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What’s the best train from Leeds to Manchester?

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

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

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

  • The cost – is it good value for money?
  • Speed – will it get us there quickly?
  • Comfort – what are the trains like?
  • Reliability – will the train actually turn up?

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

TransPennine Express

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

  • Two per hour go to Manchester Victoria, stopping at Huddersfield and Stalybridge (one per hour)
  • One per hour goes to Manchester Piccadilly, stopping at Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Stalybridge (also at Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley in peak hours)
  • One per hour serves Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road and Manchester Piccadilly, stopping at Dewsbury and Huddersfield.

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

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

The cost

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

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

The trains

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

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

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

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

The seat experience

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

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

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

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

Storing your luggage

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

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

Upgrading to First Class

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

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

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


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

  • Two per hour stopping at Bramley, New Pudsey, Bradford Interchange, Low Moor (one per hour), Halifax, Sowerby Bridge (one per hour), Mytholmroyd (one per hour) Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Rochdale
  • One per hour stopping at Morley, Batley, Dewsbury, Mirfield, Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Walsden, Littleborough, Smithy Bridge and Rochdale.

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

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

The cost

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

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

The trains

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

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

The seat experience

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

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

Storing your luggage

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

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

Upgrading to First Class

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

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

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

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

  • At busier times, such as in the rush hour, aim for the trains that start at Manchester Victoria if you’re travelling east. They leave at around 57 minutes past the hour (54 on Sundays) and have around 20 minutes turnaround time in Manchester. This gives you a good chance to turn up and get a seat
  • The trains via Bradford will swap directions there, so you’ll need to switch seats if you don’t want to travel backwards. Alternatively, take the train that goes via Brighouse and Dewsbury
  • All trains start and terminate at Leeds. Just make sure you get there around 10 minutes before departure to guarantee a seat on busier trains

Is there anything else I should know?

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

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

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

Author Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I've been working for Railsmartr since 2022. I make sure that everything we communicate with customers is top-notch and write exciting and informative content for the website. When I'm not at work, you'll still find me on the rails - though often in the far corners of Europe!