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LNER or Lumo? Big brand vs budget

In October 2021, there was a new kid on the block when it came to travelling between the English and Scottish capitals. Designed to compete with the likes of easyJet, Lumo promised lower fares than ever. But are they really cheaper for everyone, and how do they compare to LNER? We’re here to help you decide: LNER or Lumo?

LNER or Lumo – the trains

When it comes to comparing the actual trains, you won’t find much difference! They look pretty much the same on the outside:

lumo train
lner trains


Lumo operates all-electric Class 803 trains, which are five carriages long. Meanwhile LNER operates a mix of bi-mode (diesel and electric) Class 800 trains, and some all-electric Class 801 trains. The vast majority of their trains from Edinburgh will be formed of nine carriages.

They come from the same family and were built by Hitachi. Our only issue would be that the Lumo trains are only five carriages, which means they’re likelier to feel a bit ‘cosier’ on busier services!

Railsmartr says: LNER has the edge with longer trains and more seats, but the trains themselves look much the same!

Waiting to get on board

In Edinburgh and London, you can usually board an LNER train around 20 minutes before the train leaves. Before that time, the platform number won’t be advertised on any screens, but you might find a slow trickle of people wandering over earlier as some apps/sites will show it before the station boards do! As a result, most trains, other than the busiest ones, have a pretty calm and gradual boarding process.

Lumo is extremely variable. When we caught our train from Edinburgh on a Thursday afternoon, a crowd was allowed to build on the platform until we were eventually allowed on around 10 minutes before departure. This made boarding a little chaotic as people tried to rush on to find their seats.

The following week, we caught a Wednesday evening train, the last one of the day. Despite the train needing to be swapped at the depot, it came in with about 20 minutes to spare and everyone was allowed straight on.

Railsmartr says: With Lumo, there’s a chance that boarding might feel a bit more chaotic or left to later. No problem if you’re alone, but it might not be ideal if you’re with family.

LNER or Lumo – the seat test!

When you’re travelling such a long distance, you’ll want to know whether or not your seat will be comfortable. With LNER, we’re just going to look at Standard Class – as Lumo doesn’t have a First Class option at all!


Here’s what you can expect with LNER:

lner seats


The seats are pretty firm, we’ll be honest. While legroom is good, they won’t be winning any awards for comfort. You’ll also find a tray table for each seat that’ll pull out to make some more room for a laptop.

Under your seat you’ll see that there’s a four-pin socket each. To our surprise, Standard Class didn’t have any USB sockets! However, the seats themselves were in good condition and the sockets worked. Everything felt clean and well-looked after.

There are between four and eight sets of table seats in each carriage for families and groups, so it won’t be difficult to keep yourselves sat together.


The Lumo seat actually looks a little more impressive, at first glance:

lumo seats

You can tell that some more thought has gone into these. The headrests are winged, which make them perfect for a nap, while the seat isn’t quite so fully upright. Yes, the seatback is pretty thin, but this means that legroom is only slightly tighter than on LNER, despite more seats being squeezed in.

You’ll find a power socket and two USBs under the seat in front of you:

lner or lumo - lumo sockets under seat

The only issue with this is that it makes putting things under your seat a little more difficult. The overall shape of the seat base is quite curved as well, so kicking a bag under there is a bit more of a squeeze.

On the back of the seat, there’s a tray table and even a reading light:

lumo train seatback table

One thing to note with the tray tables is that any drinks need to go in the contoured part (pull the table out to reveal) as the rest of the table is totally smooth with no lip. Anything capable of moving will slide off.

Our only complaint was everything felt a bit worn already. Around the socket was quite scratched and one seat in the carriage even had a tray table missing. For trains only introduced in 2021, it was clear that some parts weren’t very hard-wearing.

Lumo trains also only have two sets of table seats per carriage. This makes it very likely that larger groups won’t be sat together, so you should bear this in mind when booking.

Railsmartr says: Despite being a bit well-worn, Lumo wins the seat battle. They were more comfortable, have USB sockets available and most importantly, they’re better to nap in! You might prefer LNER if you want a table, though…

Travelling with luggage?

The Hitachi trains that both companies use have been criticised for lacking luggage space. In fact, LNER ended up taking out some seats so people had enough space to store bigger bags and cases!


In every carriage on LNER, you’ll find at least two luggage racks at the ends of the carriage. On a nine-coach train, coaches B, C, H and J have four, while G has three. Five-coach trains (rarely seen on the Edinburgh to London route) have two in each carriage. The racks have two parts, with a smaller top part for smaller cases (visible in the picture below), with a bigger part for large cases.

The overhead racks will take a cabin-sized suitcase, while backpacks can be slid under the seats. The overhead racks are angled a little bit downwards too, to minimise the risk of anything falling out.

Put simply, LNER have made an extra effort to make sure everyone’s luggage can fit. That’s essential on a long-distance train.


Lumo, in an effort to squeeze in seats, have kept the bare minimum luggage space. In coaches B, C and D, you’ll find just one luggage rack. Meanwhile A and E don’t have one at all, so you’ll need to rely on the overhead racks.

That is, unless you’re sitting in any of the seats without a window at the carriage ends, in which case you don’t get an overhead rack either. The worst seats on the train for people with luggage are E01 to E12, as coach E doesn’t have any luggage racks at the carriage ends nor do those seats have them above.

Railsmartr says: If you have a lot of luggage, stick to LNER. Otherwise, expect a scrum to get to a luggage rack before somebody else beats you to it on Lumo.

If you’re feeling peckish

LNER have a QR code on the back of every seat where you can use their “Let’s Eat at Your Seat” service, as well as an on-board cafe bar. You can take a look at their menu here.

Lumo have opted for a ‘LumoEats’ pre-ordering service if you’d like anything substantial, having partnered with M&S, the Pasty Shop and Upper Crust. It’s a decent idea, but only allowed if you’re travelling from Edinburgh or London – no good for anyone jumping on in Newcastle! Equally, if you’re leaving early in the morning, it might not be offered – meaning that there’ll be a more limited drinks and snacks selection. If you don’t pre-order, a trolley will come through and offer drinks and snacks.

There’s no dedicated menu, but you can see what’s on offer if you type in some journey details here.

Which is cheaper?

But how do they measure up? Well, whether you choose LNER or Lumo, there’s the option to have food brought directly to your seat. But what about cost? Let’s go for a simple sandwich, bag of crisps and a drink:

On Lumo, the cheapest option we could find was:

That comes to £5.25, which isn’t bad value at all for a train! Meanwhile, LNER offer a £6 meal deal. This allows you to pick any sandwich or rice pot, any bag of Walker’s crisps or chocolate bar, and any hot or soft drink.

Railsmartr says: Lumo definitely offers the more ‘interesting’ food options if you’re able to pre-order. But, if you’re indecisive or want something on the go, LNER is best. When it comes to price, both actually offer decent value for a train.

LNER or Lumo – which is cheaper?

Travelling alone

When picking between LNER or Lumo, most of us will be thinking about price. After all, it’s a budget product, so we expect a budget price! To start with, let’s take a look at an Off-Peak trip, midweek, around a month in advance. We’ll be going from Edinburgh to London, one way, without any other discounts.*

What have we found? Lumo definitely offers cheaper single fares. There isn’t a ground-breaking difference in this example, but you can certainly save a reasonable amount. The trend continues throughout the day in our example. For instance, you could take the 16:00 to London (LNER) for £45.70, while the 16:13 (Lumo) is £37.90.

Travelling a little sooner* can cause the results to go either way. For example, we can see that there’s a bigger difference between LNER and Lumo for a late-evening trip down to London:

rsm site showing lumo as cheaper for evening edinburgh to london train

However, if we move that to the afternoon, it’s actually cheaper to choose LNER:

rsm site showing lner as cheaper for afternoon edinburgh to london train

Railsmartr says: So, which is cheaper, LNER or Lumo? In most cases, we would say Lumo will have the edge when you’re travelling alone. If you’re travelling last-minute, you might snap up a great deal on quieter trains. However, busier trains might have little or no difference – it might even be cheaper to pick LNER.

*Fares quoted correct on Railsmartr.co.uk on 28/02/23 for travel on 04/04/23 and 07/03/23 respectively. All are subject to change at any time.

LNER or Lumo – our verdict

So, we’ve been through everything. But what’s our view in a nutshell? Here’s what we’d rate each part of the experience out of 5:

Experience LNER Lumo
The Trains 4/5 4/5
Boarding 4/5 2.5/5
Seat 2/5 4/5
Storing Luggage 4/5 1/5
Catering 4/5 3/5
Price 3/5 4/5
Overall 21/30 17.5/30

Railsmartr says: For an overall predictable and stress-free experience for all passengers, LNER definitely has the edge. But, we think that each company has its own market and purpose.

If you’re travelling as a family or in a group, we’d still recommend sticking with LNER. It has better luggage provision, more table seats and it’s likely to be less stressful trying to board and get settled. It also has the full range of food options no matter when you choose to order.

If you’re travelling light, alone or as a couple, Lumo might be the one for you. When you’re booking for yourself or for a couple of adults, Lumo is undoubtedly cheaper most of the time. The seats are more comfortable and the lack of luggage space won’t be a problem if you just have a backpack or small case.

So, LNER or Lumo? It just depends who you’re travelling with and what you’re bringing with you!

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to know more about the Capital? Take a look at our guide to travelling to London. We’ll tell you about getting the best fares on routes like Birmingham to London and Southend to London, as well as whether it’s worth upgrading to First Class on LNER.

You can book all of the tickets we’ve discussed on the Railsmartr website. There’s no fees if you change your plans, either.

All fares and other prices, as well as times of trains, were issued on this page in good faith, and were correct at the time of writing (28/02/2023). Railsmartr is not responsible for any loss, inconvenience or otherwise, as a result of the information provided.

What’s the best train from Leeds to Manchester?

Leeds to Manchester is one of the busiest railway routes in the North of England. You have a choice of two routes, too. So, is it better to take TransPennine Express straight through Huddersfield into Manchester, or is taking the slower Northern train through the Calder Valley a better idea? Let’s compare the two trains, and work out the best train from Leeds to Manchester.

How do we work out the best train from Leeds to Manchester?

There are a few factors that we need to look at when we’re deciding on the best train from Leeds to Manchester:

We have two operators to choose from: TransPennine Express and Northern. TransPennine Express are usually the most popular option. After all, their trains tend to be faster. Meanwhile, Northern are the ‘cheap’ option. Let’s see what both companies are like.

TransPennine Express

On a typical weekday, when there aren’t any engineering works, you’ll usually find four trains per hour between Leeds and Manchester:

The fastest trains take around 50 minutes to reach Manchester Victoria, while the peak trains to Manchester take up to 70 minutes.

On Sundays, the timetable is extremely variable due to long-term engineering work. You should expect no more than two trains per hour and a journey time of around 70-75 minutes until at least November 2023.

The cost

Let’s take a look at how much you can typically expect to pay for a one-way journey a week in advance. For this, we’ll look at the cost of trains to Manchester Piccadilly:

tpe trains from leeds to manchester on railsmartr site


So, you can expect to pay between 16 and 18 pounds. That’s a little steep, but these are fairly popular trains. A day return (valid after 09:29 weekdays) is £26.00, while one that’s valid at any time (and to return within a month) is £39.00.

The trains

Three different types of train run on the route from Leeds to Manchester. We’re going to take a look at two of the most common types. The first one is the Class 185:

class 185 train


These trains have three carriages and will often run in a six-car formation. You can expect to see them on the Hull to Liverpool and Saltburn to Manchester Airport routes.

On the Newcastle to Manchester Piccadilly and Newcastle to Liverpool services, you’ll find the Nova 1:

nova 1 train


They’re relatively new trains and have five carriages. Certainly, they’re very modern-looking and pretty striking and are probably the best train from Leeds to Manchester if you’re basing it on looks.

The seat experience

On the Class 185, you’ll find a fair few seats around tables, and the seat comfort is fairly good:

interior of a class 185 train


You’ll find a power socket at every window, including a USB port. All of the seats are in a 2+2 layout, while it’s a 2+1 layout in First.

The Nova 1 interior is a little more densely packed, but Standard Class seats are still in a 2+2 formation:

interior of a tpe train from leeds to manchester


Under each pair of seats, you’ll find two power sockets and a USB port. In First Class, all of the seats are in a 2+1 formation.

Storing your luggage

As you can see in the photos above, both types of train have reasonably-sized overhead luggage racks. You’ll easily store a cabin-sized bag in them. As for larger cases, each carriage on the Class 185 has at least one bigger rack, while there’s at least two per carriage in the Nova 1.

Put simply, it shouldn’t be a problem! TransPennine Express is probably the best train from Leeds to Manchester if you have a lot of luggage.

Upgrading to First Class

If you upgrade to First Class on TransPennine Express, you’ll get a bigger seat that reclines. On most trains, you’ll also get complimentary catering on part of the trip. You can take a look at the First Class menu here.

Here’s what the Class 185 trains look like in First Class:

first class on a class 185 train


In terms of power outlets, provision is pretty much the same as in Standard Class. You’ll still want a window seat if you need a power socket on the Class 185 trains.


Next, let’s take a look at Northern. You’ll usually find three trains per hour on a weekday between Leeds and Manchester Victoria:

On Sundays, there are two trains per hour, and they both go via Bradford Interchange.

The fastest trains take around 75 minutes, while the slowest train via Dewsbury and Brighouse takes around 90.

The cost

This is what sets the Northern service apart and what arguably makes it the best train from Leeds to Manchester. It’s actually quite cheap! Let’s take a look at one-way fares a week in advance to Manchester Victoria:

fares on the railsmartr website for northern leeds to manchester trains


A single fare of £6.80 is less than half the cost of the TransPennine Express fare.

The trains

The fastest Northern services on this route are operated by Class 195 trains. They have either two or three carriages, but can run in formations of up to six carriages:

northern train from leeds to manchester


They’re relatively new trains, though they’re very much designed for commuters and they’re fairly ‘lightweight’, so expect a couple of bumps in the track along the way.

The seat experience

All of the seats on these trains are in a 2+2 formation. They’re pretty thin and firm, but this means that legroom in the ‘airline’ style seats is fairly generous:

interior of a northern train from leeds to manchester


There are quite a few tables as well, and every pair of seats has access to a power socket under the seat. They’re not quite as luxurious as TransPennine Express trains, but they’re fine for a journey of an hour and a half.

Storing your luggage

The overhead racks on these trains are reasonable and will store a cabin-sized bag. You won’t find any bigger luggage stacks, but there are areas with tip-up seats and the areas around the doors have a fair amount of space.

That said, we wouldn’t recommend travelling on these trains with everything but the kitchen sink. They’re commuter trains, after all.

Upgrading to First Class

You won’t find First Class on any Northern service. You’ll need to travel with TransPennine Express if you want a little more luxury!

Verdict: What’s the best train from Leeds to Manchester?

All things considered, the best train from Leeds to Manchester at the moment has to be Northern on the basis that it’s a lot more predictable! It’s cheaper, too. Unless you want to go First Class or you have a lot of luggage, it’s simply the smarter option.

There are a couple of things that you can do to make your journey even smarter:

Is there anything else I should know?

The final thing we’d recommend is using the Railsmartr website to book your next journey. We’re completely independent, so we’re happy to ‘tell you like it is’ when it comes to rail fares. Not only that, but we’ll show you the slower, but cheaper options that some websites won’t.

Don’t forget that we don’t charge any fees, either. That includes if you change your mind and want to travel on a different day. If your ticket is refundable, we’ll refund it fee-free, too!

All fares stated on this page are for ONE adult with no Railcard discount and were correct at 15:00 23/06/23. They’re subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of the information provided.

What’s the best way to Southend by train?

Southend is a classic British seaside resort. It’s a firm favourite among those coming from London and beyond, and it’s served by two different railway lines. But what’s the best way to Southend by train? We took a look at the two different ways that you can travel to Southend to decide which one is better.

What are the options for getting to Southend by train?

When it comes to getting to Southend by train, you have two options. You can either take c2c from London Fenchurch Street, or Greater Anglia from London Liverpool Street.

When we compare the two options, we’ll be looking at the quality of the train, the journey time and how much it costs. Neither train has First Class, any sort of catering nor does it have a conductor on board. Both lines use commuter-style trains, so we aren’t expecting any luxury!


During Off-Peak hours, you’ll find four trains per hour between London Fenchurch Street and Southend Central. You have a choice of two different routes:

The trains that go via Grays leave just after the one that runs via Basildon though, so it’s still faster to get the ‘slow’ train if you just miss the faster one.

On a frequency basis, this is the best way to Southend by train.

The cost

A day return to Southend is £22 (before any Railcard discounts). This reduces a little to £21.20 if you travel after 09:30. On a weekend it reduces further, so it’s only £16.60 if you fancy a weekend or Bank Holiday trip to the seaside. If you’re after the cheapest train, then this is the best way to Southend by train, too.

The train itself

For the moment, all services on the c2c route are operated by Class 357 ‘Electrostar‘ trains. Built between 1999 and 2002, they’ve been running on the route for just over 20 years.

They have four carriages and usually run in pairs to form an eight-coach train. Some peak trains also run as 12 carriages.

c2c train from london to southend

Storing your luggage

As you’re most likely to be taking a day trip to Southend, storing heavy luggage probably won’t be an issue. There aren’t any bigger luggage stacks, but you’ll find space for small items and backpacks above the seats.

The seat experience

The layout of the carriage will depend on the ‘type’ of train that you catch. Most trains operated by c2c have a 3+2 seating layout throughout most of the train. If you’re travelling with family or you’d like a table though, head for the ends of each ‘unit’. This is because the areas behind the driver’s cab have seats in a 2+2 layout with a full-sized table. On an eight-coach train, this means that you should aim for the outer ends of coaches 1, 4, 5 and 8:

interior of a c2c train from london to southend

The exception is on trains that have ‘Metro’ written on the doors. These have a 2+2 seating layout throughout so there’s more standing space.

There aren’t any power sockets on c2c trains. So, you’ll want to make sure that you bring a powerbank or that your devices have enough charge before you travel.

The journey

One of the positives about the journey between London and Southend on this route is that it does actually get quite scenic!

Once you get through the urban sprawl of London, you’ll be running alongside the Thames Estuary:

view of the thames estuary from a c2c train

Final thoughts

c2c are certainly the most affordable way to get to Southend by train, and the route is actually quite pleasant once you get alongside the Thames Estuary!

The lack of power sockets is a shame though, and we found the train in general to be extremely dirty and not all that well cared-for. If all you’re after is a cheap train from A to B, then this is likely to be the best option for you.

Our train was also bang on time. c2c trains tend to be fairly reliable as they run on a small and mostly self-contained section of lines.

Greater Anglia

Greater Anglia run three trains per hour for most of the day on their route between London Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria.

Two of these trains run fast between Stratford and Shenfield, while the other train stops at Romford as well. In any event, all trains on the route take roughly an hour to travel between London and Southend. Time-wise, this means that Greater Anglia is very slightly the better way to get to Southend by train.

The cost

Greater Anglia is a little more expensive, with a day return being £30.50. This goes down to £25.90 if you travel after 09:30 and £21.40 if you travel after 12:00 (or all day on weekends and Bank Holidays).

Don’t forget that you can’t buy a ticket from London that’s valid on both routes (c2c and Greater Anglia), so even if you buy a ticket for this route you can’t return on the cheaper c2c trains.

The train itself

All of the services on the Greater Anglia route are operated by brand-new Class 720 ‘Aventra‘ trains. They’ve been gradually introduced to the route since 2020, so they’re about as modern as you can get:

class 720 train at southend victoria station

They’re all formed of five carriages, but they often run together to form a 10-carriage train. If you’re after a newer (and longer!) train then this will be the best way to Southend by train.

Storing your luggage

These trains were designed to have as many seats as possible, so you won’t find any luggage stacks. Any luggage storage will be above your seat.

As we said earlier though, it’s unlikely that you’ll be taking lots of heavy luggage on a day trip. So, the racks above the seats will suit backpacks and smaller items just fine.

The seat experience

Well, these trains certainly have a lot of seats. They’re pretty firm though, but should be fine for the hour’s trip between London and Southend.

The main issue is that the aisles are very narrow, so we wouldn’t recommend walking down them with any big bags if you’re trying to get down the train. You’ll probably end up hitting yourself on the sides of the seats:

interior of a class 720 train

Every seat comes with a three-pin socket and two USB ports. If you want to stay connected, then this is definitely the train for you:

power sockets under the seats on a class 720 train

The journey

There certainly isn’t any seaside scenery on this route, as it stays inland. However, you should keep an eye out for the London Stadium and Olympic Park shortly after leaving Liverpool Street.

Final thoughts

If we were looking at train quality alone, then Greater Anglia would be the best way to Southend by train. We found the trains to be clean and well looked after, with them being given a thorough run-through by multiple staff at Southend Victoria.

The very narrow aisles pose a bit of a problem though. We’d recommend walking down the platform to look for a seat rather than squashing through the train itself.

The main issue is that the station at Southend Victoria isn’t as convenient for the beach. It’s a lot more inland and better located for shopping and bus connections rather than a day by the seaside.

Final thoughts – What’s the best way to get to Southend by train?

Based on what the typical daytripper to Southend is after, c2c has to be the best way to get to Southend by train.

The trains are cheaper, run more frequently and arrive at a more convenient station for the seafront. They certainly aren’t the best in terms of the trains themselves, but they do just fine for a journey of just over an hour. c2c have also ordered a small fleet of new trains (the same as you’ll find on Greater Anglia) to supplement the existing trains.

If you’re coming from Stratford, then Greater Anglia is likely to be the better option. But, for people coming from Central London, you’re best sticking with c2c.

Looking for more tips on travelling by train? Take a look at our guide to travelling as a family. We’ve also provided some inspiration for more day trips from London with our very own top 5.

What’s the best train to Heathrow Airport?

Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest in the world. Whether you’re heading on the trip of a lifetime or popping into London during a layover, you want to make sure you’re travelling comfortably and getting the best value. So, on a rainy Friday afternoon, I took a trip to find out the best train to Heathrow Airport.

What’s the best train to Heathrow Airport?

In this comparison, I’ll be taking a look at the two ‘rail’ options for getting to Heathrow. If you want to take the ‘super-budget’ option, then of course you can also use the London Underground Piccadilly Line.

However, it’s widely known that this is slow, uncomfortable and not the best for luggage! While I didn’t take a trip on it, you can find out more on the TfL website if you’d prefer that option.

I’ll be looking at the premium Heathrow Express and the slightly slower Elizabeth Line.

How do we work out the best way to Heathrow Airport?

With it only being a short hop to Heathrow, we’re most concerned about speed and luggage space. WiFi and a place to charge your phone would be good, too.

We don’t expect any luxuries like a three-course meal, of course. Instead, if First Class is offered, we just want to know if it offers anything ‘different’.

Heathrow Express

I was starting with Heathrow Express today. It hadn’t been the best start, as I’d ended up walking from Lancaster Gate tube station in the pouring rain, so I was a little bit soaked! But, there wasn’t long to wait for a train.

Heathrow Express runs four trains every hour between Paddington and Heathrow Terminal 5, stopping at Terminals 2 and 3 on the way.

The journey time is typically around 15 minutes to Terminals 2 and 3, and 20 minutes to Terminal 5. On speed alone, this is undoubtedly the best train to Heathrow. It’s quick!

The cost

If you’re buying on the day, it’s £25 for a single journey on the Heathrow Express, or £37 for a return. The return is valid for a month, so it’s ideal if you’re making a longer trip. You can also use Railcards on Heathrow Express fares.

While this is definitely a steep fare, you can bag yourself a bargain if you book in advance. Single fares start at £5.50 if you book up to six months beforehand. They’re only restricted to a particular day, too. This means that you don’t have to worry about flight delays, as you can use any train you like.

While it might seem a bit crazy to book a short Airport train trip so far in advance, you might as well do it if you already have your flights sorted.

The train itself

Class 387 ‘Electrostar‘ trains make up the entire Heathrow Express fleet. They normally run in pairs, with two four-coach trains coupled together.

They joined the Heathrow Express service in December 2020, but were originally new to Great Western Railway.

heathrow express train at heathrow terminals 2 and 3

Storing your luggage

So far, my experiences of airport trains have been underwhelming when it comes to luggage storage. Usually, you’ll find the ‘normal’ amount of space you’d expect on any other train, at best.

I was impressed when I found that the Heathrow Express has lots of room for luggage. No matter the size, there are lots of dedicated racks for you to use:

luggage rack on heathrow express train

It’s good that they’re in view, as well. There’s always somewhere to sit where you can keep an eye on luggage, or keep it close by.

This is definitely the best train to Heathrow for luggage. In fact, it’s likely to be the best for luggage, full stop. If you’re connecting in from a long-distance train, we also have a dedicated page about the best train for luggage.

The seat experience

All seats in Standard Class are in a 2+2 layout. Compared to other trains of this type, the seats have had some extra padding added, too.

There aren’t any full-size tables around bays of 4, but you’ll find cup holders and a small ledge to place drinks and other smaller items. Airline-style seats have a small seat-back table.

interior of heathrow express train

Plug sockets are at every window seat. At each socket, there’s a three-pin one plus two USB ports. You’ll also find reading lights above every seat, though I doubt they’d do much to illuminate whatever you’re looking at.

plug sockets and cup holders on heathrow express train

Overall, it’s a pleasant interior. The seats are comfortable enough for a 15 to 20 minute trip and there’s no shortage of legroom.

Fancy an upgrade?

It’s possible to buy a ticket for ‘Business First’ which gives you a bigger seat in a 2+1 layout. These seats also have a bigger table, so it might be better if you need to get some work done.

It’s £32 single or £55 return for First Class. Alternatively, you can pay the difference between the Standard and First Class single fares as an ‘upgrade’ on board, which is £7.

interior of business first class on heathrow express

Is it worth it? For the average leisure traveller, probably not. I found that these compartments actually got quite busy, and you had more chance of some peace and quiet in Standard.

If you need to work on the move though, then the extra space might be a bonus. If you’re an employer, for example, it might be worth paying the extra for someone on a business trip.

I’ve done plenty of rating First Class products in the past, too. We’ve even got a dedicated page for the best First Class train in the UK, if you’re measuring up a few different trains.

Onboard service

There definitely isn’t any shortage of on-board staff. If you have a question or need some assistance, this is definitely the best train to Heathrow.

Regular on-board announcements keep you informed, too. They’re not too intrusive either, as I’ve travelled on this service before and almost lost my mind at what was quite literally a never-ending monologue. Heathrow Express have clearly listened, on this front!

A nice perk is the ability to keep an eye on your flight. Screens throughout the train tell you where to check-in and whether your flight is on time:

screens on heathrow express service showing flight information

Staying connected

Free WiFi is available on the Heathrow Express. I found it easy to connect to and the speed was pretty good. Google thought it was ‘fine’:

wifi speed on heathrow express service

So if you really have to catch-up on your favourite series on that 20-minute trip, you can technically use the WiFi to do it!

Final thoughts

I found Heathrow Express to be a fairly impressive product. It’s the most expensive option, but it is a genuine express train.

Rather than fitting in between slower trains, it shares the tracks that long-distance trains use towards the South West of England. This means that you can feel yourself actually travelling ‘fast’ and watching the landscape rush by.

The train was punctual, clean and well-staffed. Another plus is that there’s usually always a train waiting for you at Paddington, so you can get on board straight away.

Elizabeth Line

This particular service has gone by a couple of different names in recent years. It originally started off as “Heathrow Connect” and basically ran as a local service between Paddington and Heathrow.

It then became “TfL Rail” once TfL took over the running of the service. Finally, it became “Elizabeth Line” as new trains were introduced and the new section of railway through Central London opened.

Four trains per hour run between Paddington and Heathrow on this route. Two of them run to Terminal 4, and two run to Terminal 5. All of them serve Terminals 2 and 3. It takes around 30 to 35 minutes to travel from Paddington to Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3, and about 35 to 40 minutes to reach Terminal 4 or 5. All trains typically stop at all stations on the way.

Of course, it’s now also possible to travel direct to Heathrow from Central London (Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf and beyond.

The cost

A paper single ticket for the Elizabeth Line will cost £12.30 or £24.60 for a return. In a nutshell, there’s no advantage to buying a return!

A London Zones 1-6 Travelcard is £15.20 and is also valid on Elizabeth Line trains to Heathrow, so you might find this to be best if your origin isn’t Paddington. It’s valid on most public transport in London Zones 1-6.

The train itself

All services on the Elizabeth Line are run by nine-carriage Class 345 “Aventra” trains, which were gradually introduced from 2017 onwards.

elizabeth line train at heathrow terminals 2 and 3

Storing your luggage

To be honest, I couldn’t see any dedicated luggage racks. These trains were designed to transport lots of people rather than lots of luggage.

However, the aisles are pretty wide and there’s plenty of space. I couldn’t imagine there being an issue unless you tried to get on an especially full train.

The seat experience

You’ll find the seats in two different layouts. They’ll either be in bays of four or longitudinal, facing the inside of the train.

To be honest, they’re pretty firm. The Elizabeth Line won’t be winning any awards for comfort, but the seats are fine for short journeys.

You won’t find any power sockets, tables or anything like that. But there are hand-straps throughout the train in case you need to stand.

interior of elizabeth line service

Another perk is that you can walk through the entire train without needing to go through any separate doors. This makes it a lot easier to find yourself some space.

Fancy an upgrade?

You’ll struggle, in that case! First Class isn’t available on any Elizabeth Line train.

Onboard service

There are no on-board staff other than the driver. There are automated announcements on the train which will tell you where it’s going and what the stops are, though.

Staying connected

WiFi is available on the train but only in sections where it’s above-ground. If you’re travelling past Paddington and going into Central London, be aware that there is no mobile reception or WiFi available.

Final thoughts

The Elizabeth Line offers a reasonable, more budget-friendly option for travelling to Heathrow. It’s likely to be the best train to Heathrow if you’re coming from East or Central London, as it avoids the need to change at Paddington. It’s also the cheapest option if you need to travel at the last-minute.

However, the on-board facilities aren’t great and it’s very much a railway designed to transport lots of people. It just so happens that some of those trains terminate at Heathrow Airport.

What’s the best train between Heathrow Terminals?

I feel like it’s also worth touching on this. There’s no cost for travelling between the Heathrow terminals. You can tap in/out with a contactless card or device or get a free transfer ticket from a machine.

If you need to get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 (or vice-versa) you’ll need to change at Terminals 2 and 3. It’s a simple interchange straight across to the other platform.

It’s also possible to do this on the tube, but you might need to change at Hatton Cross to get between terminals. Most buses between terminals are not free.

The journeys between terminals only take a few minutes, so your best bet is to take the first train that’s due to leave. This map will tell you more about transfers at Heathrow Airport.

The verdict – what’s the best train to Heathrow?

The Stations

Before I get into this, I think it’s important to discuss my thoughts on actually using the Heathrow Stations. Namely, Terminals 2 and 3.

There are lots of announcements, and they’re all very wordy. When announcing a train, it’ll tack what you should do if you’re going somewhere else onto the end, which might confuse matters even more. It’s naturally aimed at tourists and those who don’t speak great English, but it felt like a complete overload.

When I was travelling between Terminals 2 and 3, and Terminal 4, I found that the staff kept herding everyone right to the front of the platform. This seemed to be so we’d be near the exit when we got off, which is fair enough. The only issue was that it caused boarding to take a very long time due to so many people trying to get on with large luggage. If you’re changing for Terminal 4, don’t go too far forwards as it’ll be an uncomfortable trip.

The final verdict

It’s difficult to say that one train will suit everyone better. However, I’d say that Heathrow Express is the best train to Heathrow.

If you’re travelling from Heathrow, you’re probably travelling a fair distance. Even if you’re not, the airlines that fly out of there generally give the best fares when you plan ahead. So, if you plan ahead with your rail fare as well, you’ll get the best value on Heathrow Express. You can get yourself straight onto a waiting train at Paddington, store your luggage and relax.

If you happen to be coming from somewhere like Canary Wharf, Liverpool Street or Tottenham Court Road, then the Elizabeth Line will probably suit you better. I’d not recommend getting off the Elizabeth Line just to ride the Heathrow Express as the transfer time between the two isn’t great, especially with luggage.

Whatever you choose to take though, you can book in confidence with Railsmartr. We don’t charge any fees if you need to get a refund or change your ticket, so you can rest assured that changing your plans won’t cost you anything more than it should.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking for more information about London? Take a look at our page about travelling around London. You’ll find everything you need to know, including how to understand your ticket, and your best options for reaching other London airports, including Gatwick. Don’t forget to take a look at our quick guide to crossing London or the Elizabeth Line, either.

What’s the best train to Gatwick Airport?

If you’re travelling from London to Gatwick Airport, you have three options. But what’s the best train to Gatwick Airport? Of course, it has its very own Gatwick Express from London Victoria – sounds fancy, right? You can take a Southern train, as well. They run on the same route but make a couple more stops. Finally, there’s Thameslink. They’ll take you to Gatwick from St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge.

But which is most worth it for the money, and which train tickets to Gatwick Airport are most budget-friendly? There was only one way to find out. I was going to take a nice afternoon trip to Gatwick Airport, but sadly not for a flight somewhere exotic. I’d try out each company, and provide the very scientific results to you!

How do we work out the best train to Gatwick Airport?

As it’s only a short journey from London to Gatwick Airport, we’re most concerned about speed, cost and the ability to store luggage. After all, an airport train isn’t much use if you end up with suitcases scattered around left, right and centre!

Considering that a lot of tourists might use the train as well, it’s always good for there to be a decent WiFi connection, as well as somewhere to charge a phone. Of course, we care about price, too. We want to know about the best value train tickets to Gatwick Airport.

Spoilers though, don’t be expecting any fancy catering options or extra luxuries. No matter which train you choose, they’re all different versions of trains designed for commuters.


I started out first with Thameslink, and chose London Bridge as the starting point. You can pick any of the London stations that Thameslink serve though, and all of the same trains will take you to Gatwick Airport. You’ll find eight trains per hour on the route, which have a couple of different stopping patterns between London Bridge and Gatwick Airport:

You’re best aiming for a Brighton one, as most of the Three Bridges and Horsham trains will get overtaken. You might find them to be a little quieter though, if you really want a seat and time isn’t of the essence.

I was taking a Brighton train today, which was scheduled to take 29 minutes between London Bridge and Gatwick Airport.

The cost

Before any discounts, it’ll cost you £24.50 for an Anytime Return on Thameslink. This allows you to return at any time within a month, so it’s ideal if you’re catching a flight. An Off-Peak Day Return is £14.60 and if you’re travelling at the weekend, a Super-Off-Peak Day Return is just £11.40.

Just travelling one way? It’s £13.20 for a single on weekdays and £11.30 on weekends. Based on cost alone, you’ll likely find Thameslink to be the best option. They have the cheapest train tickets to Gatwick Airport.

The train itself

All Thameslink services are formed of Siemens ‘Desiro City‘ trains formed of either eight or 12 coaches. They were essentially designed as ‘people-eaters’ – that is, to get people on and off the train as quickly as possible! They aren’t renowned for their creature comforts, but they do the job of transporting people very well.

I was taking a 12-coach train today, which is the more likely one that you’ll get on Brighton trains.

thameslink class 700 train at gatwick airport

Storing your luggage

You’ll find a number of luggage stacks dotted around the train near the doors. There are also overhead racks throughout, which look to be capable of storing your typical cabin-sized suitcase. Because the seats on the train are fairly narrow, the aisles are quite wide and this makes wheeling cases down the train fairly easy.

The seat experience

The seats on these trains are known widely as ‘ironing boards’, so that perhaps doesn’t bode well for comfort! Now, they aren’t quite the same as sitting on an ironing board, but they’re narrow. After all, they were designed to swallow up rush-hour crowds rather than transport you in luxury.

interior of a thameslink train to gatwick airport in standard class

You won’t find any plug sockets in Standard Class, but some seats have a table attached. For most journeys of this length, that’d be fine. But if you want something a little better at no extra cost, don’t fear. There is a solution…

Fancy an upgrade?

Now, this looks just a little nicer, doesn’t it? First Class on these trains will get you a bigger seat as well as a power socket. It isn’t groundbreaking, but what if I told you that you could use it for free?

interior of first class on a thameslink train to gatwick airport

First Class at the very back of every train is always declassified. It’s still marked as First, but you can sit in it with a Standard Class ticket.

A lot of Thameslink passengers know about this now, but it’s still worth aiming for the back of the train. One thing you definitely shouldn’t do is book a First Class ticket for these trains – why pay more for the same thing?

Onboard service

In a nutshell, there isn’t any. These trains just have a driver on board. There are regular and informative automated announcements, though.

Staying connected

Free WiFi is available on the train. I connected to it pretty easily and the speed was fairly typical of what I’ve experienced for on-train WiFi in Great Britain. Pretty slow! Here’s what Google thought:

wifi speed on a thameslink train - image shows 1.86 megabits per second download speed

You can use it to browse (as I did), but that’s about it. Don’t expect to be watching your favourite TV series on the way to the Airport.

Final thoughts

Thameslink is the cheapest way to Gatwick Airport if you’re buying a paper ticket, so for many, that’ll make it the best train to Gatwick Airport, too.

If you can get yourself a seat in First Class at the very back, it’s ideal. With at least four trains per hour (and another four that are a little slower) there’s plenty of choice, as well. You won’t have long to wait until the next train.

My train was punctual, if a little dirty. It did exactly what it needed to do and I can’t say I expected anything different.

Gatwick Express

You’d expect the train that calls itself Gatwick Express to be the best train to Gatwick, wouldn’t you? Well, in theory, it could be. These trains run twice per hour between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport, with no stops on the way. It takes around half an hour to make the trip.

Today, I’d be taking the 13:10 train from Gatwick Airport to London Victoria. The trains usually leave from Platform 5 there, and from Platforms 13 and 14 in London.

The cost

See, this is the stickler. It’s expensive! A single from Victoria to Gatwick Airport is £21.90 or it’s £43.70 for an Anytime Return, before any discounts. This goes down to £33.60 if you want to buy an Anytime Day Return. These are some of the most expensive train tickets to Gatwick Airport.

Considering that it isn’t really any faster than Thameslink but has a massive price premium, it’s quite difficult to justify the cost. But, let’s take a look at the journey experience…

The train itself

All trains on this route are formed of Class 387 “Electrostar” units. They’ll usually run in pairs to form an eight-coach train, but can run as 12-coach trains as well.

gatwick express train at london victoria

They’re difficult to miss – the red livery is rather unmistakable!

Storing your luggage

These trains have a reasonable number of luggage stacks near the doors as well as overhead racks. However, for a dedicated Airport express service, they won’t be winning any awards for it.

luggage stack on a gatwick express train

These just looked like the normal luggage racks you’d get on any other variant of this train. Heathrow Express have the same kind of train, but they’ve gone to the effort of installing lots and lots of luggage space. So yes, luggage space exists. But surely, there should be more?

The seat experience

The seats are a similar kind of seat to the ‘ironing boards’ you get on Thameslink. They’ve been shaped a little better though, and you also get an armrest.

Every window seat gets a socket, too. You’ll (weirdly!) also find reading lights above every seat. They’re a bit high up, so I’m not sure how effective they’d be.

interior of a gatwick express train

Fancy an upgrade?

Unless you have a First Class ticket from somewhere else, you really shouldn’t think about it. There is quite literally no difference. There’ll be a sticker on the window saying “First Class” and a tiny piece of cloth on the back of the seat saying the same.

We wrote more about the kinds of First Class on trains that are definitely worth it, and those that aren’t, here.

Onboard service

There was an On-board Supervisor on the train (basically a guard but they don’t do anything safety-critical) but I didn’t see her during the journey. On some services, they will check tickets (mostly to make sure you’ve paid full whack to use the train!)

She did however manage to make an announcement in English, French and Dutch which was pretty impressive. It’s quite rare for a member of railway staff in Great Britain to be speaking a different language!

Staying connected

You might expect a better WiFi connection with it being a ‘premium’ express service, but it didn’t look like that was the case. I got pretty much the same speed as on Thameslink. It would make sense, seeing as they’re essentially just brands of the same company (Govia Thameslink Railway), but a bit disappointing nonetheless:

internet speed on a gatwick express train - image shows 1.79 megabits per second download

Final thoughts

There’s nothing wrong with travelling on the Gatwick Express. But as a service, it’s far too expensive for what it is. On cost alone, it definitely isn’t the best train to Gatwick. That is, unless you have a ticket from somewhere else to Gatwick. In that case, it won’t have any restriction on it that stops you getting the Gatwick Express, so you may as well jump on!

The train was clean and I thought it was comfortable enough. We were punctual, too, but it was clear that the sheer number of trains running on the lines towards London meant that a ‘fast’ run was really difficult. You may as well call at East Croydon and Clapham Junction too – it probably wouldn’t add on much time.

Another issue is that it’s only half-hourly. If you just miss one, not only is waiting for the next one more expensive, but you’ll be letting multiple Southern services go as well.


Southern is probably who you’ll travel with if you need to travel from London Victoria but don’t want to splash out on the Gatwick Express. You’ll find up to six trains an hour heading to Gatwick, all of which have the same calling pattern. They all stop at Clapham Junction and East Croydon on the way to Gatwick, taking around 30 minutes. Yes, that’s the same time that the Gatwick Express takes!

The trains head to Eastbourne, Ore, Littlehampton, Southampton or Portsmouth. Trains heading to any of these places will do you just fine.

I jumped on a Littlehampton service – though decided not to take it all the way back to Gatwick yet again. I was more interested in what the train itself was like!

The cost

Before any Railcard discounts, you’ll find that a single costs £19.40, with an Anytime Return costing £38.80. An Off-Peak Day Return costs £19.50. There isn’t a huge difference between Southern and Gatwick Express in the peaks, but if you need to make an Off-Peak return journey on the same day, there’s a much larger difference.

Still, a £4.90 saving is money you could spend on your actual holiday!

The train itself

Southern services are operated by Class 377 “Electrostar” trains. They look pretty much the same as the Gatwick Express trains, but they’re a bit older. Most services will have eight or 12 coaches, depending on the time of day and where the train is going.

class 377 train at london victoria

Storing your luggage

I noticed that this particular type of train didn’t have any stacks visible in the carriages. Instead, you just had the overhead racks which looked able to take a cabin-sized suitcase:

overhead luggage racks on a class 377

Because of the way the seats were laid out, you could also store some luggage between the seatbacks. It certainly isn’t the best train to Gatwick Airport for luggage, but only those with the larger cases would struggle. In any event, the stacks available on Gatwick Express would struggle with the biggest cases, too.

The seat experience

Weirdly, you’ll find two types of seat on most Southern trains. The outer carriages of each four-coach train (so on a 12-car, that’ll be coaches 1, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 12) have seating arranged in a 2+2 layout. You’ll find full-sized tables, too. It looks a bit like the image below (but without the First Class stickers):

first class on a class 377 train

In the ‘centre’ carriages of the train, it’s laid out a little differently. You’ll find seating in a 3+2 layout with smaller tables in the bays of four and six:

3+2 seating layout in standard class on a class 377

Both kinds of seats are fine, though naturally the ones in the top image are a little nicer. In fact, if we were rating the trains on seat comfort alone, then this would be the best train to Gatwick.

Some trains have sockets at the window seats, but not all. Southern is working their way through refurbishing their trains at the minute, so in time they’ll all have the same features. For example, one four-car set had them on my train, but the others didn’t.

All seats have reading lights – this seems to be a feature of all the Electrostar trains!

Fancy an upgrade?

On this trip, you really don’t. Much like on Gatwick Express, you aren’t getting much more for your money. You might get a power socket, but that’s about it. First Class on these trains used to be a way to get a seat in the morning peak rather than a chance to sit in the lap of luxury.

Save your money and treat yourself to something nice when you go on holiday instead!

Onboard service

Similar to Gatwick Express, there was an On-board Supervisor on the train. He made an announcement and said where he was located, so at least you knew where to go if you needed anything.

Staying connected

As I’d realised by now, the WiFi is the same as on Thameslink and Gatwick Express, so I didn’t test it. Basically, it’s fine for browsing but not much else.

Final thoughts

Is Southern the best train to Gatwick Airport? Well, luggage space isn’t great, but it’s a lot more frequent than Gatwick Express and it’s a little cheaper. There’ll always be a train waiting for you at Victoria to take during most of the day.

The train I caught was clean and there were lots of free seats, so it seems like a good and dependable option.

On a cost basis, I’d still prefer Thameslink – but Southern has the benefit of all trains taking the same amount of time and there being someone on board if you have any questions.

Verdict – what’s the best train to Gatwick Airport?

I’d have to say that Thameslink is the best train to Gatwick Airport. That’s for a number of reasons:

It isn’t perfect, by any means. There’s nobody else on board other than the driver, and the amount of luggage stacks isn’t fantastic. But the thing is, none of the operators, in my view, offered enough luggage space.

Gatwick Express is simply too expensive for what it is. Plus a half-hourly train isn’t exactly turn up and go.

Whichever company you choose though, you can book without fees on Railsmartr. We won’t charge you any fees if you change your mind and need a refund on your Anytime, Off-Peak and Super-Off-Peak tickets, either.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking for more information about London? Take a look at our page about travelling around London. You’ll find everything you need to know, including how to understand your ticket, and your best options for reaching other London airports, including Heathrow. Don’t forget to take a look at our quick guide to crossing London or the Elizabeth Line, either.

*All fares quoted in this article are correct as of 28/03/2023 and represent the options when purchasing an eTicket or paper ticket. Cheaper options may be available on some routes at some times of the day when using contactless payments. Railsmartr is not responsible for any loss or inconvenience as a result of the information provided. Visit tfl.gov.uk for more information.

What’s the best train from London to Birmingham?

If you’re looking at travelling from London to Birmingham (or vice-versa), you’ve probably noticed that you have quite a bit of choice! Three choices, in fact. You can take Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways or London Northwestern Railway. But what’s the best train from London to Birmingham? Well, in March 2023, I took a trip from Birmingham to London, and back, then back to London, to find out.

Who runs the trains between London and Birmingham?

Before we work out the best train between London and Birmingham, we should take a quick look at who runs them.

There are three companies to choose from:

Finding the best train from London to Birmingham – the plan

I was setting myself up for quite the day. Starting in Newcastle at 06:40, I’d need to make the 3hr 20min trip down to Birmingham New Street to start this scientific adventure.

First up was the slowest of the three – London Northwestern Railway. I’d be leaving Birmingham at 10:36 and getting into the capital for 12:49 before having a spot of lunch. I didn’t want to make the connections too tight in case of delays.

Avanti West Coast were next, taking me straight back up to Birmingham New Street at 14:16, arriving at 15:48.

Finally, I’d be taking a stroll across Birmingham to Snow Hill station where I’d be taking the 16:51 Chiltern Railways train to London Marylebone, arriving at 18:41.

All that awaited me now was the 05:30 alarm…

Trip 1 – London Northwestern Railway

First up in the battle to be the best train from London to Birmingham was the super-budget London Northwestern Railway. Leaving at 10:36 from Birmingham New Street, we were due into London Euston at 12:49. This was going to be the slowest train of the day!

They run trains every half an hour, with the timetable having been simplified on this route last December.

The cost

I paid £12.20 for an Advance single on my train (with a 16-25 Railcard) a week in advance. However, this is by no means the cheapest possible fare.

An Advance single (without Railcard) starts at £8 one way. Tickets on the day range from £29.00 for a Super Off-Peak Return to £99.20 for an Anytime Return (correct as of March 2023).

Waiting to get on board

Birmingham New Street can be quite the confusing station to navigate, with different coloured lounges and various sets of ticket gates to get onto the platforms. Fear not though, all of the departure boards tell you which coloured area to aim for:

birmingham new street station boards showing which coloured zone to wait in

If you’re coming off a connecting train instead, head to the ‘b’ ends of the platforms. This allows you to switch over to your connection without running in and out of different sets of barriers. I had a while to wait though, so ended up using an ‘a’ end and having a walk around the station. It’s a lot less bleak than the rather dark and dingy platforms!

birmingham new street station concourse

My best advice if you’re peckish and on a budget would be to head up the escalator on the left of the picture above. There’s a Tesco on the upper level (part of “Grand Central”) which sells all the usual meal deals and such at the normal prices you’d expect.

With a cheese twist in hand, I headed for the platforms and was happy to see that my train was already there and ready for boarding. Most London Northwestern trains to and from London arrive around half an hour before they leave again and they’re usually left unlocked. So, you have plenty of time to find yourself a seat.

The train itself

London Northwestern Railway runs a fleet of Class 350 ‘Desiro’ trains on all services between London and Birmingham. There are a couple of different types, with some having tables and sockets, while others are laid out for short-distance commuter trips. Most run as eight coaches on these services. In the peak hours, you might find that an extra four coaches are added/removed at Northampton, so that 12 coaches run between London and Northampton.

They’re fairly decent looking trains, having been reliably running on the West Coast Mainline for nearly two decades:

train 1 in the mission to find the best train from london to birmingham - class 350 train at birmingham new street

The seat experience

So, remember when I said that some trains on the route are really meant for short-distance commutes? As soon as I got to the platform, my heart sank, as I could see that at least one part of the train was one of these. This is the chance you take when you book with London Northwestern!

A quick pace down the platform didn’t get me any further luck, as it turned out that both of the four-coach trains that formed the service were the same type. I gave up and went back to the rear, which seemed to be the quietest place to go. You’re most likely to get a seat in coaches 7 and 8.

So, what are the seats like? Let’s take a look:

interior of class 350 train showing 3+2 seating - not the best train from london to birmingham!

Yep, they aren’t winning any awards for comfort. This type of train doesn’t have any sockets, either, so bring a powerbank just in case.

I found myself an airline-style pair of seats which had a reasonable amount of legroom (I’m 6ft). They were firm but I soon settled myself in, even if I was a little peeved that I’d drawn the short straw.

If you end up with the ‘other’ type of train on this route, you’ll get 2+2 seating with tables and sockets. Unfortunately you can’t guarantee which type you’ll get, though!

Storing your luggage

I couldn’t see any proper luggage stacks in the carriages I walked through, so the luggage racks you see in the image above are all you’ve got.

They looked large enough to store a cabin-sized suitcase so will be enough for most. I certainly wouldn’t take this train if I was taking the kitchen sink with me, though! Throughout the journey, I didn’t see anyone struggling to store anything and there weren’t any cases randomly left around the doors.

Fancy an upgrade?

First Class fares start at £20.30 one way (without a Railcard). No matter which type of train you get, it’s all mostly the same. This means that on a train like mine, it’s a bit of an upgrade, but it’s almost a downgrade on the more ‘luxurious’ ones.

What perks do you get? Curtains and a seat that reclines, as well as a guaranteed power socket. I was surprised to see that the compartment was really busy though, so this is the best photo I could get to show what the seats are like:

class 350 first class interior showing 2+2 seating

It certainly won’t be winning the award for best train from London to Birmingham in First Class, that’s for sure. If you really want to upgrade on the day though, it’s £10 single and £15 return on weekends. You can do it on board, too. There’s more info on the London Northwestern Railway website.

Update From May 21st, 2023, First Class fares will no longer be offered on this route. So you can enjoy a ‘free’ upgrade to these seats from this date if you’d like!

If you’re feeling peckish

Then you go to the shop before you get on. There isn’t any catering on these trains! As I mentioned earlier, there’s a Tesco in Birmingham New Street if you’re on a budget. London Euston has plenty of options as well, including an M&S.

Onboard service

There were at least two different guards on board but they didn’t make good on their promise of ‘walking through the train’. All you’d get were slightly-too-loud announcements repeating what the automated ones had just said. No tickets were checked, either.

I wasn’t overly impressed but on one train we passed at Northampton I could see the guard with a ticket machine around the centre of the set. So it’s possible that your guard might actually make themselves seen!

Final thoughts

We arrived in London Euston on time, at 12:49. What did I think of London Northwestern Railway? It definitely isn’t the best train between London and Birmingham, but it can be very cheap, especially if you have a Railcard.

You have to know what to expect, which is that this is a commuter train between Birmingham and Northampton and Northampton to London. It just so happens that it runs all the way through. If time isn’t of the essence and you find a bargain, go for it. After all, it was a well-kept train and noticeably very clean.

Trip 2 – Avanti West Coast

After a spot of lunch in the Doric Arch pub over the road, it was time for the next train. My train was the 14:16 Avanti West Coast service to Preston via Birmingham, and it was set to take just over an hour and a half. This was a good 45 minutes or so quicker than London Northwestern! On time alone, you could say that this was the best train between London and Birmingham.

Avanti generally run two trains per hour between London and Birmingham, though the eventual aim is to get this back up to three. COVID-19 staff shortages and DfT cost-cutting have meant that this date keeps getting pushed back. At the minute, you’ll find a couple of hours in the morning and evening peaks where there’s a third train every hour.

The cost

It was £20.85 for an Advance single (with a 16-25 Railcard) booked a week in advance. If you want a much cheaper price on Avanti, you’ll need to plan ahead a little more.

Fares do start at £8 (without a Railcard) but it seems that this isn’t too common. The best I could find was £14 on the late-night trains two months ahead*. Even then, London Northwestern Railway undercut this by a fair amount:

If you want to buy a ticket on the day, it’s £65.80 for an Off-Peak Return or a whopping £188.80 for the Anytime version.

*Fares quoted are correct at 27/03/23 for 24/05/23 and are subject to change at any time. Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of this information.

Waiting to get on board

London Euston is pretty infamous for the ‘Euston Scrum’. This is what happens when everyone has to wait on the concourse before a train is announced before making a beeline for it as soon as the platform appears on the screen!

It isn’t pleasant, so Network Rail tried to ‘fix’ the issue by replacing the big set of departure boards with two smaller sets:

london euston station concourse

While the boards are definitely better, it’s a bit of a strange place to put them. In any event, I’d looked up my platform online already, so I just hovered around at the top of the ramp. Just under 20 minutes before the train leaves, the platform is announced. There’s also a full ticket check before you get on.

This just applies to Avanti trains. If you’re taking a London Northwestern train, there’s usually nobody checking tickets or you’ll just have to pop it in a gate.

I had to be quick after the train was announced, as people were already running for the platform! The general atmosphere for this way of boarding is never great, and it affects Avanti the most here.

The train itself

I was taking a nine-car Pendolino train today. Introduced to the route in the early 2000s, they’re certainly rather striking. They’re capable of tilting around corners and have a bit of an ‘airplane’ feel inside.

In the early 2010s, some sets were extended to 11 cars and several new ones were built, as well. As we speak, they’re also getting a pretty extensive refurbishment.

Unfortunately, I was in for the ‘original’ experience, which was an unrefurbished nine-car. At the time of writing, most trains haven’t been refurbished just yet.

train 2 of the trip to find the best train from london to birmingham - class 390 at london euston

Storing your luggage

I headed for the unreserved coach, which is Coach C on these trains. Every carriage has quite a few luggage stacks dotted around, so you won’t struggle for space.

I wrote in my review of luggage space on trains that I was pretty impressed by the overhead racks, too. Just beware that they’re smaller in some parts of the train. This is usually where there’s equipment on the roof.

unrefurbished class 390 interior

The seat experience

The seats are fairly pleasant, though legroom is a little tight in the airline-style ones. The reason I made a beeline for a table seat is that they’re the only seats with sockets on the unrefurbished trains. By each window table seat, you’ll find two USB sockets and a three-pin one:

sockets at a table on a class 390

The one ‘hack’ for getting around needing a full-sized table to use a socket is in Coach A. Seat A28 has a half-sized table but it faces a luggage rack, so you’ll not have anyone sat opposite you. A21 is the same, but it doesn’t have much of a window view. You’ll find these seats at the very back of the train heading south, and the very front going north.

On the refurbished trains, there are sockets at every seat. It’ll just take a little while for every train to be done.

The one thing I had noticed though was that everything was fairly shabby. The seat next to me had a massive rip in it and the seat-backs had paint peeling off. Clearly with refurbishment on the horizon, standards have slipped.

Fancy an upgrade?

First Class fares start at £42 one-way for an Advance single (without Railcard). For this, you’ll get a bigger reclining seat, as well as complimentary food and drink (menus available here).

However, if you just want to upgrade on the fly, you can try Standard Premium. In a nutshell, it’s the First Class carriage without the free food and drink. It’s £25 to upgrade on board. I’ve tried this before and it was definitely worth it for the extra space, but remember that £25 is the price no matter how far you go.

standard premium on a class 390 showing 2+1 seating

If you’re feeling peckish

There’s a shop in Coach C. It sells quite a variety of food and drink, and it has the positive of allowing you to browse what’s on offer without needing to ask.

It opened pretty much straight away after leaving Euston, and was doing good business all the way through to Birmingham. Prices were about what you’d expect for a train, with a meal deal including a sandwich coming to £5.90 (as of March 2023). You can find the full menu here.

fridges in the shop on a class 390 showing sandwiches and drinks - the best train from london to birmingham for catering

At the time of writing, at-seat service is technically available in Standard. I say ‘technically’, because I have never known this to be working. From May 2023, it’s going to be discontinued.

Onboard service

The Train Manager made an announcement and again claimed that they’d be walking through the train, but I never saw them. We did however have regular runs from cleaning staff with bin bags.

Final thoughts

If you want a ‘long-distance train’ experience, then Avanti is likely to be the best train between London and Birmingham. The main stickler is that it’s quite expensive, and even booking in advance doesn’t get it anywhere near the price of London Northwestern Railway.

Coach C was very busy, too. I had two other people at the table with me for most of the trip. It’s definitely better if you have a seat reserved in advance (and a suitable one, at that), as some trains just don’t have many unreserved places.

Still though, we arrived into Birmingham New Street on time. It’s a better bet if you have lots of luggage too, as there’s plenty of space for it.

Trip 3 – Chiltern Railways

It was time for the final trip. So far I didn’t have any overwhelming feelings about what the best train from London to Birmingham was, as both companies had been pretty much as expected. One was cheap and felt like a commuter train, one was more expensive and felt like a ‘proper’ one.

Chiltern almost falls in the middle. My 16:51 train from Birmingham Snow Hill to London Marylebone took 1hr 50min, which is one of their faster ones on the route.

You’ll find two trains per hour on the route for most of the day, though one per hour tends to start from Birmingham Moor Street during Off-Peak hours.

The cost

My Advance single ticket from Birmingham Snow Hill to London Marylebone cost £13.20 (with Railcard) booked a week in Advance. Tickets start at £6.40 (without Railcard) one way. Even on the day I booked, you could find some cheaper trains at a similar time for £10.55 (with Railcard).

If you want to buy on the day, fares range from £36.40 (Super Off-Peak Return) to £135.30 (Anytime Return) as of March 2023.

Waiting to get on board

Birmingham Snow Hill station certainly won’t be winning any design awards. It’s a pretty depressing Brutalist building with all of the platforms underground. That said, it’s small and there’s plenty of space to wait, so it isn’t truly awful. If you want some fresh air, you can go right to the back of the platforms.

platforms at birmingham snow hill station

It’s worth mentioning that the other station, Birmingham Moor Street, is significantly nicer. Restored back to its original GWR heyday, you’ll probably prefer to wait around here if you can:

concourse at birmingham moor street station

The reason I’d picked Snow Hill was so that I could have the first pick of seats when the train arrived. It was also so I could show you what the interior was like before it became swarmed with people!

The train arrived in from London on-time at 16:39, meaning that it was a fairly short wait til it went back to London. This varies throughout the day, but usually the train will be there a little earlier. In any event, there wasn’t much of a crowd waiting, with most people who want this train jumping on at Moor Street instead.

Notably, quite a crowd joined at Birmingham Moor Street. If you’re taking a train that starts at Snow Hill at a busy hour of the day, it might be best to book from there. The platform that these trains use at Moor Street is quite narrow and it didn’t look like the most comfortable place to wait.

The train itself

Today I had a three-car and two-car Class 168 Chiltern Clubman coupled together to make a five-car train. Anything from three to six cars is common on the route, but I’ve never experienced anything severely overcrowded.

My train had been built in 2000, so it was around the same age as me! I couldn’t get a photo until we arrived in London, but it’s the train on the left:

train 3 on the mission to find the best train from london to birmingham - class 168 at london marylebone

Storing your luggage

It did take a bit of looking, but there are luggage stacks on this train. You’ll find them right at the inner ends, usually opposite a toilet or next to the doors between the carriages.

The overhead racks looked capable of storing cabin-sized suitcases at a push, but it might have been a little cosy. It certainly wasn’t the best train from London to Birmingham for luggage, but most people wouldn’t have a problem. During the journey I certainly didn’t notice anyone struggling to store anything.

The seat experience

The one thing that you notice when you board is that these are fairly classy looking trains. There are actually two kinds of seats, with the ones at the carriage ends having a bit of a flatter and thinner back and headrest. The most comfortable ones have more of a wraparound headrest and look like this:

class 168 interior

You’ll find a socket at every window seat, including at the tables. The seats themselves are really quite comfortable and probably the best of the three trains I’d tried.

Fancy an upgrade?

In most cases, it’s tough luck. Chiltern abolished First Class quite a few years ago! According to their website, the ‘Business Zone’ carriage isn’t available either. This was a carriage on certain trains where you could pay on board and upgrade for a bigger seat and more space. However, I’ve noticed trains still running around with this carriage, and consensus seems to be that if it’s available, you can travel in it without an extra charge.

If you’re feeling peckish

Go to the shop beforehand! There isn’t any catering on Chiltern trains. Snow Hill is near a number of shops including a Tesco. At Marylebone, you’ll find an M&S Food.

Onboard service

All Chiltern trains need to have a guard on board between Birmingham and Banbury. After that, the driver can operate the doors in most cases.

Before we left Snow Hill, the guard made an announcement and came through the train checking tickets multiple times on the trip. After two trips with totally invisible staff, this was quite a breath of fresh air. He was friendly, efficient and enthusiastic.

Final thoughts

This was probably my favourite journey of the three. The train was clean, comfortable and laid out properly for the sort of journeys being made on it. The atmosphere on board as well was completely different to the other two trains.

Everyone was chatting to each other and I spent the second half of the trip talking to a mother and daughter off to the theatre. Naturally this isn’t going to happen on every train, but it was nice nonetheless.

We arrived four minutes late into Marylebone, having followed a late-running West Midlands Railway train for the first part of the trip out of Birmingham. It was only 15 minutes or so slower than the more expensive Avanti train, which seemed a fair compromise considering how much cheaper it was.

Marylebone is a charming little terminus to arrive and depart from, too. It’s one of the smallest London stations and doesn’t have the ‘chaotic’ feeling of the likes of Euston:

station concourse at london marylebone - the end of the journey to find the best train from london to birmingham

Keep an eye out for some of the old Network South East signage, too (like the ‘tickets’ sign). Rather quirky considering it hasn’t existed for three decades!

The verdict – what’s the best train from London to Birmingham?

I’d say that the best train from London to Birmingham, all things considered, is the one operated by Chiltern Railways.

It doesn’t do catering or First Class, but it was a good balance between cost and journey time. The trains are classy and comfortable, too. It’s also the only train I caught where the guard actively walked through and checked tickets.

There’s no doubt that London Northwestern Railway will likely give you the cheapest of the cheap fares, but the trains often reflect that.

Avanti West Coast would likely for some be the best train from London to Birmingham. After all, it’s the fastest and has the most amenities. But boarding at Euston can be quite stressful and the price is quite a bit higher than the alternatives. The train I caught also felt rather unloved!

Both London Northwestern Railway and Avanti West Coast are receiving new and refurbished trains on these routes, so it’d be interesting to give this another go in the future and see if Chiltern still come out on top. Notably, from May 2023, it’s expected that the average journey time on Chiltern will increase to around two hours. The trade-off is that the likes of Warwick get more direct trains to London.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to know more about the Capital? Take a look at our guide to travelling to London. We’ll tell you about getting the best fares on routes like Edinburgh to London and Southend to London, as well as whether it’s worth upgrading to First Class on Avanti.

No matter which train you choose though, don’t forget that you can book all of them fee-free with Railsmartr. We don’t charge any fees if you change your plans, either.