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:
- Chiltern Railways
- Elizabeth Line
- Gatwick Express
- Great Northern
- Greater Anglia
- Heathrow Express
- London Northwestern Railway
- London Overground
- South Western Railway
- Stansted Express
- Transport for Wales
- West Midlands Railway.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The unreserved coach on all Hull Trains services is Coach A.
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 nine-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 has 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.
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! Except for 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 from 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.