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Our Top 5 tips for cheap First Class train tickets

So, you want a bit of luxury without paying for the luxury price? Sometimes, it’s nice to treat yourself to First Class once in a while, but the price can be off-putting. No worries, we’ve got you covered. Here are our top five tips for bagging cheap First Class train tickets.

What are the best ways to get cheap First Class train tickets?

It might seem that ‘cheap’ and ‘First Class’ don’t go together in the same sentence, but there can be some bargains if you know where to look. Whether that means following a particular route or avoiding certain times, let’s have a look at some of the best ways to save.

1. Avoid London

London can attract a premium (and lots of people want to go there!) So, if you’re after a trip in First Class for less, we’d recommend leaving it for a journey that avoids the capital. The same usually applies for Standard Class, too. Let’s take a look at an example where we’re travelling from York a month in advance:


It’s £45.50 to travel in Standard Class to London, or £95.70 in First Class. That’s more than twice the Standard Class fare!

Meanwhile, let’s see what happens if we go in the other direction and head for Edinburgh instead:

railsmartr website showing cheap first class train tickets from york to edinburgh


It’s £36.00 for Standard Class, and £52.40 for First Class. That’s a much smaller difference, and it isn’t a bad fare for a journey of over two and a half hours. So, your first step to finding cheap First Class train tickets is being choosy about where you go.

2. Pick a Friday morning for London trips

So, you want cheap First Class train tickets and you want to travel to London? Your best bet is to travel down on a Friday morning. In particular, you’ll find that this makes a difference for trips on the East Coast Main Line (Edinburgh – Newcastle – London) and West Coast Main Line (Glasgow – Preston – London and Birmingham – London).

This is because peak time restrictions are eased on a Friday. There’s less business-oriented travel too, so the trains are usually quieter. Because the most expensive tickets are Super Off-Peak ones, rather than Anytime or Off-Peak, this effectively ‘caps’ all of the cheaper Advance tickets.

3. Avoid the Frills

This depends on why exactly you’d like to travel in First Class. Do you want the full works with food and drinks, or do you just want a bigger seat to stretch out in with a cup of coffee? You might find cheap First Class train tickets with companies that don’t go all-out with the free food.

For example, we looked at York to London earlier, and found that it could be quite pricey. Let’s have a look and see how it compares if we choose Grand Central instead:

cheap first class train tickets on grand central on railsmartr site


It’s still quite a bit more than you’d pay for Standard Class, but £55.00 is a more reasonable price than what we were finding above. You won’t get the same level of service, but you’ll still get a more spacious environment. In fact, we’ve written about the best First Class trains so that you can compare every First Class product across Great Britain.

The same applies if you pick an LNER train that doesn’t have such a substantial food menu, as there are three different menus to pick from (Dine is the largest, followed by Dish, then the most limited one is Deli). You can check which menu is scheduled on northbound trains here and southbound trains here.

4. Try Standard Premium

Did you know that Avanti West Coast gives you the option of travelling in a First Class carriage, sometimes for a fraction of the cost of a First Class ticket? Standard Premium is essentially First Class without the free food and drink. It’s the same seat and the same environment.

standard premium carriage on avanti west coast


You don’t have to book it in advance, either. All you have to do is buy a Standard Class ticket, then take a free seat in Standard Premium. It costs up to £30 to upgrade on board, and the conductor will sell you the upgrade when they check tickets. You can book Advance tickets for Standard Premium, too. Let’s see what we get if we want to go from Carlisle to Crewe a month in advance:

standard premium fares on avanti west coast on railsmartr website


So, it’s £16.40 for Standard Class, £31.40 for Standard Premium and a rather high £85.80 for First Class. That’s quite a saving over sitting in a traditional First Class carriage! We’ve also compared Standard Premium v First Class so you can see which upgrade is best for you.


5. Keep an eye out for last-minute bargains

Cheap First Class train tickets don’t have to be booked up months in advance. Sometimes, if you’re travelling at the last-minute, there’s very little difference in price between Standard Class and First Class. It might even be cheaper! Let’s take a look at travelling from York to Newcastle this coming Saturday:

cheap first class train tickets on railsmartr site


That’s just over an extra fiver to travel in First Class, so it’s not a great deal more expensive. So, why is there very little difference on some trains and a huge one on others? In a nutshell, when it gets very close to departure, the cheaper ‘tiers’ of Advance tickets start to sell out. This can happen at a faster rate for Standard Class than First Class.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to know more about First Class? Take a look at our dedicated page for First Class train travel. We’re here to help with upgrading on board and even travelling in First Class for free. We’ve also compared Avanti West Coast and LNER.

The final thing we’d recommend is using the Railsmartr website to book your cheap First Class train tickets. 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 09:00 12/07/23 unless otherwise stated. All information is issued in good faith. 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.

How to travel in First Class for free

Not a lot of things in life are free. So, did you know that you can travel in First Class for free on some trains? In a nutshell, First Class isn’t scheduled on every train. So, when a train turns up that has it, you can treat it just like Standard Class. Here’s our guide to which services are fair game when you fancy a cheeky upgrade. Just make sure you have a Standard Class ticket, first.

Can I really travel in First Class for free?

Well, not all the time, obviously. You can’t just plonk yourself down on any train and travel for no extra cost. But, there are some trains that are effectively ‘Standard Class only’. Some companies will let you know that this is the case, but others keep it very quiet. If you’re ever unsure, just ask a member of staff.


If you’re travelling on ScotRail, then keep an eye out for the ‘eXpress’ branded trains. They have four carriages and run on a number of different routes around the Central Belt:

class 385 train with first class


They mostly run between Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street. This ‘fast’ route between the two cities does have First Class, but any other route is Standard Class only.

This means that you can travel in First Class for free on routes like these ones:

Usually, these routes will have the three-coach version of this train, which doesn’t have First Class, but swaps do happen. Just keep an eye out for the yellow markings around the windows, like in the photo above. If you do get a train that has a First Class area, you can expect a bigger seat, and a lot more space.

This isn’t the only type of train where you can try First Class for free. Trains to Cowdenbeath and Glenrothes, as well as local stopping trains between Edinburgh and Perth or Dundee don’t have First Class advertised, either. If you get one of these trains, you can sit in a First Class section like this one at no extra cost:

first class for free on a scotrail train


Stansted Express

So, most of the time, Stansted Express trains don’t have First Class. But, did you know that an almost-identical fleet of trains, which usually runs between Norwich and London, does? Sometimes, one of these trains will find its way onto the Stansted Express route. When it does, you can travel in First Class for free!

It’s a bit more spacious and in a 2+1 layout. Even in Standard Class, it’s a little more luxurious as it has full-sized tables.

How do you know if your train has First Class? You can do one of two things:


This one is nice and easy. As of December 2022, Southeastern doesn’t have any First Class on its trains. This doesn’t mean that they’ve rushed to rip out all of the First Class seats, though.

If you’re on a train that has seating in a 3+2 layout, but there’s a section of 2+2 seating that looks a bit nicer, this is what used to be First Class. Feel free to take a seat! You’ll usually find these sections behind the driver’s cab.


A lot of suburban trains around London have carriages where you can sit in First Class for free. In particular, there are quite a few that are operated by Southern.

Now, they aren’t much to write home about. The seats are exactly the same, just with a marking on that says that they’re First Class. But, because not everyone knows that this only applies on some routes, it does mean that you have a better chance of getting a seat at busy times.

As of July 2023, the following trains are shown as ‘Standard Class only’ in the timetable:

As well as this, there are some routes around Sussex that don’t have First Class advertised:

All of these trains share at least part of their route with another train that does have First Class advertised. So, we’d recommend checking with staff if you’re unsure. You can also check the timetable. If it has First Class, you’ll see a little ‘1’ symbol above the train.

South Western Railway

Travelling to Windsor, Hounslow, Reading or Weybridge via Chertsey? Then if you have a ‘Desiro‘ train, you can sit in First Class for free. They look like this:

class 450 train


As they normally run on longer-distance trains too, they have First Class. You’ll find the First Class section behind the driver’s cab on each four carriage train (so in carriages 1, 4, 5 and 8 on an eight-coach one). For your ‘free’ upgrade, you’ll get a bigger seat in a 2+2 layout, a table to work at and wireless charging.


You can always sit in First Class for free on Thameslink. You just need to make sure that you’re sitting in the right place. Basically, there are two First Class sections on every train, and they look like this:

interior of first class on a thameslink train to gatwick airport


You’ll get a much bigger seat, access to a power socket, and tables to work at. Basically, it’s a decent upgrade compared to Standard Class.

So, when can you use it? The rear First Class compartment is always counted as Standard Class. No matter which Thameslink train you use, you can always sit in the rear carriage of First Class for free.

On these routes, the whole train is counted as Standard Class:

West Midlands Trains

West Midlands Trains have abolished First Class as of May 2023. As a result, you can sit in any former First Class section for free when you have a Standard Class ticket.

Is there anything else I should know?

This list isn’t completely exhaustive, so you might come across other trains which allow you to travel in First Class for free. Just check the timetable and see if there’s a ‘1’ symbol above the train you want to use! It goes without saying that of course, free doesn’t mean completely free. You still need a valid Standard Class ticket to travel. If you’d like to know more about what First Class is like, you can take a look at our guide to the best First Class trains.

Looking to know more about First Class? Take a look at our dedicated page for First Class train travel. We’re here to help with our Top 5 Tips for getting cheaper fares and upgrading on board. We’ve also compared Avanti West Coast and LNER, as well as Standard Premium and First Class.

Thinking of taking a trip soon? You can book it all with Railsmartr. We’ll be sure to show you the slower and cheaper options, so you can get the best value fare for your journey.

Changed your mind? Need to travel on a different day? No problem at all. You can change or refund your ticket (if it’s refundable) without any extra fees.

All information stated on this page was correct at 06/07/23. It’s subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of the information provided. You always need a valid ticket to travel and it is your responsibility to ensure that it is valid.

Avanti vs LNER First Class – which is better?

Avanti West Coast and LNER are the two ‘premier’ north to south rail operators in Great Britain. If you’re going between London and Scotland, it’s likely that you’ll be picking from one of them. If you’re wanting to travel in First Class, then you’ll definitely be picking from one of them! So, I set out to compare Avanti vs LNER, and see who offers the best First Class product for the money.

The cost of Avanti vs LNER First Class

One of the most important factors to consider when you’re booking an Avanti vs LNER First Class journey is the cost. After all, First Class can be expensive, so you’re likely to want to book it in advance. Let’s say that we want to travel from London to Edinburgh a month in advance, in the middle of the day, and see how much it costs:

avanti west coast first class fares - avanti vs lner first class comparison


The 12:16 Avanti West Coast service is £151.00. There’s also the option of paying £94.00 for Standard Premium if you’d prefer.

Meanwhile, it’s a little cheaper to take LNER at 12:30 instead:

lner first class fares - avanti vs lner first class comparison


It’s £132.40 to make this trip. It isn’t a huge saving, but LNER just edges out Avanti in the battle of Avanti vs LNER First Class. As I mentioned in my look at Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class, the advent of Standard Premium has caused First Class to generally be more expensive.

Avanti vs LNER First Class seats

So, let’s start out with the seats. Who has the better place to sit? Let’s start with Avanti West Coast. The trains are slowly getting a freshen up, and I was lucky enough to travel on a refurbished one:

avanti first class pendolino interior


The seats were well-padded and comfortable with a good amount of recline. There’s a bit of a wing on the headrest which provides good support, too. You’ll find plenty of power sockets if you need to get some work done:

avanti pendolino power sockets


The only awkward thing is the huge ‘lip’ on the table as it curves upwards towards the window. You’ll probably struggle to use a mouse without leaving a fair amount of extra space, if you’re right-handed. The same goes if you’re left-handed and sat on the left. On the plus side though, the ride quality is nice and smooth.

As for LNER, they have fairly large First Class seats:

lner first class interior


They have a reasonable amount of recline and I’m always able to get fairly comfortable in them. The headrest is a bit hard though (it’s not like the ones in the photo above anymore), and they’re a bit prone to falling off the seat entirely.

Power sockets are in a better place as they’re under the armrests. There’s still a bit of a lip on the tables for four, but it isn’t quite as drastic as on the Avanti trains. The ride quality is a bit bouncy though, and I’ve witnessed glasses of red wine splashing all over the table (plus it can make working on your laptop a bit trickier).

Overall, the seats are fairly similar. In terms of Avanti vs LNER First Class seats, I’d say that the actual seat and ride quality is a little better on Avanti, but you have more space to work (and better placed sockets) on LNER.

Who has the better service?

When you’re comparing Avanti vs LNER First Class, you also want to be sure that you’re going to get a great level of service. After all, it’s a premium product, so you’d expect premium treatment.

On my journey from Carlisle to Crewe, I was genuinely impressed by the staff. As soon as I boarded, someone approached me and asked what I’d like to eat, and listed off the options. I hadn’t even sat my laptop up or put my bag away! The staff were friendly, but professional and unobtrusive. I was even offered a hot drink on a shorter subsequent journey (Crewe to Liverpool). Nothing was too much trouble.

I’m an LNER regular, as I’m from the North East. So, I’ve had plenty of experience with the sort of service that you get over the years. In general, the staff are great (particularly the Geordie and Scottish crews) and we’ve left the rather weird days of Virgin Trains East Coast where you got the impression that quite a few of them didn’t really want to be there.

On my journey from Newcastle to Edinburgh, the service was a bit mixed. The drinks trolley came around asking if people wanted hot drinks (I didn’t). But then, I watched the gentleman on the trolley giving out cold drinks so I had to call him back and ask. The menu was also drastically more limited than advertised (with no apologies made, more on that later). The crew were doing their best though, and I wouldn’t say that they did a bad job. It was just poor luck that it was a very busy train with a limited menu.

Avanti vs LNER First Class food

So, what’s on the menu? These days, it’s fairly ‘static’ and First Class menus on trains don’t seem to rotate as often as they used to. Both of the trains I’m comparing were scheduled to offer a fairly similar menu, which in this case was their most extensive breakfast menu.

Avanti West Coast

The menu on Avanti West Coast can vary, depending on whether you’re travelling on a Voyager or Pendolino train. It’s a bit more limited on weekends, too. In my case, I was travelling on a weekday Pendolino train.

So, did the food live up to expectations? I thought it looked the part:

breakfast served on avanti first class pendolino - avanti vs lner first class comparison


The toast was a welcome addition, too. Everything was tasty, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. My only gripe was the scrambled eggs! The best way to describe them is that they were like the ones you’d find at a hotel buffet abroad. That is, they were a bit gritty and the texture in general was rather off. The good news is that if you made the same journey today, you’d get a fried egg instead.

Was it a huge portion? It wasn’t, but combined with the toast, it was fair. It kept me satisfied and it didn’t feel too stingy.


So, what about LNER? The Dine menu is what my train had scheduled for it. It was even off to a great start, as the right menus were out on the tables.

“We don’t have a chef”.

Oh dear.

It wasn’t the first time that this had happened. I’ve never actually seen the ‘full LNER’ breakfast with my own eyes. Instead, it was the lowly bacon roll:

bacon roll served in lner first class - avanti vs lner first class comparison


The vegan sausage roll was available too, or overnight oats. The bacon roll was fine, and it was well-cooked and well-filled. As a bacon roll, you can’t complain. But it was still just a bacon roll.


The last thing it’s worth comparing with Avanti vs LNER First Class is the lounge experience. Both companies have lounges for you to use both before and after you travel.

I popped into the Avanti lounge at Crewe and found that it was pretty good. You had plenty of different kinds of seating to choose from

first class lounge at crewe station


You had plenty of food to choose from as well. It was mostly snacks, but homemade banana bread was a nice surprise. You can find a full menu online and there’s also a more substantial menu if you’re travelling from London Euston.

The LNER lounges are all rather stylish, like this one in Edinburgh:

lner first class lounge at edinburgh station


The only issue is that none of the seats are very comfortable! They’re all a bit style and aesthetics over substance and functionality, and everything is a lot firmer than it looks. The food and drink offer is very much just hot drinks, water, biscuits and crisps, too.

Both lounges do their main function well though, which is to give you a quiet place to wait before you train, and maybe to get some work done. The railway is never going to be wining and dining you like in airline lounges.

So, who has the best First Class?

See, this is a tricky one. As you’d think that based on what I’ve said, I’d be all over Avanti West Coast and recommending them to everyone. Yes, they do a good product and have great lounges, as well as some lovely staff. But, and it’s a big but, they’re often very expensive. I’d recommend staying well away on weekends as you effectively only have half a carriage of First Class on most trains (Coach K).

The introduction of Standard Premium has also meant that many of the passengers who just want a cheap upgrade for a better seat are better off sitting there instead. It’s often a lot cheaper.

Meanwhile, LNER can be great value if you’re travelling last minute. Journeys to and from London can be pricey, but let’s take Newcastle to Edinburgh as an example:

lner first class fares last minute for newcastle to edinburgh


This is for a journey tomorrow morning. It’s only an extra £11.80 to upgrade, which is a difference that many wouldn’t mind paying. You just can’t go in with expectations that are too high. You’ll be fed something, you’ll get a bigger seat and you can use the lounge at both ends of your journey.

In a sense, Avanti West Coast First Class is only worth it if you go on a weekday and the price difference isn’t too stark. LNER on the other hand is fine at any time of day, just don’t always expect the full works. My experience shows that the menu isn’t set in stone! It’s a great operator for getting a last-minute upgrade at a reasonable fare, while Avanti West Coast can be very expensive if you leave it too late.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to know more about First Class? Take a look at our dedicated page for First Class train travel. We’re here to help with finding the best First Class train, our Top 5 Tips for getting cheaper fares, upgrading on board and even how to use First Class for free. We’re also here to help with our guide to travelling to London.

Thinking of taking a trip soon? You can book it all with Railsmartr. We’ll be sure to show you the slower and cheaper options, so you can get the best value fare for your journey.

Changed your mind? Need to travel on a different day? No problem at all. You can change or refund your ticket (if it’s refundable) without any extra fees.

All fares stated on this page are for ONE adult with no Railcard discount and were correct at 16:00 05/07/23. Both they, and the First Class products shown, are subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of the information provided. All opinions expressed in this post are based on real-life experiences.

10 Advantages of travelling by train

Taking the train can be a great way to watch the world go by. Whether you’re looking to go on a business trip, holiday with family or just want to see somewhere new, here our our top 10 advantages of travelling by train.

What are the advantages of travelling by train?

There are many reasons why it’s a great idea to take to the rails. Whether you want to save money, save yourself the stress of driving or help the planet, there’s always a good excuse to have a trip. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of travelling by train:

1. You can sit back and relax

One of the main advantages of travelling by train is that someone else is doing the difficult bit, which is driving! You don’t have to worry about pulling over for a break or what happens if nature calls.

All you have to do is take a seat, sit back and watch the scenery roll by.

2. Sometimes the scenery is just better!

Sometimes the railway can get to places that roads can’t reach. Modern motorways are usually built to be efficient and to avoid any natural obstacles, while railways have been around much longer. They usually work with the landscape around them, and manage to get through places where a road would struggle. For example, the main A1 road from Edinburgh to Newcastle goes through the centre of Northumberland, while the railway gives you breathtaking sea views:

views of the northumberland coast from a lumo train


Plus, one of the big advantages of travelling by train is that you can sit back and enjoy the views. You don’t need to also stay focused on the road and everyone else around you!

3. It can be better value for money

We know that the railway can be expensive. Not every journey at every time is going to be cheap, and we won’t pretend that it is. That said, it isn’t as difficult as you’d think to find a bargain. Do you want to go from Leeds to Manchester tomorrow morning? Sure, let’s take a look at the prices:

cheap train fares from leeds to manchester on the railsmartr site


Sure, the fastest train is fairly expensive, but it’s just £8.20 to take a slightly slower one. Plus, 1hr 17min is still fairly competitive with the time it’d take to drive – without the need to find and pay for a parking space.

Many people are eligible for a Railcard too. This gives you a third off rail fares. We’ve also compiled a list of discounts you can use if you’re not able to use one.

4. You can have a bite to eat on the move

Another of the advantages of travelling by train is the fact that you can grab a bite to eat whenever you like. You could take a packed lunch, buy something at the station or even get something on the move.

If you’re travelling with LNER for example, you can use their ‘Let’s Eat at Your Seat‘ service to order food. Just scan a QR code on the back of your seat, type in where you’re seated and someone will bring it to you.

Travelling in First Class? Some companies will wine and dine you at no extra cost. Take a look at our guide to the best First Class trains to see what to expect.

5. It’s easy to stay connected

No matter whether you’re in a car, on a plane or on a coach, it isn’t exactly easy to be productive. On a plane, you need to turn on flight mode (unless you’re willing to pay for expensive WiFi – if it’s available at all) and coaches aren’t exactly spacious.

Just about every train offers some sort of free WiFi, and data signal on the railway is always improving. One of the main advantages of travelling by train is the space, too. You can easily pop your laptop on the table and get some work done (or browse!)

working on the train - an advantage of travelling by train


6. Trains are better for the planet

It’s true! It’s much better for the planet compared to driving, and even better if you take a train instead of a short-haul flight.

In fact, it’s between 66 and 75% more efficient to take the train. You can found out more about the environmental impact here.

7. In most cases, it’s faster!

As the old British Rail-era advert used to say, who’s ever heard of a train jam? Trains don’t get stuck in rush-hour traffic, and they’re able to hit speeds of up to 125mph (140 if you’re travelling between London and Ashford). Speed is another of the main advantages of travelling by train.

Let’s take a look at some journeys and see how they match up to the car:

It can be even slower in rush hour. Let’s not even think about trying to drive into Central London, either!

Times were taken on 28 Jun 2023 from Google Maps, assuming a departure time of 11am and taking the fastest available route.

8. You can get up and stretch your legs

If you’re on a train, it’s easy to get up and nip for a leg stretch. You can walk to the buffet car, nip to the loo or go and make a phone call. Coaches are a bit of a squeeze, and the seatbelt sign can come on at any time if you’re flying.

9. You can be flexible

It’s possible to buy flexible train tickets that don’t tie you to a specific train. Sure, these can be expensive if you want to buy one in the ‘prime’ commuting hours, but they can still be great value during Off-Peak times and at weekends.

Most of them allow you to break your journey, so you can hop on and off as you please for as long as your ticket is valid, so long as you keep travelling in the same direction. Popping to see some friends on the way home, or just in need of some fresh air? No problem.

10. You’re covered if things go wrong

If your train is delayed, then you’re covered by Delay Repay. Usually, it kicks in after 30 minutes, but some companies will compensate you for as little as 15 minutes delay. These days, it’s as simple as sending in a picture of your ticket and filling in a quick online form.

Missed a connection? No problem, just jump on the next train. If your ticket was for a specific train or company, you should aim for that company, but sometimes there’ll be ticket acceptance to get you home quicker. If you have a separate ticket for each train, you’re still covered, so long as you left enough time between them (usually five minutes, but up to 15 at the biggest stations).

No matter what, the National Rail Conditions of Travel say that companies must do everything they can to make sure you’re not left stranded.

Is there anything else I should know?

Ready for some inspiration? We’ve written lots of content all about day trips by train. Whether you’re travelling from Newcastle, Leeds, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow or around Kent, we’re sure to have something for you.

Thinking of taking a trip soon? You can book it all with Railsmartr. We’ll be sure to show you the slower and cheaper options, so you can get the best value fare for your journey.

Changed your mind? Need to travel on a different day? No problem at all. You can change or refund your ticket (if it’s refundable) without any extra fees.

All fares stated on this page are for ONE adult with no Railcard discount and were correct at 17:00 28/06/23. 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.

Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class

Avanti West Coast is fairly unique in that it offers three classes of travel. You can take their trains in Standard Class, Standard Premium or First Class. The premise was that Standard Premium would be the place to travel if you wanted a bigger seat but none of the fuss of the at-seat service. Now that it’s all had a chance to bed in, I decided to compare Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class. More importantly, is First Class actually worth it anymore?

What is Standard Premium?

If you’re not used to travelling on Avanti, you might be wondering what this third class of travel is all about. In a nutshell, it’s a First Class carriage with no at-seat service. You get the bigger seat, a quieter carriage and that’s it.

All of the photos you see today are of First Class, but the seats and environment themselves are exactly the same in Standard Premium. The only difference is a headrest that says ‘Standard Premium’ instead.

The upgrade cost starts at £10 and goes up to £30 depending on the length of the journey. You can pay the upgrade fee on the train, or you can also buy Advance tickets that skip this step and allow you to pay for everything at once.

What’s the difference between Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class?

In a nutshell, Standard Premium is the same environment, you get the bigger seat, a guaranteed table and better access to a power outlet.

First Class gives you at-seat service. During the week, that means a chef-prepared hot meal on some journeys, as well as other hot and cold options. You get lounge access, too.

The First Class lounges come with complimentary refreshments, such as snacks and hot drinks.

Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class pricing

This is the big stickler when it comes to comparing Standard Premium vs First Class, and had me questioning whether the extra upgrade to First was worth it anymore. Put simply, it can be a little bit extra to take Standard Premium compared to Standard, then a massive jump to upgrade to First Class. Let’s take a look at a couple of journeys a month in advance:

standard premium vs first class fares on railsmartr for a glasgow to london journey


So here, we want to travel from Glasgow to London. It’s £55 for Standard Class, £74 for Standard Premium and £125 for First Class. Standard Premium, at minimum, seems like a bit of a no-brainer for a long trip. First Class is definitely a bit steeper.

Let’s try London to Manchester:

standard premium vs first class fares on railsmartr for a london to manchester journey


So, it’s £44 to travel in Standard Class, £69 in Standard Premium and £120 in First Class. Again, there’s a fair difference there. So, when it comes to Standard Premium vs First Class, there’s definitely a steep price difference. The question is: what do you get for your money if you pay the extra?

It’s worth mentioning that you can only get Standard Premium on Pendolino trains. The limited number of Super Voyager trains only have First Class and Standard Class. These trains usually run between North Wales, Chester and Crewe or London Euston, as well as on the Shrewsbury to London route. It’s easy to tell which is which – as you won’t get offered a Standard Premium ticket for a Super Voyager!

The First Class service

I set out on June 15th, 2023, to find this out. I’d booked a ticket on the 09:10 train from Carlisle to Crewe, which took roughly two hours. This seemed like a decent length of journey to allow me to judge what kind of service you’d get in First Class.

The train rolled in a couple of minutes late, and I was already keen to jump on. The weather was hotting up and I was looking forward to a blast of air conditioning!

Getting on board

I boarded the train in Coach J and found a table for two fairly easily. It seemed to be around a third full, and I found there to be very few people sat in Coach K, as well. I had a refurbished 11-car Pendolino train, which had been given new seating throughout First, Standard Premium and Standard Class:

avanti refurbished first class


The seats were comfortable (though the same as you’d get in Standard Premium) and had a reasonable recline. The tables had an ample choice of power sockets to choose from, too:

avanti refurbished first class power sockets


My only complaint about the table is the massive wedge where it curves up. This can make working at a laptop a bit tricky if you have a larger device as it takes up a fair bit of room. Thankfully my work laptop wasn’t too big, so I had no problems.

Okay, so we’ve covered the seat experience (which you’d get in either class), so let’s get onto the First Class exclusives.

Food and drinks service

The big differentiator for Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class is the on-board service. As you can imagine, I was thrilled when a friendly crew member came through straight away taking breakfast orders. We hadn’t even left the station yet! The selection on offer was great (menu here) and I went for the Great British Breakfast. You also had the choice of white or brown toast to go with it.

Five minutes after leaving Carlisle, a drinks trolley came around offering hot and cold drinks (alcohol is available later in the day, though not at 9am) and I had myself an orange juice. It came in a proper glass, too.

The brekkie verdict

It took around 25 to 30 minutes for my food to arrive. I didn’t see that as a bad thing, as it meant that it hadn’t just been chucked in the microwave. Equally, it does mean that you can’t jump on for a 15-minute journey and hope to fill your boots. The portion size of the food was pretty decent:

avanti first class breakfast, showing toast, sausage, scrambled egg, bacon, mushroom and black pudding


The dish came with two rashers of bacon, one sausage, scrambled egg, a giant mushroom, a slice of black pudding and two slices of toast with butter. You also had the option of a roasted tomato, but I skipped out on that as I’m not a fan. It wasn’t a gut-busting mega-brekkie that you’d get down at your local greasy spoon, but it didn’t seem too skimpy. You get a choice of sauces too, and my brown sauce came in a nice ceramic dipping pot.

The sausage was delicious, as well the bacon. They were both ‘meaty’ and were of an excellent quality. The black pudding was great too, and it’s not something I usually opt for. The mushroom was tasty but a nightmare to cut into, and it let out a fair amount of liquid on the plate. The least impressive item was the scrambled egg. The texture was off, though the flavour was fine.

You can’t go wrong with toast and butter. Even the butter was delicious and easy to spread. Overall, it was a solid 8/10. As of the 19th of June, a new menu is coming in which replaces the scrambled egg with a fresh fried egg, too. A massive improvement, I reckon.

Final thoughts

After leaving Preston, I had another orange juice. That was it for the service, though. It was friendly, professional and well-focused. Quality over quantity, shall we say. Everyone around me was pleased with the food on offer, too. I heard a couple of ‘delicious’ comments about the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, so that seemed to be a hit. The only person not impressed was the overly-loud bloke in a suit who aggressively batted away any offers of food and drink. He could have saved his money and gone for Standard Premium!

Standard Premium looked to be fairly busy when I popped my head in. The advent of Standard Premium Advance tickets has definitely bumped up occupancy levels, as it used to be pretty normal to get a carriage to yourself when it was a case of being ‘in the know’ and upgrading on the day.

I stepped off at Crewe into glorious sunshine, and was pretty impressed by the service I’d received:

avanti class 390 with standard premium and first class options


Of course, that isn’t all. First Class entitles you to visit lounges that are located at most major stations on the Avanti network. So, that was my next stop.

Lounge Access

The lounge at Crewe is up on the footbridge towards the exit, just above Platform 5. You press the intercom, show your ticket to the camera, and you’re in.

You’ll find lounges at Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street, Birmingham International and London Euston. There is also one at Glasgow Central, but information on the Avanti website suggests that this one is closed at the time of writing.

As for Crewe’s lounge, it was pretty pleasant. It had a nice atmosphere and plenty of different kinds of seating areas to use:

avanti first class lounge at crewe


As for food and drink, the drinks selection was everything you’d expect. You had teas, a coffee machine and a fridge with water, fizzy drinks and even kombucha.

The food offering was decent, too. I could see muesli bars, banana bread, porridge pots (and honey), muffins, fresh fruit and pouches of olives:

avanti first class lounge refreshments, showing cakes, olives, porridge, fruit and baked goods


There is a dedicated menu for the lounges which you can view online. The lounge at London Euston has a different menu with more substantial items available, as well as a paid-for bar! I went for a piece of banana bread in the end, and it was delicious.

I was once again, impressed. There was a clear differentiation appearing in the Standard Premium vs First Class experience, rather than just ‘you get food’.

Taking a shorter trip: Standard Premium vs First Class

Finally, I wanted to see how Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class faired on a short journey. After all, it isn’t uncommon to completely miss out on any service if your journey is too short. That might be because the staff are packing away, or they just haven’t seen you.

So, I was going to go from Crewe up to Liverpool Lime Street, which was just short of 40 minutes. The bizarre thing about this journey is that a one-way Standard Class fare is £16.60 if you’re travelling before 9am on weekdays, but just 30p more at £16.90 if you travel in First! The Off-Peak fare is still £13.80, but the difference isn’t huge. If it’s a return trip though, it’s a much bigger difference, as the return fare is £33.90 in First Class. In fact, two First Class singles are 10p cheaper than the return.

The Standard Premium upgrade price is £10 on this journey. Put simply, that isn’t worth it on top of the Standard Class fare!

So, what did I get? First of all, this was a nine-car train that hadn’t been refurbished yet, so it was a little different inside:

unrefurbished avanti first class carriage


The lamps on the tables were a bit irritating and each window seat had just one three-pin socket (that I couldn’t get to work).

As for the service, a friendly host (also called Richard) popped down straight away and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I took him up on the offer of a coffee, which was really well-presented:

coffee served in avanti first class


The crew, to their credit, stayed present in the carriages right up until arriving into Liverpool. My overall impression of Avanti’s staff was that they were passionate about what they did – and I did drop their social media team a message of thanks.

Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class – weekdays vs weekends

This is where things get a bit more complicated. You see, on weekdays, here’s how the formation of the train works:

On the refurbished trains, Coach G is converted to Standard Class to add in some extra capacity, which is where that carriage ‘disappears’ to.

So, what happens on weekends? Only Coach K is First Class. Coach K is part-kitchen, so it has a very limited number of seats. Just 18, in fact. Coach J becomes Standard Premium, alongside Coach H (and G on unrefurbished trains!)

First Class becomes very busy and the menu is different, too. It isn’t as substantial, basically. Meanwhile, you’ve loads of room to try Standard Premium. My advice is that you should choose Standard Premium on a weekend if you want an upgrade. First Class just isn’t big enough.

Standard Premium vs First Class – Is First Class worth it?

This is the million-dollar question. When it comes to Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class, is First Class worth it at all? My answer is: it can be.

If you’re travelling between stations with lounges and need somewhere quiet to work before the train for example, it’s great. You have access to refreshments (or even a bar), and it’s a world away from a busy platform.

Travelling on a weekday? Great. You have a decent number of First Class seats on every train and a substantial menu of food and drink. You’ll get a chef-prepared hot meal if you want one. The staff on board the trains are truly excellent and I can’t fault them. Their service was passionate, but sincere, and it wasn’t over-the-top or tacky.

You even have the weird fare anomalies (like a one-way trip from Crewe to Liverpool in the morning peak) where the fare is essentially the same between Standard and First.

So, when isn’t it worth it? I’d say definitely don’t bother on a weekend. Just plonk yourself in Standard Premium. I’d also say it isn’t worth it if you won’t make full use of what’s available to you. If you’re not bothered about lounge access and food and drink, just stick to Standard Premium. If you want a proper ‘experience’, then by all means try out First if the price is right. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to know more about First Class? Take a look at our dedicated page for First Class train travel. We’re here to help with upgrading on board, tips to help you get a cheaper fare and even how to travel in First Class for free. We’ve also compared Avanti West Coast and LNER.

So, are you ready to take a trip? Railsmartr doesn’t believe in adding any fees on. No booking fees, no admin fees and no fees for all of the useful information and insider tips that we have about travelling by train!

Changed your mind? No problem. If your ticket is refundable and you haven’t used it, you get the entire value of your ticket back. If it isn’t refundable, you can change it without any extra charges. Just buy another one, send us the details of both bookings and we’ll refund the cheaper ticket. No questions, no quibbles.

Rail travel myths: Debunked!

Travelling by train in Great Britain doesn’t always feel simple. Plus, there are plenty of misconceptions about what’s true and what isn’t! We’ve put together some of the most common rail travel myths to make your journey as simple and worry-free as possible.

Advance train tickets are always cheapest

It would make sense that this would be true. After all, they come with more restrictions and you need to book them in advance. But you need to be careful, as sometimes an Advance ticket isn’t much cheaper than the flexible option. Let’s also take a look at an example (24 hours in advance) where it’s cheaper to buy a flexible ticket:

railsmartr website showing advance single tickets -

As you can see, you can buy two Advance singles for this Newcastle to York (and return) trip on the same day. The total will come to £48.70.

railsmartr website showing that a flexible return ticket is cheaper

But if you select ‘Return’, it’s £47.30. This ticket will also let you travel on trains other than the one you select. Whenever you book on Railsmartr, you’ll have the options of ‘Singles’ or ‘Returns’. Be sure to check out both. We’ll always offer you the cheapest return or combination of single tickets (depending on which you select) for your journey.

If a flexible ticket is only a little more expensive, it’s often worth picking it. After all, that small difference gives you the freedom to travel on a different train. Plus, you can refund it if you’re not able to use it.

If my train is cancelled, I need to buy another ticket

While you can’t necessarily jump on whatever train you want straight away, this is one of the common rail travel myths. If you’re travelling on an Advance ticket, at minimum, you’ll be allowed to travel on the next train operated by the same company. This usually extends to the train before, as well.

On flexible tickets (such as Off-Peak or Anytime), there’s no need to get any permission to take another train unless it’s restricted to a certain route or company. In this case, you should take the next available train that your ticket would allow.

In widespread disruption, there’ll be ticket acceptance arranged on a different route or company. The National Rail website or railway staff will let you know if this is the case. In any circumstance, rail companies cannot leave you stranded or out-of-pocket during disruption.

The National Rail Conditions of Travel state that:

Where disruption prevents you from completing the journey for which your Ticket is valid and is being used, any Train Company will, where it reasonably can, provide you with alternative means of travel to your destination, or if necessary, provide overnight accommodation for you.

National Rail Conditions of Travel, Section 28.2

If you have a ‘split’ ticket (where you use a combination of tickets to make a journey), exactly the same advice applies. You’ll of course need to make sure you’ve left enough time for changing trains, though. We’ve produced a full guide to disruption (including what to do when it happens) here.

I need a seat reservation to travel

This is one of the rail travel myths that came about with COVID-19. Back when social distancing was a thing, rail operators would ‘enforce’ this by making sure that they didn’t sell more tickets than there were seats. How did they do it? They forced websites (including us!) to make a ticket come with a seat reservation.

Now that Covid restrictions have ended, you’d expect this to have stopped. The thing is – it hasn’t! The data that gets attached to trains when they appear on ticket-selling websites still says the same thing. So, when the reservable seats run out, it’s impossible to buy a ticket.

There are some ways around this. For example, you could buy the ticket but select a different train, so long as you know it’s valid on the train you also want. This can be tricky to know for some types, so you’re always welcome to contact us if you have a problem or you’re unsure.

With the exception of overnight ‘Sleeper’ trains, there are no trains in Great Britain that require a seat reservation in normal circumstances. In fact, there’s a handy little Railsmartr article on where to find an unreserved seat!

You always have to travel on the train specified on your ticket

Yes, on Advance tickets, you have to do this. As you’d expect, it’s valid only on your booked train. As we’ve mentioned above though, Anytime, Off-Peak and Super-Off-Peak tickets are valid on more than one train.

Even though you’ll often need to pick a service in order to book your time, it’s definitely one of the most frustrating rail myths that by picking a train, you’re stuck with it! Here’s what your ticket might look like:

rail travel myth example - ticket shown with optional seat reservations

As you can see, the journey details are listed as ‘Optional Reservations’. This means exactly what it sounds like – there’s no need to follow them to the letter! So long as your ticket is valid on the train you’re catching, you don’t need a reservation. Having a train specified on a flexible ticket doesn’t take away any of its validity.

‘Peak’ trains are the busiest or most expensive

This is one of the rail travel myths that in some ways, used to be true. Before COVID-19 struck, it was undeniable that peak trains were some of the busiest. They were undoubtedly the most expensive, too.

In some ways, long-distance rail operators don’t help with this. For example, by marking a train as ‘peak’ (and usually charging higher for Advance tickets, too), it’s going to discourage people from using it. By contrast, the first train where it’s no longer considered ‘peak’ will be a lot busier.

COVID-19 and the rise of flexible working has also changed what we consider to be ‘peak’. If you’re travelling to London, a Friday morning is often the quietest time to go. Wednesdays are usually the busiest weekday, by comparison.

Put simply, there’s no ‘clear-cut’ peak anymore. When it comes to Advance train tickets too, some operators might have lower prices on what were traditionally ‘peak’ trains, to try and encourage people to travel in the empty seats once used by weekday commuters.

Are there any other rail travel myths I should know about?

The final one you might want to know about is that no ticket-selling website has access to ‘special’ discounted fares that nobody else does (in normal circumstances). They can however choose to only show you certain fares and make it harder to see the cheapest ones that might be on a slower route. We’ve written a handy guide to finding the best fare, too.

It’s up to them what fees they charge, too. Here at Railsmartr, we don’t charge any at all. You can refund a flexible ticket (or change an Advance ticket) and you’ll only pay the difference. Nothing more.

What’s the best train for luggage?

Lots of us need to travel with luggage. Whether that’s a weekend bag, a brick-like suitcase or the kitchen sink. But not all trains are created equal when it comes to storing all of that! So, in the name of being scientific, I took a circular trip around the North of England and Midlands with an airline-cabin sized suitcase. I’d discover the best train for luggage, and one train where the overhead racks were clearly just for decoration.

Journey 1 – Newcastle to Carlisle

Now, I’d tried to cover as many of the “key” train types of possible that have the widest coverage. For example, this first train, a Class 158 “Express Sprinter”, runs on many short and medium-distance Northern services. However, you’ll also find them on East Midlands Railway, Transport for Wales, ScotRail and South Western Railway.

I ended up getting on at the wrong end of the train to the big luggage stacks, of which Northern has one per carriage. So, it was time to give the overhead racks a go. I managed to get it up there, but it was looking a little precarious:

suitcase in overhead rack on northern train

However, I decided to have faith that it wouldn’t jump out and give a fellow passenger concussion. And, to be fair, it stayed put the entire way. It wasn’t the best train for luggage, but it did the job. Just don’t try and put anything bigger above your head.

And so, my day had started as it meant to go on: looking like a right weirdo taking photos of a suitcase in a luggage rack.

Journey 2 – Carlisle to Crewe

For my first long-distance trip, I was taking a famous “Pendolino” train, operated by Avanti West Coast. They’ve always been known for feeling a bit cramped (and having tiny windows) so I didn’t have a great deal of hope for this one.

You can imagine my surprise when I jumped on and my case fitted perfectly above the seat. It didn’t even stick out and look like it was about to injure someone, which was a bonus.

luggage in pendolino overhead rack

On board, there’s also quite a few luggage stacks if you’re bringing a big case or something else that won’t quite fit above your head. Some are even in the centre of the carriage, so you can keep an eye on your things without needing to trek down to the ends.

It should be noted though, that it does depend on where you’re sitting in some carriages. For example, most of Coach C has equipment on the roof, so the overhead racks are tiny. Only seats 1 to 22 have the full-size rack.

Journey 3 – Crewe to Nottingham

It was back to the wee regional trains for the next one, and I was taking a Class 170 “Turbostar” operated by East Midlands Railway. You’ll also find these trains on CrossCountry, ScotRail and Northern, though they all have slightly different layouts. Most importantly though, the overhead racks are broadly the same size.

My case just about fit in the overhead rack, much like the first train. There was a luggage stack towards the centre of the carriage as well, but I decided to trust that gravity would stay on my side. This was a tricky one to illustrate as everyone seemed very aware of the strange man photographing his luggage:

luggage storage on a class 170 train

The lack of decent (or at least obvious) luggage storage became rather apparent when we rolled into Stoke. Four different people with positively huge suitcases got and looked a bit dumbfounded as to where to go. Where did they go? Nowhere. They all stood by the doors with their precious cargo. Not ideal on a two-car train, but there’s no way all four would have fitted in the rack. The main issue was that it wasn’t totally obvious as you boarded.

Thankfully there were a fair amount of people jumping on and off at different points so the little train didn’t completely descend into chaos. My main issue was that these trains also make mammoth journeys across England (such as Stansted Airport to Birmingham and Nottingham to Cardiff) – hopefully nobody turns up with anything heavier or bigger than a Tesco carrier bag! (other supermarkets are available)

Journey 4 – Nottingham to Derby

Spoilers: It was exactly the same train as the last one.

The only difference was that I turned up struggling to breathe after it chose to leave from the furthest platform possible from the entrance. Cue me legging it with a suitcase in tow while being screamed at by the dispatcher to go faster. It wasn’t entirely my fault I was so late, as the self-service till at the supermarket in the station had had a bit of a meltdown on me.

The train wasn’t quite so busy this time, so I found a table seat and the case went under it.

When I got into Derby, I had a second attempt at getting something to eat and was served by the friendly lasses in the Pumpkin cafe. They even warmed up my pasty (us Geordies love a pasty – even if it wasn’t quite Greggs) which was welcome on a bit of a blustery day.

Journey 5 – Derby to Sheffield

For this next train, I’d be jumping on board a “Meridian” operated by East Midlands Railway. You’ll also find similar trains on CrossCountry or Avanti West Coast, where they’re known as a “Voyager” or “Super Voyager”. While the seating layouts are a bit different (and Meridians can be a bit longer), the trains themselves are mostly the same.

I found myself a free table, lifted my case up into the rack and…it was nowhere near fitting. Safe to say, this wasn’t the best train for luggage – it was pretty much the worst. The trade-off was that some cases would fit between the seat-backs (I had a go, mine squeezed in) but the train was empty enough to just stick it under the table next to me.

There were some luggage stacks at the carriage ends, so you aren’t left totally high and dry if your luggage is big, but I can imagine it being a challenge on busier trains. As you can see, someone’s managed to squeeze a tote bag in, but there’s already enough space under the seats for that!

Journey 6 – Sheffield to Doncaster

It was now time to head for home after a brief stop in Sheffield. Rush hour was looming too, so this would be a good test of luggage space with plenty of exhausted commuters around me. Namely making sure I didn’t block any seats or accidentally hit them in the head, as I’m sure lots of disgruntled tutting would ensue.

Northern had gifted me a Class 150 ‘Sprinter’ for the short journey to Doncaster. You’ll find these trains on much of the Northern network as well as across pretty much all of Wales. They operate everything from local hops to long-distance trains taking you from Manchester to Cardiff. In a nutshell, they have a pretty tough gig trying to meet all sorts of demands.

I’ll be honest, my expectations were rather low. So I was quite surprised when I lobbed my case it’s the overhead rack without any problems! Sure, this particular train had next-to-no legroom, but at least my suitcase was comfortable.

class 150 luggage space

Journey 7 – Doncaster to Newcastle

I was now on the home stretch. One more train where I’d have to look a bit strange taking photos. I already knew what to expect from the LNER Azuma trains, as I can remember them being a bit of a revolution when they started running on the Edinburgh to London route.

While the seats were a bit harder than on the trains they replaced, I was at least able to comfortably chuck my case into the rack above my head. A welcome thing for a student going home with dirty washing to beat the costs of student accommodation washing machines.

You’ll also find some bigger luggage stacks dotted around the train, but where they are varies massively depending on who runs the train. After all, these Hitachi trains are operated by Great Western Railway, LNER, Lumo and TransPennine Express.

Great Western Railway trains have two per carriage, no matter their length. This is the standard number, and LNER Azuma trains which have five carriages are the same. TransPennine Express “Nova 1” trains have two as well. LNER Azuma trains which have nine carriages are quite generous, with some coaches having up to four luggage stacks. This is because some seats were removed to make way for extra space.

So surely, you’d think that these Hitachi trains were the best trains for luggage? Well, yes, unless you’re getting on a Lumo train. The number of stacks in the carriage ranges from one to none! If you’re in part of Coach E, you won’t even get an overhead rack. This is because they’ve tried to squeeze in as many seats as possible. They even have a restriction on the amount of luggage you can bring that’s a lot stricter than other companies.

The verdict – what’s the best train for luggage?

Out of the trains I’d travelled on today, the Pendolino felt like the best one. This was mostly because you could rely on every Pendolino having the same number of luggage stacks, and the overhead racks fit a cabin-size case comfortably. Some coaches have a smaller overhead rack in places, but this is compensated for with more stacks.

The LNER Azuma is a close second. The nine-car version is arguably the best train for luggage seeing as it’s had seats taken out for more luggage stacks. So, you’re in luck if you’re travelling between Edinburgh and London, in 99% of cases. By contrast, Lumo’s version of the Hitachi trains is probably one of the worst.

The worst I travelled on today had to be the Meridian operated by East Midlands Railway. The overhead racks are barely good for any luggage of any size! You’ll have to hope you can squeeze your case between the seats or find a luggage stack. There is some good news, as they’re being replaced by Hitachi trains similar to those on LNER in the coming years.

It had been a long day on the trains, but I was quite impressed by most operators. In my view, you’re well-covered for taking a cabin-size case on the vast majority of services! When you’re ready to take your next trip, you can book without fees (even if your plans change!) at Railsmartr.

What’s the Least Reliable Train Operator?

Here at Railsmartr, we’ve been taking a look at the statistics for trains running on time, late or being cancelled. We’ll show you what we found for June and July 2023, so we can tell you what the least reliable train operator and the most reliable train operator are. We’ll also explain what the stats mean, and why you can’t always trust them.

This page was originally written in March 2023 and was updated with new data in August 2023.

How do we work out how reliable trains are?

A great question! We measure reliability by what’s known as ‘PPM’ or ‘Public Performance Measure’. Every time a train runs (or doesn’t!) it’s separated into one of three categories:

If your train is cancelled part-way through the trip or skips stops to make up time, it’ll also ‘fail’ PPM.

So what’s the least reliable train operator?

For June and July, the least-reliable train operator award goes to Grand Central. But why? Let’s go through some of the reasons:

Can we trust these statistics?

For some companies, you might be wondering how the statistics look quite reasonable, despite the fact that their trains seem to be so unreliable. For example, at the time of writing (16th August 2023), Northern’s JourneyCheck page looks disastrous:

journeycheck showing 257 cancelled trains on northern trains, which could make it the least reliable train operator

Okay, so 103 of those cancellations are actually for the following day, but that seems like a lot more than 6% of trains being cancelled, which is what the official stats say. So, what actually happens here?

Put simply, if it’s cancelled before 10pm the previous day, it doesn’t count as a cancellation. This is known as ‘P-coding’ and means that it won’t be reflected in the performance statistics. Most frustratingly for passengers, the reason given is ‘a short notice change to the timetable’. This reason doesn’t tell you anything!

The latest report by the Office of Rail and Road from January to March 2023 shows just how this works. At the time that it was written, TransPennine Express were using P-coding extensively. Since then though, they’ve managed to improve industrial relations, and the statistics below are a far better reflection of reality.

So, is Grand Central the least reliable train operator? Officially, yes. Unofficially, perhaps not.

Who’s the most reliable train operator?

Now we’ve covered who the least reliable train operator is, it’s only right to cover who the most reliable one is.

If we focus purely on trains that are on-time, that’d be Caledonian Sleeper. They managed to run 96.8% of their trains on time.

The operator with the lowest rate of cancellations was c2c, with just 1.1%. Chiltern Railways isn’t far behind with 1.3%.

What do these operators all have in common? For one, a relatively common fleet of trains. Chiltern has three types of train and c2c is running just one type of train. Meanwhile, Caledonian Sleeper has just one fleet of carriages, and a few types of locomotive. Their trains run overnight, and have large allowances in the timetable in case of engineering works.

c2c and Merseyrail are also fairly self-contained networks. It’s unlikely that another company’s trains will cause them to be delayed, and they’re pretty small networks, as well.

What are the full statistics?

Want to know how your local operator did? Here’s the full statistics for June and July. We weren’t able to get monthly statistics for Hull Trains.

OperatorOn-timeLateVery late
or Cancelled
Caledonian Sleeper96.8%1.4%1.8%
Greater Anglia94.5%3.5%2%
London Overground93.8%2.5%3.7%
Chiltern Railways93.4%5.3%1.3%
South Western Railway88.9%8.3%2.8%
Heathrow Express87%9.5%3.5%
Govia Thameslink Railway*84.7%10.1%5.2%
Great Western Railway82.9%11.9%5.2%
West Midlands Trains82.4%12.2%5.4%
TransPennine Express81.1%9.6%9.3%
East Midlands Railway80.7%15.2%4.1%
Transport for Wales77.7%13%9.3%
Avanti West Coast70.5%18.2%11.3%
Grand Central69.1%16.5%14.4%

*Includes Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express.

What can we take from this data? As you’d expect, companies that have smaller networks and don’t have to interact with too many operators tend to fare better. Those that travel over longer distances and interact with each other more are more vulnerable to delays.

Operators like Grand Central are also more vulnerable to poorer statistics, as they only run a handful of trains per day. If even just one train is delayed, that’ll cause a much bigger knock than on LNER or Avanti, for example.

What can I do when there’s a delay?

When you book with Railsmartr, we’ll let you know if there’s any planned changes to your train, if we’re given enough notice. If you choose to change your plans, we’ve got you covered, too.

You’re also entitled to claim compensation in the event of a delay. You can find out more with our guide on what to do when there’s disruption.

All punctuality data on this page is courtesy of trains.im. You can visit their site, check how your operator is doing and can also make a donation to help with upkeep.

The data is also issued without liability, and is correct at the time of writing (16th August 2023).

The New Merseyrail Trains: Liverpool goes Swiss

The Merseyrail network serves millions of passengers every year. The unassuming yellow trains will take you to seaside spots like West Kirby, New Brighton and Southport, while connecting the bustling Liverpool and Chester. It’s a lifeline for Merseyside and the Wirral, but it’s time for a change as the trains on the network reach their 45th birthday.

On January 23, 2023, Railsmartr witnessed that change for the first time, as we popped to Liverpool to sample one of the 53 new Swiss-built Merseyrail trains on their first day in service.

The first day

At the moment, there’s just one train running on the line up to Kirkby. This is the shortest line on the network, and keeps them close to their depot in Kirkdale in case anything goes wrong.

So that’s where we were off to! We headed for the 12:20 from Liverpool Central to Kirkby, operated by one of the new Stadler trains. This was the third ever departure from Liverpool for one of these trains, so there was still much excitement and anticipation among train geeks and regular passengers alike.

Finally, just a little late (the timetable is very tight on the Kirkby line), our shiny new Merseyrail train arrived:

one of the new merseyrail trains at liverpool central

First Impressions of the new Merseyrail trains

First impressions are that there’s certainly a ‘wow’ factor compared to looking at the old, boxy trains that run on Merseyrail at the moment. You could almost be fooled into thinking that it had come from the International Space Station rather than Kirkby!

The inside of the train is bright and airy, with plenty of seats. You’ll find all of the modern features you’d expect in 2023:

The only thing you need to be careful with is the sockets! If you’re sticking a three-pin plug in them, it goes in upside down. The bottom pins are actually USB ports. Within five minutes, we’d already witnessed someone trying to fit their phone charger into the wrong one.

As you can see in the left-hand photo above as well, there’s ‘airline’ style seats, too. On the old trains, you didn’t have much of a choice about sitting opposite someone on a busy train. Now, you have the option to have a little more privacy if you’re travelling alone or with someone else.

It also sounds daft but for the first time in many years, you can actually see the world go by! The older trains have a strange layout, where the ‘pockets’ that the doors open into have taken up most of the window view. Granted, Merseyrail isn’t the most scenic, but it’s nice to not be stuck looking at this:


This is the real game-changer. The new Merseyrail trains are the first trains in the UK to give completely step-free access being the train and platform. When they reach every station, a little step will pop out and completely bridge the gap. This means that wheelchair users and those who struggle with mobility can get on and off independently.

step free access on new merseyrail train

This was fantastic to see and will make the railways of Merseyside so much more accessible to everyone. As you can see, the doors also light up green when it’s safe to get on and off. This changes to red when it’s time to step back.

The wheelchair spaces include a small table, power sockets and an information screen:

777 wheelchair space

Elsewhere on the train, there are spaces for buggies, bikes and large luggage. This solves the issue of them taking up a wheelchair space and makes sure that everyone can use the new Merseyrail trains with ease.

Staying informed on new Merseyrail trains

From the moment we left Liverpool Central, it was clear that you wouldn’t be left in the dark about where you were or where you were going. Clear announcements would play before every station, and they’d tell you which line you were on while in the City Centre (Wirral or Northern).

It did get a little grating though, when we had one telling us to use the bins during the journey. These sort of announcements just cause everyone to tune out everything. Just keep them for the essentials, please!

Other than the (sometimes a little redundant) announcements, you’ll find screens throughout the train. Above every door, you’ll find ones like these, which change depending on where you are:

These are both above the doors and arranged along the carriage walls. You’ll also find more ‘traditional’ displays at the ends of the carriages. Put simply, if you look somewhere, you’ll find a screen telling you where the train is going!

Sticking these displays above the doors is a bit of a genius move, as it cuts out the classic ‘where is this train going?’ that someone will ask as they step on. Simply crank your neck up a few inches and your answer will be right there! It’s also great that they’ll tell you which side the doors will open on, particularly as platforms regularly swap sides on some lines.

Even little touches such as telling you which station has a toilet are great. As don’t forget that just like the older trains, these new Merseyrail trains don’t have anywhere to spend a penny. They’ll also tell you which stations are step-free, which brings us onto one of the most important things about the new Merseyrail trains…

Our verdict on the new Merseyrail trains

We aren’t exaggerating when we say that these will transform travel across Merseyside and beyond. For the first time, you can even see from one of the train to the other:

new merseyrail train interior

They’re brighter, they’re safer and they’ll still have a staff member on board to help, as well. The guards will be more visible on the train (as they don’t have to stay in the cab to operate the doors) and will have a new title of ‘Train Manager’.

Another thing we really liked was the fact that ‘perch’ seats have been scattered around so you don’t have to stand at busy times:

We’d definitely recommend heading to the ‘bendy’ bits of the train between the carriages if you’re struggling to find somewhere to perch. They’re quite well hidden and people are usually less keen on standing far away from the doors!

Our impression was that both passengers and staff alike are thrilled to see the new Merseyrail trains running. Everyone had a smile on their face and it’s clear that they’re a train to be proud of. Finally, we can’t deny that they’re great-looking compared to the trains that came before them:

You can book your tickets to try the new trains on Railsmartr today. We don’t charge any booking fees, admin fees, refund fees or any fees at all, for that matter.

Is there an unreserved coach on my train?

Sometimes, you need to travel last-minute. When this happens, you’re not able to guarantee yourself a seat on the train. So where’s the unreserved coach? Let us take you through where to find these useful carriages so you’re not playing musical chairs on your next trip.

What is unreserved seating?

Unreserved seating on a train is any seat that hasn’t been pre-booked. On some trains, specific carriages or sections are left unreserved so that people without a pre-booked seat know where to go so they can sit down.

Does my train have any seat reservations at all?

Before we delve into how to find the unreserved coach on your train, it’s important to know whether or not there are any seat reservations in the first place!

Some rail companies don’t offer seat reservations. During COVID-19, some companies also chose to stop offering reservations and haven’t started offering them again. Here are the companies where it’s not possible to reserve seats at all:

On every train operated by these companies, you can simply sit in any available seat.

I have a seat reservation with no seat number on it!

Some of them offer advance tickets, which are usually tied to a specific seat and train, but your ticket will say something like Coach *** Seat ***. Here’s an example of what a ticket looks like when there’s no specific seat reserved for you:

northern rail ticket where customer would need to use unreserved coach

This is because ticket-selling systems need to give you a ‘place’ on the train to avoid selling far more tickets than there are seats. If you book last-minute too, it might be too late to guarantee a specific seat. Some companies still put paper slips in the back of seats to show if a seat is reserved, so that can’t be done after the train has departed its first station.

Don’t worry though, you can simply take any available seat. It’ll need to be marked as unreserved on a train that normally offers reservations, or it can be any seat on one that doesn’t.

Where can I find the unreserved coach?

Most rail operators will offer an unreserved coach. This means that if you’re jumping on the train at the last minute or all of the reserved seats have been taken, you still have a chance to sit down. In this section, we’ll also mention any of the trains where reservations aren’t offered.

Unsure about the type of train you’ll be travelling on? We have a handy ‘know your train‘ guide which you might find useful.

Avanti West Coast

On Pendolino trains, you’ll find the unreserved coach in coach C if your train has nine carriages. If it has 11 carriages, then you’ll find another one in coach U.

You’ll find coach C towards the ‘country’ or north end of the train. It’s the third carriage if your train is going north. Coach U is located towards the centre.

Coach G on refurbished trains is also unreserved.

If you’re taking a Super Voyager train, then unreserved seating is usually available in coach C.

Caledonian Sleeper

You’ll always need to make a reservation in advance on Caledonian Sleeper trains when travelling to and from London. There are some exceptions, such as when you’re travelling between Edinburgh and Fort William. In this case, just take any available seat.


Travelling on a Voyager train? Coach F is always unreserved. You may also find that coaches B and C are unreserved depending on how busy a particular service is. When two trains have been coupled together to make a longer one, coach L should also be unreserved. As a general rule, the standard class coach at the very front or rear of a set is unreserved.

If you’re using one of the High Speed Trains which run on a number of North East to South West trips, then coach F will always be unreserved. Other coaches may also be left without reservations, but that’s the main one to aim for!

Some Turbostar trains (which run between Nottingham/Cardiff/Stansted and Birmingham) don’t have a specific unreserved coach. However, if your train has a coach B, then it should have been left unreserved. This is the centre carriage.

East Midlands Railway

All trains except those between Sheffield/Nottingham and London St Pancras are fully unreserved. Trains to/from Corby now come under the ‘Connect’ brand which doesn’t offer seat reservations.

On trains between Sheffield/Nottingham and London St Pancras, the unreserved coach is usually coach D. If the train is formed of two sets joined together, then there may be another coach unreserved, too.

Grand Central

A section of coach B is usually unreserved on trains that go to and from Sunderland. If you’re on a train that’s going to or from Bradford, then unreserved seats are spread throughout the train. Grand Central recommend that you reserve a seat in advance where possible, and we’d advise getting to the station early (if you’re boarding in London or Bradford) to make sure you can secure one!

Great Western Railway

All Great Western Railway trains except those to/from London are fully unreserved. You’ll find the unreserved coach to be coach G on London services, which is located in a different place depending on whether the train has 9 or 10 carriages. Click here to view the different layouts.

From our own experience, you’ll usually find that the First Class unreserved coach is either Coach E (five or 10-car trains) or Coach L (nine-car trains).

The Night Riviera Sleeper train has compulsory reservations, including in the seated coaches. If you don’t have a reservation, just double-check with the guard before boarding.

Hull Trains

You won’t find a dedicated unreserved coach on Hull Trains. There are a number of unreserved seats throughout the train though, so we’d recommend getting to your train early if you’re able to.


Coach C is always the dedicated unreserved coach on LNER, no matter which type of train you’ll be travelling on. You’ll find it further towards the ‘country’ or north end of the train on MK4 Electric Trains and 9 and 10-car Azumas. It’s in the centre of the train if you’re travelling on a five-car one.

As of February 2023, seats 43 and upwards (on 9-car Azuma trains) are left free for last-minute reservations. They’re marked with yellow lights and a message that says the seat might be reserved later. They’re always the last to be reserved though, so the whole carriage will usually stay unreserved unless it’s an exceptionally busy train.

On five-coach trains, only half of coach C is left unreserved. Again, these trains use a traffic-light system for seat reservations so you can easily pick out the free ones. As a general rule, the south end of the carriage (lower seat numbers) is your best bet.

If you’re travelling in First Class, then seats M04 to M08 are unreserved on Azuma trains.


Lumo have an extremely limited number of unreserved seats, which are usually the ones at the carriage ends without a window view. They’re marked with a green light above them, or you can speak to a member of staff on the train for help with finding one.

TransPennine Express

On their Nova trains, the unreserved coach is usually located in coach D. Alternatively, you’ll need to keep an eye out for any seats with a green light above them.

Class 185 trains don’t have a dedicated unreserved coach when they’re formed of three coaches. Instead, you’ll usually find some unreserved seats in coach B and directly behind the driver’s cab in coach A.

When they have six coaches, there’s likely to be more unreserved seats in the rear part of the train.

If there’s an unreserved coach, why is my train sold out?

This can be confusing and quite a source of anxiety! With the exception of Caledonian Sleeper and Great Western Railway’s Night Riviera Sleeper, no train in Great Britain requires you to have a reservation. This might vary during extremely busy periods, but it is highly unlikely you’ll be denied boarding unless the train is physically impossible to board.

So why do they say ‘sold out’? Well, this is a bit of a legacy of COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, rail companies needed to enforce social distancing. They did this by making sure that you could only buy a ticket for a train if it came with a reservation. Once all of the reservations were gone, you couldn’t book the train.

This is still lingering around today, so you might find that a train shows as ‘sold out’ when there would be nothing to stop you hopping on board. If all that’s being offered is an Off-Peak or Anytime train ticket, just select a different service (so long as the train you want follows any ticket restrictions, such as Off-Peak) and buy it as usual. These are flexible tickets and you can use them on any valid train, such as an Off-Peak one if you’ve bought an Off-Peak ticket.

If your date of travel is a few weeks in the future or longer and all trains are showing as ‘sold out’, don’t worry. The timetable likely hasn’t been confirmed yet! Otherwise, you might end up buying tickets for a train that leaves earlier, later or doesn’t exist at all.

Did you know that we’ve produced even more useful handy guides on using the train in Great Britain? Take a look at what to do if you’re using the train for the first time.

Changing Trains – How to make it easier

Changing trains somewhere can be a source of anxiety and stress. What if you don’t know where to go? What if you don’t make the connection? Here’s our list of places that will make the change that little bit easier, and what to do if you don’t make your connection.

Is there an easier place for changing trains?

When you think of changing trains, you’ll often think of those big and overwhelming stations. Maybe it’s Birmingham New Street, Crewe or Edinburgh Waverley. Either way, if you don’t know how to get from one platform to the other, you’re going to be anxious. Sometimes you’ll only have a few minutes to change, too!

Don’t worry though, there’s other stations where you can change trains. They’re smaller, so you might just need to hop off and wait on the same platform. Doesn’t that sound better than running from what feels like one side of Birmingham to the other?

We’re going to split them by region, so you can easily find that part of the country that you’re looking for.

Changing trains in London

There often isn’t an easy way around this one. Whether you’re changing to and from the tube or just to another train, there might not be an alternative. Rest assured, we have a few tips for changing trains in London!


Look at the picture below. Seems like a dream for changing between train and tube, doesn’t it? None of that faff running up and down escalators.

changing trains at farringdon

That’s why if you’re looking to change between Thameslink and the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, you should do it at Farringdon. This is the ideal alternative to Kings Cross St Pancras as it involves hopping over a footbridge at most. Just make sure you tap your Oyster or contactless card on the readers if you’ve had a paper ticket for Thameslink.

Thameslink Trains

In fact, Thameslink in general is an ideal alternative to jumping on and off the tube, depending on where you want to go. Their trains connect destinations both north and south of London, meaning that there’s no need to get the Underground. On the way, they stop at St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink (Mon-Sat only), Blackfriars and London Bridge.

If you need to change between Thameslink trains, you can pick between any of these stations, as it’ll generally be a same-platform interchange. However, we’d always recommend Blackfriars. You can’t beat the view:

Avoiding London Euston

If you’re travelling from the Midlands or North West to the South Coast, then you might be asked to change at London Euston then take a tube to Victoria or Waterloo. That can be stressful and take quite a while if you don’t know where you’re going when it comes to taking the tube!

Your alternative is to change at East Croydon or Clapham Junction (the former is a lot smaller!) and taking the hourly Southern train to Watford Junction instead. You can do the same in reverse, too.

The journey between East Croydon and Watford Junction isn’t the fastest (just over an hour) but it’ll save you the stress of using the tube. It’ll likely be much easier too if you have mobility issues or a lot of luggage.

South East


Not only is this an easier station to change at compared to Brighton, but it also gives you extra journey opportunities if you’re travelling to/from Brighton.

Trains between Littlehampton and London Victoria provide a connection to/from a shuttle train to Brighton here. This gives you an extra two trains an hour between the likes of Worthing and Brighton with a simple change. Heading towards Brighton, all you need to do is step off and walk across the platform.

If you’re travelling from Brighton and would like to change off the shuttle, you may need to change platforms and go to platform 3. Don’t worry though, the station has lifts as well, if you need step-free access.

In a nutshell, don’t be afraid of changing trains at Hove. It’ll open up many more journey opportunities to you!

changing trains at hove

When travelling between Leamington Spa/Banbury and London Paddington, you’re likely to find it far easier to change at Oxford.

The changeover at Oxford in both directions is the same platform, while there could be quite the trek at Reading. Of course, there are fewer services from Oxford, so check the timetable carefully.


When changing trains between the London Liverpool Street to Norwich and Ipswich to Peterborough/Cambridge lines, it may be easier to change at Stowmarket.

In particular, the trains that come from Peterborough have a nicely timed connection during the day into the train towards London. This will always be the same platform.

For other connections, just double-check the timetable before you travel, as not all trains to/from London call at Stowmarket.

South West

Cheltenham Spa

If you’re changing between Nottingham to Cardiff and Edinburgh to Bristol/Plymouth/Penzance trains, then Cheltenham Spa is a useful alternative to Birmingham New Street.

It’s a same-platform change, so there’s no need to panic about how you’re going to navigate Birmingham New Street and its many platforms.

Travelling northbound, the best connection is usually when travelling from Cardiff/Gloucester and going to Sheffield/Leeds and the north.

Going south, it works best for those travelling from the north and Leeds/Sheffield towards Cardiff.


If you’re going travelling to and from Melksham, Trowbridge and Westbury, you might find it easier changing trains at Chippenham when you’re going to and from Swindon, Reading and London.

It’s a same-platform change, which isn’t guaranteed when you’re changing at Swindon.

changing trains at chippenham
Exeter Central

Making a journey between the Exmouth Line and Barnstaple, Okehampton or Yeovil Junction/London Waterloo? You may find it more practical to change at Exeter Central.

When you’re travelling from Barnstaple/Okehampton to Exmouth or vice-versa, it’ll be the same platform, which isn’t guaranteed at Exeter St David’s.

You’ll need to pop over the footbridge if you’re changing between the London Waterloo and Exmouth lines, but don’t worry. It’s just a short walk and there’s step-free access available.

Newton Abbot

This is usually a good alternative to changing at Exeter St David’s if you’re travelling to/from either Ivybridge or stations south of Plymouth. Provided you’re heading in the same direction, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be the same platform.

It’s also a good option for changing to/from the line to Paignton. Just be aware that if you’re travelling north from Paignton, you’ll likely need to use the footbridge or lifts.


Birmingham International

If you’re travelling from north of Birmingham to Hampton-in-Arden, Berkswell, Tile Hill or Canley, you’ll probably prefer to change here. You could also use this station for Coventry and beyond if you’re on a Transport for Wales service that terminates at Birmingham International.

If you’re travelling towards Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth or Pwllheli, then most Transport for Wales services start here. This makes it ideal for getting yourself a seat before the train becomes more crowded at Birmingham New Street.

You may need to change platforms, but it’s a relatively small station with step-free access throughout.


This is another alternative to changing trains at Birmingham New Street. It’s most useful if you’re going from somewhere such as Manchester to Rugby or Northampton, as it’ll either be a same-platform connection or the next platform over the footbridge.


Similar to Cheltenham Spa, this can be a useful station if you’re changing between trains that run between Edinburgh and Plymouth/Penzance and Nottingham and Cardiff.

It might not be the same platform you’ll change at, but it’s a lot less stressful than Birmingham New Street!

Leamington Spa

If you’re wanting to change between CrossCountry and Chiltern Railways services, it’s best to do it here rather than changing stations in Birmingham.

If you’re travelling in the same direction, it’ll always be the same platform.


If you need to travel to/from Wilnecote, you might prefer to change here instead. It’s the same platform if you’re making a journey such as Leeds to Wilnecote. Just make sure that your train calls at Tamworth, first.

You can also use Tamworth to change if you’re travelling south of Birmingham New Street. Again, just make sure that both of your trains call there first!


This is a great alternative to Birmingham New Street for a number of different journeys. For example, if you’re changing between the Manchester to Reading/Bournemouth and Edinburgh/Glasgow to London trains, it’s far easier to do it here.

Most changes in the same direction will be the same platform or simply across the platform.



When trains to Newcastle were moved away from Manchester Piccadilly, many people were anxious about the need to change trains. Usually, the first stations that come to mind are York and Leeds. These are huge and it could take a while if you have mobility issues or a lot of luggage.

Huddersfield is ideal if your train is going to/from the ‘wrong’ Manchester station. Simply jump off and wait on the same platform if you’re heading east. If you’re going west towards Manchester, you might need to head over to platform 4. This is under the subway, but there are lifts available!

Hebden Bridge

If you’re travelling to/from east of Leeds and need to get to/from Todmorden, Rochdale or Manchester Victoria, this is one of the better places to do it.

It’s a same-platform change, and it’s a very pretty place to wait. It was renovated in 1997 and received signage in the original style of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.


If you’re travelling from the likes of Bolton-on-Dearne, Swinton and Rotherham to Manchester, you might prefer to change here. It’s a same-platform interchange.

Similarly, if you’re going from Wombwell, Elsecar or Chapeltown to Dronfield, Chesterfield or Nottingham, you might find it to be easier to change here, too. Just make sure that both of your trains stop at Meadowhall.


If you’re going to/from west of Manchester (such as Wigan or Salford) and you need to get to/from West Yorkshire, you might prefer to change here.

When taking the train from Chester or Warrington to Burnley or Rose Grove, this will be easier too. On all of these journeys, this will avoid needing to swap trains at Manchester Victoria.

changing trains at todmorden
Wakefield Westgate

If both of the trains you’re changing between call at Wakefield Westgate, then you should definitely change there instead! Leeds is a huge station and it could take you a while to get between platforms.

Meanwhile, same-direction changes will always be the same platform here. It might save you time and will definitely save you stress!

North West


Lancaster is often the preferred alternative compared to changing trains at Preston. It’s smaller and you’re more likely to be changing on the same platform.

A small number of trains don’t call at Lancaster though, so always double-check this first.

Manchester Oxford Road

Travelling from west to east? It’s definitely worth changing at Manchester Oxford Road if both trains stop there. Not only will it be less crowded than the very busy Manchester Piccadilly, but you’re more likely to get a seat.

If you can, it’s always worth joining a train at Oxford Road before it calls at Piccadilly.


Journeys such as Bolton to Todmorden (or vice-versa) have the easiest change at Rochdale. If your train from Bolton goes through to Rochdale, it’s worth staying on-board for a shorter cross-platform changeover.

Salford Crescent

If you’re travelling across Manchester Victoria, double-check if both of your trains call at Salford Crescent. It’s just a single island platform, so there’s no steps or changing platforms needed.

North East


If your train doesn’t go to/from Scotland (or Chester-le-Street!) and you need to change onto a train that gets there, this is the better option. Trains are generally always scheduled to use the same platform at Darlington if they’re going in the same direction.

This is a better alternative to Newcastle or York, where you might need to change platforms. You could also use Durham in the same way, but not every train stops there.

changing trains at darlington



Coming from the North West and going elsewhere in Scotland? Changing at Haymarket will probably be easier. It’s far smaller and easier to navigate. It’s also worth doing this even if changing between destinations in Scotland.

Edinburgh Waverley has more facilities, but if you’re after a fast changeover, you might be disappointed!


Newport (South Wales)

Journeys to/from England going to/from west of Cardiff are generally easier when you change at Newport. There are fewer platforms, so it’s more likely you won’t have to walk as far. Just make sure that both trains call at Newport, first.


If you’re travelling across Cardiff and both of your trains call at Radyr, you might prefer to change there. While platforms tend to be the same at Cardiff Central, this isn’t always guaranteed. It also gets you away from the hustle and bustle of the city!


Going to/from the likes of Fishguard, Milford Haven and Carmarthen? If you’re interchanging with the London train, it might be easier to change here.

You’ll need to change platforms but it’s a short walk and you might have more time to do it, too. Just make sure that the London train you’re after goes all the way to Swansea!

Port Talbot Parkway

This is another alternative to Swansea. The only difference is that everything going in the same direction uses the same platform!

What if changing trains goes wrong?

Everyone worries about catching their connecting train. Their first train might be late, or they might not know where to go. It could be both!

Don’t panic, though. If your train is late and you don’t make your connection, you can travel on the next train. If you have an Advance ticket, it’ll need to be operated by the same company. Sometimes, when there’s a lot of disruption, there might be ticket acceptance with other companies.

If you have an Super Off-Peak, Off-Peak or Anytime ticket, simply jump on the next train (unless the ticket is only valid on a certain company). If you’re not sure, just ask a member of staff before boarding.

Do you think you might miss the last train? Speak to a member of staff as soon as you can. If it’s because of a delay, they can arrange alternative transport to your destination.

Think you might need more time to change trains, or some help? If you’re elderly, disabled or have an invisible disability, then you can book assistance. Click here to find out more.

You can also find out more about your rights as a passenger in the National Rail Conditions of Travel.

I’m ready to go! What’s next?

We hope you found this guide to changing trains useful! If you’re ready to book your journey, you can simply visit the Railsmartr website.

Looking for some more help with changing trains in London? Click here.

The Elizabeth Line: Where does the Elizabeth Line go?

London has recently gained another line on the tube map. It’s a new addition to the rail network in Great Britain and is here to make journeys across London even simpler. Railsmartr is here to take you through where the Elizabeth Line goes, how to use it and which tickets you’ll be able to use.

What is the Elizabeth Line?

The Elizabeth Line is a new section of railway running between Paddington in the west end of Central London with Abbey Wood out to the east. It’s mostly underground, with some sections above ground as you head further east. The line opened on May 24th, 2022.

As a line name, you’ll find that everything that was previously called TfL Rail is now called Elizabeth Line. It’s now completely opened, and you can travel from east to west without the need to change trains, including from Heathrow Airport.

This is the Elizabeth Line service pattern during Off-Peak hours:

This means that you’ll have 16 trains per hour to choose from between Paddington and Whitechapel. During peak hours, this will increase to up to 24 per hour. Extra trains run during these times between Paddington and Shenfield, and Abbey Wood and Reading/Maidenhead.

Click here to view a full map of the line.

Which stations are on the Elizabeth Line?

Where does the Elizabeth Line go? Great question. We’re just going to take a look at the brand-new stations on this page, and let you know what you can interchange to and from.

All of the stations on the ‘new’ section are fully step-free and have platform edge doors. This means that wheelchair users can travel between Paddington and Abbey Wood fully unaided, if they’d prefer to. There’s no gap between the train and platform and lifts from street level to the platform.


Where is it? There’s a brand-new dedicated entrance next to Platform 1 in the ‘main’ station upstairs that can be accessed from Eastbourne Terrace. We’ve also produced this useful map so you know which station entrance is which:

It’s also possible to interchange directly between the Bakerloo Line and Elizabeth Line platforms, as a dedicated passageway has also been built.

elizabeth line paddington

Where can you change to/from? You can interchange with Great Western Railway services to the South West, South Wales and the Cotswolds, as well as the Heathrow Express. Don’t forget though, that from November 6th, direct trains will start running through Central London to Heathrow on the Elizabeth Line, so it might be faster (and cheaper!) to remain on board.

You can also change for the Bakerloo, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines.

Bond Street

The newest station on the line, Bond Street, opened on October 24th 2022. This was several months later than the rest of the Elizabeth Line.

Where is it? There’s two new entrances on Davies Street and Hanover Square, as well as the main Underground entrance. If you’re coming from Regent Street or Oxford Circus, then you’ll probably find it faster to access the line through the Hanover Square entrance. Here’s a map showing each entrance:

Where can you change to/from? Interchange is possible with the Central and Jubilee lines through dedicated underground passages.

Tottenham Court Road

Where is it? The entrance to Tottenham Court Road station is at St Giles’ Circus, where Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road meet.

Where can you change to/from? You can change to and from the Northern and Central lines here through dedicated passages. However, it should be noted that its faster to change at Bond Street for the Central Line.


Where is it? There’s two entrances to Farringdon, depending on which end of the platform you’d like to come in on. You’ll find one across the road from Farringdon, known as the West Entrance (Thameslink & Underground) and another on the corner of Long Lane and Lindsey Street, near Barbican station. This is known as the East Entrance.

Where can you change to/from? At Farringdon, you can change to/from Thameslink services to Brighton, Bedford, Sutton and Gatwick Airport. You’ll also find the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines.

To make this change, you’ll need to pop outside onto the street and cross the road between stations. Don’t worry that you’ll need to go in and out of multiple ticket gates to do this, if you’re using contactless or Oyster it’ll be counted as one journey.

You can also change at Barbican for the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines if you’d prefer. This isn’t an official interchange but it’s physically possible!

Liverpool Street

Where is it? This station connects both Moorgate and Liverpool Street stations, with a huge passage running the length of the platforms and beyond. If you’re joining from Liverpool Street, you’ll find a dedicated entrance where Liverpool Street and Broad Street Place meet.

Coming from Moorgate? There’s an entrance on the southern end of Moorfields which will also take you to the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines.

Where can you change to/from? There’s certainly plenty of choice at this Elizabeth Line station!

From Liverpool Street, you can change for Greater Anglia services to Braintree, Clacton, Ipswich, Norwich and Southend, as well as Cambridge, Hertford East and Stansted Airport. London Overground services also operate to Cheshunt, Chingford and Enfield Town. Finally, you can change for the Central Line, as well as the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines.

Moorgate offers interchange with Great Northern services to Hertford North, Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage. You can also change for the Northern Line and once again, the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines!


Where is it? The original entrance on Whitechapel Road has been retained for this station, though it’s had a lot of work done to make it suitable for the Elizabeth Line. You’ll also find a new entrance on Durward Street, with a passage through the ticket hall connecting both entrances.

Where can you change to/from? Interchange is possible at Whitechapel with London Overground services to Highbury & Islington, New Cross, Crystal Palace, West Croydon and Clapham Junction. You can also change for the District and Hammersmith & City lines.

Canary Wharf

Where is it? Canary Wharf Elizabeth Line station is located on Crossrail Place, effectively sitting right over the water of West India Docks. There’s quite a few stations in the area, so take a look at the map below to get your bearings!

Where can you change to/from? This is where it gets a little complicated as there’s quite the selection of stations around Canary Wharf to choose from.

If you’re wanting to continue your journey by DLR towards Beckton, Woolwich Arsenal or Stratford, then you’re probably best heading for Poplar.

Looking to travel to Limehouse, Shadwell, Tower Gateway or Bank? You’ll find that West India Quay is the nearest and most convenient station to head for.

If you’re going to Lewisham, then it’s worth heading for Canary Wharf. This is because not all DLR trains to Lewisham stop at West India Quay, so you’ll have the most choice.

You can also change for Canary Wharf (Jubilee Line) for trains to Stratford and Stanmore. All four of these stations are classed as an ‘Out-of-Station Interchange’ (OSI) which means that if you’re using Oyster or Contactless, the system will count it as one journey, even though you’ve had to leave the system and walk to another stop.

Custom House

Where is it? The Elizabeth Line station at Custom House has been built right next to the DLR one, so you have two options for entering. You can either come in from Victoria Dock Road or straight from the ExCeL Centre and Royal Victoria Dock.

Where can you change to/from? You can change for DLR services to/from Beckton, Canning Town and the City from Custom House DLR station next door.


Where is it? Woolwich station is situated in Dial Arch Square, just off the A206 Beresford Street/Victory Parade. It’s unusual in that it’s the only brand-new station with no directly-connected interchange to any other transport mode or line. However, it’s a short walk down the Woolwich New Road to Woolwich Arsenal station.

Where can you change to/from? From Woolwich Arsenal, you can change to/from Southeastern and Thameslink services to Charlton, Lewisham, Greenwich and London Bridge. If you’re heading for Slade Green, Dartford and Rainham, it’s easier to stay on to Abbey Wood and change there.

woolwich elizabeth line
Abbey Wood

Where is it? You’ll find Abbey Wood station on the Abbey Wood Road. The Elizabeth Line platforms act as a direct extension of the existing Southeastern and Thameslink station.

Where can you change to/from? You can change for Thameslink service to Dartford, Gillingham, Chatham and Rainham as well as Greenwich, Central London and Luton. Southeastern services will also take you to Dartford, Lewisham, Charlton, New Cross and London Bridge/Cannon Street/Charing Cross.

Which tickets can I use?

Just like everywhere else within London, Oyster and Contactless are the preferred ways to pay on the Elizabeth Line. You’ll be charged the same fares that would apply on the London Underground. Even if you’ve bought a ticket through Railsmartr for your trip to London, you’ll likely find it easier to complete your journey using Contactless.

Paper Travelcards are also valid on the Elizabeth Line, as well as rail tickets with the ‘Maltese Cross’ that allow you to travel across London. Be aware that some rail ticket rules have been altered to exclude the Elizabeth Line, so make sure you check any restrictions. Tickets routed ‘via City Thameslink’ are only valid on Thameslink trains across London. You cannot use tickets to ‘London Terminals‘ to stations between Liverpool Street and Paddington.

It’s not possible to buy tickets to individual Elizabeth Line stations between Paddington and Abbey Wood. Instead, you’ll need to buy a ticket to the zone that the station is in:

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 London airports, including Gatwick. Don’t forget to take a look at our quick guide to crossing London, either.

All information is issued without liability and was correct at August 2023. Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss of inconvenience incurred as a result of the information provided.

Family Train Trips: Our guide to taking the kids on the train

Taking kids on the train can be as daunting as it is thrilling. Will you be able to sit together? Where are the toilets? What if it’s busy? Here’s our guide to family train trips and how to be prepared for an exciting rail adventure.

How can I prepare for family train trips?

Family train trips are exciting stuff! But you want to make sure that you have everything you need before you go. You’ll also want to make sure that everything is well-planned and that you’re getting the best value for money.

Ticket types

When you’re planning family train trips, it’s important to consider how long the journey is going to be and how you’d like to treat it. Are you happy to stay on the train all the way to your destination, or would you prefer to have the option to jump off and have an explore and leg stretch on the way?

If you’re happy to stay on board the whole way, then cheaper Advance train tickets are the way to go. If you’d prefer to be able to hop on and off, then Anytime, Off-Peak and Super-Off-Peak are the best option. Simply click the ticket names to find out more about them!

We’ve also produced a list of some cheap train tickets that you might not have realised exist!

What to bring

When you’re planning family train trips, there’s a few things you’ll want to bring. You could be able to travel light if it’s a day trip, but certain things are always a must:

Just remember: It’s important to pack light where you can, too! Some trains have limited luggage space, and you’ll need to be able to manage the little that you bring without any assistance.

How much will it cost for family train trips?

When you’re planning family train trips, you’ll want to know that it’s affordable. If you’re travelling more than a couple of times a year (or even just once!) then a Family & Friends Railcard is likely to be the best option. On this Railcard, you’ll have two nominated adults (a cardholder and another lead passenger).

So long as at least one of the nominated travellers is part of the group, up to four adults and four children can receive the discount. You’ll also need to be travelling with at least one child at all times.

Adults will get 1/3 off while children will receive a 60% discount. The adults don’t need to be related, and there’s no need for the same passengers to travel every time, so long as one of the named cardholders is part of the group.

Don’t forget that children under five travel free, though it’s usually cheaper to use a Railcard and purchase discounted tickets for both of you, if there’s one or more adults per child.

You can find more about Railcards with our handy guide or on the Family and Friends Railcard website.

Can we sit together?

When you’re on family train trips, it’s natural to want to be sat together! Especially when travelling with younger children. The vast majority of trains have a number of seats laid out in groups, either with or without a table. When you book with Railsmartr, you have the option to select ‘table’ as one of your preferences. If we aren’t able to get a table, we’ll get you all sat as close together as possible.

If you’re booking at late notice on busy trains, this may not be possible. In these cases, most trains have ‘unreserved’ seating, which means that passengers without a reservation (or requiring a more suitable seat) can sit there.

Trains to avoid if you’d like a table

On the following trains, there are fewer tables/group seats than usual, so it may be more difficult to reserve these seats:

Where to aim for

Travelling with Avanti West Coast on a Super Voyager train? These trains run between Holyhead/Chester and London, as well as selected trains between London and Birmingham/Edinburgh. Coach D (and K, if it’s a 10 coach train) has all seats laid out around tables.

If you’re travelling with c2c on trains between Shoeburyness, Southend and London Fenchurch Street, you’ll find table seats at the far ends of the train behind the driver’s cab. Just be aware that some of this seating may be designated as a ‘Quiet Zone’.

When travelling on Thameslink, aim for First Class at the rear of every train. This compartment is always available to passengers with Standard Class tickets and has large tables.

I’m travelling with a pram, what do I do?

If you’re bringing a buggy with you, it needs to be capable of folding. While they aren’t required to be folded, they aren’t allowed to block any doors or aisles. They also can’t occupy any wheelchair spaces required by another passenger.

Need some assistance on your family train trip? Just ask a member of staff. While you’re expected to be able to manage any luggage (including a buggy) without staff help (as per the National Rail Conditions of Travel), they’ll be more than happy to help. At busier stations, they can also help you to board safely when it might become crowded.

We’ve also gone out on the trains ourselves and rated some of the most common train types based on how easy it is to store luggage. You can read it here.

If you (or someone else you’re travelling with) is elderly, disabled or has an invisible disability, then you can pre-book assistance. Just click here to find out more.

Is there any other assistance available?

If you’re travelling from London Paddington, then there is some extra help available and you don’t need to have any access requirements to use it. Great Western Railway are running a priority boarding trial at the moment for any passengers who just need a little extra help. Whether that’s with your luggage, with getting the kids onto the train or something else, you can just book online.

It’s available on most departures to Bristol Temple Meads, Plymouth and Penzance between 9am and 7pm. Click here to find out more.

Where are the toilets?

If you’re travelling with kids, especially little ones, then you’ll want to know that there’s a toilet nearby on family train trips. While most trains have more than one toilet, they all have to have at least one ‘universal’ toilet. These toilets are designed to be accessible to those with disabilities, and also come with baby-changing facilities. They’re also a bit less of a squeeze if there’s a couple of little ones that need to spend a penny at the same time!

Here’s where you can find them on long-distance trains:

Train Universal Toilet location
Avanti West Coast (Pendolino) Coaches B, D & J
Avanti West Coast (Super Voyager) Coaches A, B, C & E (G, H, J & L on 10 coach trains)
CrossCountry (North-South routes)* Coaches A, B, C & F (not all trains have Coach B)
CrossCountry (East-West routes) Coach C
East Midlands Railway (London routes) Coaches A & G
Grand Central Coach F
Great Western Railway (London routes) Coaches A & E on 5 coach trains (plus G & L on 10 coach trains) and Coaches A & L on 9 coach trains
Hull Trains Coaches A & E on 5 coach trains (plus G & L on 10 coach trains)
LNER (Azuma Trains) Coaches A & E on 5 coach trains (plus F & M on 10 coach trains) and Coaches A & M on 9 coach trains
LNER (‘Electric’ Trains) Coaches F & L
Lumo Coaches A & E
TransPennine Express (Nova Trains) Coaches A & E (Nova 1), Coach E (Nova 2 & 3)
TransPennine Express (Class 185 trains)** Coach C

*Selected trains between Edinburgh/Leeds and Plymouth are operated by HST trains (formed of 7 coaches). The universal toilets on these trains are in Coaches A and F only.

**Class 185 trains operate the following long-distance routes: Cleethorpes/Hull/Saltburn-Manchester. All information provided in this table is subject to change and is provided without liability. Railsmartr are not responsible for any inconvenience, discomfort or loss incurred as a result of following the information provided. This list is not exhaustive.

How do I keep the kids entertained on family train trips?

Family train trips can be fun, but if you’re on a long journey, then keeping the kids occupied can be a challenge. In the days of modern technology, it could be as simple as watching something on a device, but some rail operators have got you covered with more traditional activities. Follow the links below for a selection of activities to try on family train trips:

You could also try coming up with your own scavenger hunt for longer trips. Come up with a list of things that your little ones might see along the way, and they can tick them off as they go.

If it’s a really long trip, you might all need a rest, too. So you could bring a lightweight blanket (or let a big coat double up as one during the colder months!)

Keeping devices charged

If you’re wanting to keep the kids entertained on family train trips (or adults, too!) with a mobile device or tablet, then you’ll want to make sure that it has enough power. Nearly all long-distance trains have power outlets, so you can keep them charged on the go. Here’s a quick guide to which trains have the ability to charge devices in Standard Class:

Train 3-pin plug? USB port?
Avanti West Coast (Pendolino) At tables only* No*
Avanti West Coast (Super Voyager) One per seat pair only No
c2c No No
Chiltern Railways On Birmingham-London route No
CrossCountry (North-South routes)* One per seat pair only No
CrossCountry (East-West routes) No No
East Midlands Railway (London routes) One per seat pair only No
East Midlands Railway (Regional & Connect) Varies by route No
Grand Central One per seat pair only One per seat pair only
Great Western Railway (London routes) Yes No
Great Western Railway (Local) Yes Varies by route
Greater Anglia Yes Yes
Hull Trains Yes Yes
LNER (Azuma Trains) Yes No
LNER (‘Electric’ Trains) One per seat pair only** No
Lumo Yes Yes
Northern Varies by route Most trains
ScotRail Most trains inc. all long-distance Varies by route
Southeastern No No
Southern Varies by route Varies by route
South Western Railway Most trains inc. all long-distance Varies by route
Thameslink In declassified First Class at rear No
TransPennine Express Yes Yes
Transport for Wales Yes Yes
West Midlands Trains Varies by route Varies by route

*Avanti West Coast are currently refurbishing their Pendolino trains so that every seat has power access.

**Power sockets are not available in Coach H.

All information provided in this table is subject to change and is provided without liability. Railsmartr are not responsible for any inconvenience, discomfort or loss incurred as a result of following the information provided. This list is not exhaustive.

Family Lounges

Travelling from London Kings Cross? You’ll find a brand-new family waiting area. It contains a custom-made model train set and provides a safe and fun place to wait for your train.

Will there be something to eat and drink?

On most long-distance trains, you have the chance to order food and drink. This is either available from a designated carriage, from a trolley or it can be delivered straight to your seat. Here’s our guide to what trains usually offer in Standard Class:

Operator Food and Drinks Offer
Avanti West Coast On-board shop
CrossCountry Trolley service on most services during the day. At busier times, the trolley might operate as a ‘static’ service from Coach A or F.
East Midlands Railway A buffet car is available on trains between Sheffield/Nottingham and London.
Grand Central A buffet car is available on all services.
Great Western Railway A trolley service is available on most long-distance services.
Greater Anglia Buffet car provided on most trains from Norwich to London.
LNER Buffet car available on all trains, as well as at-seat service by scanning a QR code at your seat.
Lumo Pre-order on the Lumo website. A trolley service is also available.
Northern Trolley service operates on certain services between Leeds and Carlisle only.
ScotRail On most long-distance services, a trolley service is available.
Transport for Wales A trolley service is available on some long-distance trains.
TransPennine Express You’ll find a trolley service between 0700 and 1900 Monday to Friday on trains between Manchester Piccadilly and York, and Manchester Piccadilly and Doncaster. All trains between Manchester Airport and Glasgow/Edinburgh have a trolley service at all times.

All information provided in this table is subject to change and is provided without liability and all catering is subject to availability. Railsmartr are not responsible for any inconvenience, discomfort or loss incurred as a result of following the information provided. This list is not exhaustive.

Of course, we’d always recommend bringing along some snacks for the trip. Many stations will have supermarkets or cafes that you can stock up in before you travel, too. Just be aware that it usually isn’t possible to warm up baby food and milk on board. This is because on-train microwaves work at much higher temperatures than we’re used to having in our microwaves at home!

Got more questions about travelling by train? Take a look at our guide on how to use the train in Great Britain. If you’re travelling with family, you might want to keep the tricky changes between trains to a minimum. We have a handy blog about changing trains, too!

What’s the best First Class train in the UK?

First Class. It conjures up images of luxury and enjoying an ‘exclusive’ experience. So what’s the best First Class train in the UK, which ones are just okay, and which ones should you avoid? Here’s our guide to travelling First Class like a boss.

The Great


If you wanted the simplest answer to which is the best First Class train in the UK, then we’d probably say LNER. You can travel at any time of day and get your share of 2+1 seating, complimentary food and drink and an altogether more relaxing experience. This is First Class exactly as you’d imagine it.

‘There’s two types of trains on LNER. You’re most likely to get an Azuma, which looks like this:


In terms of the seat, the Intercity 225 trains win every single time. They’re like big homely armchairs and provide a decent level of recline. There’s also a nice variety of seating types, with plenty of single seats and tables for two. The Azuma has lots of tables for four, but assumes that the rest of us prefer to travel as loners! Tables for two as are rare as hen’s teeth on these trains.

What can you expect on board to eat and drink? LNER operates with a ‘Deli, Dish & Dine‘ menu. ‘Deli’ is reserved for their quieter services, ‘Dish’ is served across most services during the day, and Dine is often reserved for the ‘peak’ services.

At minimum, you can expect hot breakfast sandwiches, cold sandwiches and salads and a variety of hot and cold drinks (including alcohol after 11:30am) every day. The ‘Dish’ menu adds some hot lunch/dinner dishes (such as Shepherdess Chicken or Asparagus Tortellini) while the ‘Dine’ menu gives a more ‘premium’ offering such as a ‘Full LNER’ breakfast in the morning, and a salmon dish later in the day.

Is it worth it? If your journey is over an hour, absolutely. On some quieter services, the difference in price often isn’t too high, making it ideal for some affordable luxury. Is it the best First Class train in the UK? Well, it certainly provides the best ‘all-round’ experience all week long.

2. Avanti West Coast

The ‘other’ route from north to south perhaps doesn’t have quite the same ‘flair’ or complimentary offering to make it worthy of the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ badge, but it’s worth mentioning the ‘Standard Premium‘ product here.

Avanti have split up their Pendolino trains (serving all routes except Shrewsbury and Chester/North Wales) into ‘First Class’ and ‘Standard Premium’, with the only difference being the complimentary food and drink. What’s more is that you can simply upgrade on board if you fancy it, though Standard Premium Advance tickets can be purchased, as well.

On weekdays, Coaches G and H will be designated ‘Standard Premium’ (though Coach G is soon to be converted to Standard on some trains), while J and K remain traditional First Class. On weekends, Coach J is also Standard Premium, leaving the tiny Coach K as First. Our advice is not to book First Class on weekends and instead opt for Standard Premium, as it can get rather cosy!

Seating is laid out in a mixture of 2+1 seating, and is rather comfortable indeed. It should be added that Avanti are in the process of refurbishing their trains, but for the moment (October 2022), most trains will look like this (Standard Premium pictured):

avanti standard premium - best first class train in the uk blog

What do you get if you pay the extra for First Class? To be fair to Avanti, their menu is fairly decent and doesn’t change too much on weekends, either. In the mornings, you can expect hot breakfast sandwiches, a ‘Great British Breakfast’ and Breakfast Hash, among other dishes. Later on, there’s a Croque Monsieur, a charcuterie plate and a couple of salad options. Here’s the Great British Breakfast:

avanti first class breakfast, showing toast, sausage, scrambled egg, bacon, mushroom and black pudding

They don’t skimp on the drinks either, with a plethora of hot, cold and alcoholic drinks to choose from. Versus LNER, there’s a little less ‘pizazz’ with some of the food, but it has a nice variety and the portions are decent. .

For some, ‘Standard Premium’ might make this the best First Class train in the UK, as it allows you to enjoy some space on a long trip for a simple upgrade.

Is it worth it? On weekdays, First Class is more likely to be worth it. But, if you just want some space, opt for Standard Premium instead. It also gives you the option to jump on and upgrade on a whim! On weekends, Standard Premium is the way to go. We’ve even done the legwork and tried the difference out for ourselves. You can read more here. We’ve also done a direct comparison of Avanti West Coast vs LNER.

The ‘Decent’

These are the trains where we’d say it’s worth it on an Advance ticket or upgrade if you can get it. They certainly won’t be winning the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ award, but they’ll give you some extra space and likely a bit of peace on your trip!

3. TransPennine Express, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains

We’ve put these three together as they offer broadly the same product. 2+1 seating, a selection of drinks, snacks (and maybe a sandwich!) and a more pleasant travelling environment. TransPennine Express operate a variety of different train types, but other than your seat looking and feeling a little different, the product is largely the same.

Great Western Railway run the same type of train on all of their long-distance routes out of London. It’s the same as LNER’s Azuma and also the TransPennine Express Nova 1, which runs between Newcastle and Liverpool. Hull Trains operate this type of train on all of their services, too. The only difference is the decor and the carriage sizes.


What’s the catering offer like? Well…

Is it worth it? Certainly all of these trains are modern, spacious and offer a ‘First Class’ feel. Don’t turn up expecting a feast (though Hull Trains certainly offer the best catering of the three) but on most trains, you’ll at least get something to drink and nibble. If you can get a good First Class Advance ticket or upgrade on the day, it’s definitely worth it.

4. East Midlands Railway

East Midlands Railway‘s First Class is certainly laid out as you would expect. It’s got 2+1 seating, seats with a reasonable recline and a more relaxed ambience. You’ll find First Class on services between Sheffield/Nottingham and London St Pancras. It’s no longer offered on trains to/from Corby, but for the moment, you’ll find ‘declassified’ sections with a little more room than the rest of the train. Sit in them at no extra cost!

Here’s what a typical First Class carriage looks like:

emr first class - best first class train in the uk blog

East Midlands Railway just slips over on the fact that these trains haven’t had a refurbishment for quite a while and some are starting to look a little tired. However, that rings true for the entire train (both Standard and First) and the seats themselves are still pretty comfortable. It’s definitely worth upgrading if you fancy some extra space and the price difference isn’t too high.

Despite the slightly tired interiors, the food offering is actually quite good. Here’s what East Midlands Railway had to say about it when they overhauled the offering in March 2022:

“Customers travelling First Class during the morning will now be able to choose a hot complimentary bacon or sausage ciabatta, porridge, or a vegan breakfast burrito. While in the afternoon, they will be offered a chilled sandwich, wrap or salad, or the choice of a gluten free meal or vegan option.”

East Midlands Railway Press Release, 03 March 2022

This is available on Monday to Saturday at the moment (all day), with plans to extend it to Sundays.

In the coming years, East Midlands Railway will also be replacing their fleet on the London route with more modern trains, so it’s likely that they’ll become an even stronger contender in the battle for the best First Class train in the UK!

Is it worth it? If you’d like some more space and a more comfortable seat, it’s worth considering. Just be aware that on Sundays, the catering offer is fairly limited for the moment.

5. Grand Central

Grand Central offer a decent First Class product, with 2+1 seating and a reasonable travel environment. While their fleet of ‘Adelante’ trains don’t have the most reliable reputation, they’ve recently given them a good refurbishment and they’re fairly smart and modern.

In terms of the complimentary food and drink offer, you can choose for two items out of a list of snacks such as croissants, crisps and biscuits, as well as bean-to-cup coffee. Water, coffee and tea are available throughout the journey without limit.

Is it worth it? The catering certainly won’t be winning any awards, but Grand Central offer a smart First Class that’s certainly worth it on an Advance ticket or upgrade if you can get one.

6. CrossCountry

CrossCountry offer First Class on all of their trains, though their main long-distance product is on their Voyager trains, which operate the ‘core’ routes from Scotland to the South West and Manchester to the South Coast. These trains certainly don’t have the best reputation, being rather cramped and often too short for the trips that they’re making.

That said, this makes a good First Class product all the more important, especially if you’d like some extra space on your journey. Here’s what First Class looks like on a ‘Voyager’ train:

crosscountry first class

While fairly reasonable, it’s still squeezing a fair number of seats into a small carriage. Those tables for four don’t match up with the windows, either! That said, when comparing it to the rather cramped Standard Class, it could well still be worth the upgrade. The addition of airline-style pairs of seats next to each other is also nice to have, with most trains opting for single seats in this sort of layout.

What’s on the menu? The complimentary menu is offered on most trains, though sometimes early in the morning and late at night, parts of some journeys won’t have any catering. Here’s what to expect:

Sandwiches are available for journeys over 50 minutes on weekdays and 90 minutes on weekends and Bank Holidays. There’s also a selection of hot and cold drinks available.

Is it worth it? If the price is right, it’s definitely worth it for the extra space. After all, CrossCountry services can be very busy indeed. If you have a flexible ticket, you can purchase Weekend First on board, which definitely makes this worth the upgrade.

7. ScotRail

ScotRail offer First Class on their long-distance and ‘eXpress’ services, the latter being the brand name for trains on the Edinburgh – Falkirk High – Glasgow Queen Street route. The on-board environment certainly varies between the different products, but ScotRail themselves do recognise that.

For example, an on-board upgrade on an ‘Intercity’ train costs £15, while a shorter hop on an ‘eXpress’ train is just £5. Here’s what an ‘eXpress’ train looks like in First Class:

scotrail express first class

While ‘eXpress’ trains are a little more basic (but still in a 2+1 layout), ‘Inter7City’ trains are far more luxurious, having kept their layout from a previous refurbishment that they had while operating for Great Western Railway. They’re classy, comfortable and certainly worth it for a £15 upgrade on a long journey.

What’s available to eat? You’ll just get a hot/soft drink and a sweet/savoury snack if there’s catering available. Click here for the full list of trains that offer it.

Is it worth it? For £5, we’d certainly recommend the eXpress upgrade if it’s a particularly busy train in Standard Class. The Inter7City upgrade for £15 is worth it on a long trip, too. Just take a picnic with you!

8. Greater Anglia

Greater Anglia have recently abolished First Class on all except their Norwich to London route, thanks to the introduction of a brand-new fleet of trains.

First Class on this route is in a 2+1 layout and is bright and modern as you’d expect from a new train. On Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and over Christmas, you can upgrade on board for £10.

On weekdays, you can claim complimentary hot and cold drinks and snacks from the buffet counter, too. It isn’t a spectacular offering, but with a maximum journey time of under two hours, we wouldn’t expect the height of opulence.

Is it worth it? If you can get a cheap Advance ticket or fancy a £10 upgrade. It’s no-frills and a brand new train.

9. South Western Railway

South Western Railway operate a variety of route types and so you’ll find a variety of types of First Class. If you’re travelling between London Waterloo and Salisbury/Exeter St Davids, seats are arranged in a 2+1 layout, and it’s genuinely rather roomy.

On trains to Weymouth and some trains to Portsmouth, they’ve recently refurbished their ‘444’ trains and with it, removed the 2+1 layout from First Class! As Standard is 2+2, this may remove some of the ‘pull’ for travellers. That said, it’s bright, modern and spacious enough. It just isn’t quite as ‘different’.

Trains to Alton, Basingstoke and some services to Portsmouth are operated by ‘450’ trains. These have recently been refurbished and have two small but smart compartments in a 2+2 layout, though Standard Class is 3+2. While not all that exciting, they’re again very smart and even provide wireless charging at the tables.

Will you be fed and watered? Sadly not. But First Class does come with larger tables, so you can enjoy a nice picnic spread.

Is it worth it? Certainly if you upgrade at the weekend and you’re travelling a reasonable distance. Click here to find out more about the costs of upgrading.

The Bad…

Here’s the First Class carriages to avoid – they certainly won’t be winning the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ award! Maybe it’s because they’re absolutely no different to Standard, or because you can usually travel in them without paying extra! In many cases, these First Class compartments used to act as a way of being guaranteed a seat on rush hour commuter trains, rather than being anything special in themselves.

10. London Northwestern Railway

We’d previously mentioned London Northwestern Railway on this list, but they no longer offer First Class.

The First Class sections are still there at the moment, so feel free to give them a try and work out whether you’d have paid the upgrade!

11. Southern

The majority of Southern services are operated by their ‘Electrostar’ trains. The only exception is services from Uckfield to London Bridge and Eastbourne to Ashford International. Indeed, these two routes offer trains with 2+1 seating, if you’d like a little more space. What’s more, Eastbourne to Ashford International is advertised as ‘Standard Class only’, so you can sit in this area with a First Class ticket.

So, the only route where you might find a benefit to buying a First Class ticket is on some busier trains between Uckfield and London Bridge. Before COVID-19, this was likely to be a very popular option in the peak commuting times.

However, the ‘Electrostar’ trains (below) are *almost* exactly the same in First Class as they are in Standard Class. You might get a partition door and a power socket, but the experience is almost identical. Southern are also currently in the process of refurbishing their trains and adding power sockets to Standard Class, too. Prior to COVID-19, these little First Class sections used to be an invaluable way of guaranteeing yourself a seat in the rush hour, but naturally that’s not so much the case anymore.

Is it worth it? Potentially on a busy train between Uckfield and London Bridge, but otherwise you’re probably best saving your pennies.

12. Thameslink

The Thameslink First Class experience certainly isn’t the worst one of this list. While the seats are still in a 2+2 layout, they’re wider, and you have access to power sockets. It’s also separated reasonably well from the rest of the train. Here’s what to expect:

thameslink first class - best first class train in the uk blog

What’s the issue here? Well, unless you really want to be away from other passengers, there’s no need to pay for it. In some ways, that might make it the best First Class train in the UK! It’s always ‘declassified’ at the rear of the train on the following trains:

Plus, it’s declassified at both ends on these trains:

If in doubt, always sit at the back! Of course, other passenger have gradually cottoned onto this, so expect the ‘free’ First Class section to be a little busy. If you really want some solitude, then that’s the only reason to pay extra.

Is it worth it? Not in our opinion, seeing as there’s a ‘free’ option to try it out!

13. Gatwick Express

There’s little to say about Gatwick Express other than that the First Class compartment is exactly the same as Standard Class, save for a small piece of cloth on the seat. The Gatwick Express website says that:

“With your First Class rail ticket you can take advantage of power sockets throughout and complimentary Wi-Fi, meaning you can send those last minute emails before you hop on your flight.”

Gatwick Express Website

This in itself is true, but you can take advantage of exactly the same facilities in Standard Class. Considering that Gatwick Express is the ‘premium’ operator on the route, this is perhaps a little disappointing! We wouldn’t recommend paying the extra. You can found out more in our guide to the best train to Gatwick Airport.

Is it worth it? Not in our opinion.

Other Experiences

While we’ve covered the best First Class train in the UK (and the not so good), there are two other experiences that are worth mentioning…

Great Western Railway Pullman Dining

While Great Western Railway might not be winning the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ award, if you’re willing to pay a little extra, then they might win the award for some of the best dining.

With main courses such as Thai Green Curry and Herb-crusted Haddock, this is a ‘proper’ restaurant-style service!

On selected services between London Paddington and Plymouth/Swansea, you can pay £33.95 for two courses or £39.95 for three, and take a seat in a First Class carriage to enjoy your meal. First Class customers are able to reserve in advance, while those in Standard Class can walk-up on the day if there’s spare seats.

You can click here to find out more about the Pullman dining service.

Transport for Wales

Transport for Wales are currrently in the process of introducing First Class onto their long-distance services, having just had a single ‘Premier’ return journey between Holyhead and Cardiff Central for a number of years.

Once their new trains are introduced, you’ll also be able to travel in First Class between Manchester and South Wales. Complimentary drinks and snacks are available, and you can currently also order hot food on board.

It’s £10 for breakfast, £17 for a two-course lunch/dinner and £20 for three courses.

Is there anything else I should know about booking First Class trains?

Looking to know more about First Class? Take a look at our dedicated page for First Class train travel. We’re here to help with our Top 5 Tips for getting cheaper fares, upgrading on board and even how to use First Class for free.

Ready to book your First Class trip? Railsmartr is here to help. We don’t charge any booking fees, or any fees at all, for that matter!

Changed your mind? No problem. You’ll only ever pay the difference in fare. If your ticket is refundable, then we can refund it. No fees, no fuss.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed within this post are not to be taken as statements of fact. Your experiences may differ or vary from the ones that we’ve described. All First Class complimentary offers are subject to availability. All First Class complimentary offer information is correct at the time of writing (20/10/2022) and some information was last updated 23/06/2023.

Tips for first-time train travel

Whether you’re a visitor to Great Britain or just someone who isn’t familiar with travelling on the railway, this handy guide on how to use the train in Great Britain has you covered. Let us take you through the process of searching for your ticket all the way to stepping off at your destination!

How to use the train: Buying a ticket

If you’re planning a trip by train, you’ll need to know where to go first! Once you have an initial idea of this, you can pop onto the Railsmartr website. Let’s say that we’re going to go from London to York:

how to use the train- buying a ticket

You need to pop in the details of where you’d like to go to and from, when you’d like to go and how many of you are taking the train. There’s also the option to add in Railcards. If you’re not a regular traveller, you probably don’t have one of these! If you’d like to know more about them though, just click here.

Once you have all of your details in, simply press ‘Get train times and fares’!

how to use the train - railsmartr website

Now you’ve been presented with a list of trains that you could take. Here at Railsmartr, we’ll always offer you the cheapest ticket for your journey, but this brings us to a bigger question:

Which ticket is right for me?

Knowing which ticket you need to buy is one of the most important parts of how to use the train in Great Britain, but one of the things that can also put people off. Rail tickets in Great Britain can be confusing, but here’s our summary of which ticket to buy, in a nutshell:

Type of ticket Is it for you?
Advance Only valid for the train that you’ve booked. 
Can be changed to a different train without a fee.
Not normally refundable, unless your train is cancelled and you opt not to travel.
Perfect if you’re able to commit to a certain date and time.
Most of the time, this is the cheapest type of ticket for a journey. ‘
The further in advance you book, the cheaper the ticket.
Super Off-Peak Valid only at certain times of day on weekdays, but you can take any train within those times.
Valid all-day on weekends (with a few exceptions).
Can be refunded without a fee when you book through Railsmartr
Ideal if you’d like to travel at less busy times.
Can be purchased at any time. The price won’t change.
The cheapest flexible option, but not available on every route.
Off-Peak Not valid in the morning and/or evening peak, but you can take any train within those times.
Valid all-day on weekends
Can be refunded without a fee when you book through Railsmartr
Ideal if you’d like to travel at less busy times.
Can be purchased at any time. The price won’t change.
Anytime Valid all of the time. No restrictions!
Can be refunded without a fee when you book through Railsmartr
Ideal if you need to be flexible with when you travel.
Can be purchased at any time. The price won’t change.
how to use the train - ticket selection

Let’s take a look at our options! When you click on the price for each train, it’ll give you a selection of fares to choose from. We can see that our cheapest option is £54 if we’d like to commit to that train. If we choose to ‘View all fares’, we can also see First Class tickets. When you’re ready to buy, just select your ticket!

If your train offers allocated seating, we’ll reserve you a seat. Just tell us what your preferences are (direction of travel, table seat, window or aisle) and we’ll do our best to meet them.

What will my ticket look like?

In Great Britain, you can choose between a paper ticket or an eTicket. A traditional paper ticket looks like this:

how to use the train - paper ticket

These are available from Railsmartr if you select to collect your tickets from the station. To do this, you’ll need to visit a ticket machine before your journey, pop your bank card in and enter a unique code to collect them.

how to use the train - eticket

eTickets look a little bit different. We’ll email these to you and you can use them however you’d prefer! You can show them to the conductor on your phone, save them to Google Wallet/Apple Pay or print them out at home. Instead of inserting this kind of ticket into a ticket gate, just scan the barcode at the top.

How to use the train: Choosing which class to travel in

Our next part of how to use the train covers picking which class to travel in. If you’re travelling a long distance, then First Class may seem like a sensible option. For example, LNER offers a complimentary food and drinks menu as well as larger and more comfortable seats. Here’s what First Class looks like on one type of TransPennine Express train (left) and LNER train (right).

Over shorter distances, it may not be worth it. Operators such as South Western Railway and Southern mostly offer First Class to increase your chances of getting a seat, for example. If the difference in price is only very small, then go for it! Otherwise, save your pennies.

Can I upgrade to First Class?

This very much depends on the type of train you’re using and when you’re using it! On weekdays, it isn’t always possible to upgrade on the train for a fixed fee. Instead, you’ll be charged the difference up to the First Class fare, which could be very expensive. Some rail operators have also teamed up with ‘Seatfrog‘, which allows you to upgrade in advance. On a weekend though, it’s often possible to just take a free seat in First Class and wait for the conductor to upgrade you.

Here’s our handy guide to upgrading on the train:

Operator Information on upgrading
Avanti West Coast Upgrade on board to ‘Standard Premium’ seven days a week. Up to £30 per person.
CrossCountry Upgrades available with Seatfrog – no longer possible on board.
East Midlands Railway Upgrade on board at weekends for £12 if you have a Super-Off-Peak, Off-Peak or Anytime ticket.
Great Western Railway Weekend First upgrades are available on board, starting at £10.
Greater Anglia Upgrade on board on weekends and Bank Holidays for £10.
LNER Upgrade on board for £35 or £45 at weekends and during Super Off-Peak times.
ScotRail Upgrade on board for £5 on ‘eXpress’ services or £15 on ‘Intercity’ services.
South Western Railway Upgrade on board on weekends and Bank Holidays for between £5 and £15.
TransPennine Express Upgrade on board on weekends and Bank Holidays for £10, £15 or £20.

How to use the train: Accessibility

All trains in Great Britain are accessible to wheelchair users and those who may have other mobility issues. Every train will have at least one wheelchair space and an accessible toilet available on board. Here’s an example from a train operating between London and Hull:

how to use the train - wheelchair space

If you’re elderly, disabled or have another invisible disability, then you’re able to pre-book assistance for your journey. Whether you need a ramp to get your wheelchair on board, some help with your luggage or guidance around busy stations, then staff are on hand to assist.

Click here to find out more about assistance on the train and at stations.

How to use the train: Finding your platform

So, we’ve looked at how to prepare for your journey and buy your ticket, and now you’re at the station. Some stations may seem tricky to get around and you need to find which platform your train is on. So, what do you look for?

Keep an eye out for information screens like these ones if you’re at a station with lots of platforms. They’ll alternate between saying whether your train is ‘on time’ (or any delay) and will give you the platform number, too. If they don’t show a platform number yet, don’t worry. This just means that your train isn’t ready for boarding just yet.

When you know your platform, follow the signage or ask a member of staff to help with locating it. Make sure you have your ticket ready, as you might need to insert it or scan it at a ticket gate. Staff will be on hand to help with this, too.

How to use the train: Finding your carriage

If you have a reserved seat, then you’ll need to know where to find the right carriage! All trains with reserved seating will have the carriage letter either on the door or by the door. Most modern Intercity trains have a detailed display showing the destination and carriage letter, such as these ones:

How do I know where to wait?

If it’s your first time using the train, it can be overwhelming when you’re waiting on a busy platform. Knowing where to stand can make your life a lot easier! On the platform, you’ll find displays that will show you the order of the carriages on the train. They might also show you where the best place is to stand. Let’s take a look at an example:

how to use the train - info board

This shows us that Coach A is at the front of the train, and that we should wait in Zone 15, which will be marked on the platform. When the train arrives, we’ll be standing in the right place without having to rush to the carriage that we need.

How to use the train: Finding your seat

Now that you’re on board, you need to find your seat! If you have a seat reserved, then it’ll be marked with either an electronic display or a paper ticket in the seatback. On some routes, the seat reservations will be marked with lights, such as on this LNER train:

how to use the train - reservations

If a light is green, it isn’t reserved and anyone can sit in it. If it’s yellow, it might be reserved later, so you should check the screen to see where it’s reserved from and to. A red light means that it’s currently reserved. If you’ve reserved a seat, you’re probably looking for a red one!

On some trains, you won’t have a seat reserved, nor will it be possible to do so. In this case, simply pick any free seat.

What do I do with my luggage?

If you have any luggage, make sure it’s stored correctly. Small bags go under your seat, larger cabin-style bags go above your head, and the largest items go in the racks at the ends of the carriage. You’re not allowed to block aisles, doors or place items on seats.

How to use the train: Onboard experience

Great, you’ve mastered how to use the train and now we’re on the move! So what now?

Will there be anything to eat?

Some trains offer a food and drinks service. This could come in the form of a trolley, a buffet car or delivery straight to your seat! Let’s take a look at who offers what:

Operator Food and Drinks Offer
Avanti West Coast On-board shop and at-seat service using an app.
CrossCountry Trolley service on most services during the day. At busier times, the trolley might operate as a ‘static’ service.
East Midlands Railway A buffet car is available on trains between Sheffield/Nottingham and London.
Grand Central A buffet car is available on all services.
Great Western Railway A trolley service is available on most long-distance services. Pullman dining is also provided on a select number of trains.
Greater Anglia Buffet car provided on most trains from Norwich to London.
LNER Buffet car available on all trains, as well as at-seat service by scanning a QR code at your seat.
Lumo Pre-order on the Lumo website. A trolley service is also available.
Northern Trolley service operates on certain services between Leeds and Carlisle only.
ScotRail On most long-distance services, a trolley service is available.
Transport for Wales A trolley service is available on some long-distance trains.
TransPennine Express You’ll find a trolley service between 0700 and 1900 Monday to Friday on trains between Manchester Piccadilly and York, and Manchester Piccadilly and Doncaster. All trains between Manchester Airport and Glasgow/Edinburgh have a trolley service at all times.

How to use the train: Reaching your destination

You’re almost there! When you get close to your destination, there will be an announcement on board the train. Make sure you have everything with you, such as bags, phone chargers and anything you’ve stored in luggage racks.

Keep your ticket handy too, as you might need it to leave the station. There’ll be signage pointing you to the exit, but staff will be happy to help if you’re unsure. If you need to catch another train, just look out for the information screens we mentioned earlier!

We hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. Welcome to the world of environmentally friendly rail travel.