to dedicated airport services and those using the Channel Tunnel.

No stations sell international tickets or can make international reservations, though there are facilities to make through bookings from certain stations by Eurostar. Even the range of tickets available from Eurostar is very limited. For guidance on booking travel to and from Europe visit The Man in Seat Sixty-One's website or see advice from National Rail.

Selective door opening is increasingly used, particularly in London and South East England. Trains are longer than some station platforms and only doors within the platform are unlocked. Announcements and visual displays advise passengers which carriages they need to be in if wishing to alight. This also happens to a limited extent on the London Underground, but usually only affecting the rearmost pair of doors.

The only long-distance overnight trains in Great Britain are:

Sleeping cars are provided, but not couchettes, and seating may be in saloons with non-reclinable seats, where passengers have no control of the lighting.

Taking bicycles, other than folding ones, by train can be difficult. Space may be limited and some operators require advance reservations for bicycles. More information can be found at National Rail.

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. There are an increasing number of initiatives to give extended overnight possessions Mondays to Thursdays, in order to reduce the extent of weekend closures. This results in late evening trains being replaced by buses. Trials are being undertaken of mid-week line closures. Blockades of a week or more are increasingly common.

No trains run in the UK on Christmas Day and very few on Boxing Day, mostly on local services in the London and Glasgow areas. No domestic services run in Scotland on New Year's Day, but there are normally trains between England, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Very few stations have left luggage facilities. 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 Network Rail's advice.

See also