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Can I get on a sold out train?

So, you’ve popped in a search on the Railsmartr site to look for the ideal train. When you find it, you’re faced with this: 


railsmartr website showing a sold out train

First of all, don’t worry. Very few trains in Great Britain can ‘sell out’. But if they can’t sell out, what does this message mean, why is it there and how can you get around it?

What is a sold out train?

There are a couple of reasons why you might see a sold out train. The first one is that all reservable seats have been taken on that service. This means that ticket-selling websites (including Railsmartr) can’t sell any tickets for them, even tickets that are ‘flexible’ and valid on multiple trains. 

Secondly, it might be because reservations aren’t available yet! If a timetable hasn’t been confirmed, then keeping reservations closed ensures that you won’t book tickets for a train that either won’t run or might be changed. Of course, it’s confusing, as you’ll think it’s a sold out train. If this happens, just wait a little longer. You can also check the National Rail website for information on when tickets are released. 

Why is there a sold out train?

You’ll likely see a sold out train because many rail companies set their trains to be ‘reservations compulsory’ during COVID-19. This ensured that a seat was given with every ticket, and allowed for social distancing. Despite all COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, this information was never removed. 

The final question is: what can you do about this? 

Can you get on a sold out train?

So, you need to travel but the train you want is ‘sold out’. What next? The main thing you’ll need to do is buy a ticket. 

You’ll need an ‘Super Off-Peak‘, ‘Off-Peak‘, or ‘Anytime‘ ticket, for one. Advance tickets will have completely sold out. Next, pick a different train from the journey results on the Railsmartr website. Ideally, make sure that it’s operated by the company and leaves as close to the original departure time as possible. 

Make sure that the ticket you’re buying is valid on the company and route that you want to travel on. When you get to the payment stage, selected ‘detailed ticket information’ on the right-hand side. It’ll tell you about any route restrictions: 

 Ticket information on Railsmartr website
In this example, we can see that the ticket is only valid via York

Once you’ve bought the ticket, you can disregard any reservations. Your ticket is valid on any train within the time and route restrictions. 

Don’t worry about boarding the train. Unless it’s a special event, you won’t be refused boarding without a reservation. The only exception is the ‘Night Riviera’ train from London to Penzance and Caledonian Sleeper services. You cannot use these trains without a reservation, so ‘sold out’ unfortunately means ‘sold out’! 

How do I get a seat on a sold out train?

Well, you don’t want to be stuck standing, do you? Don’t worry, we’ve wrote a guide to finding an unreserved seat on a train. Most companies will leave a certain number of seats free for people who haven’t managed to book one in advance. You can find it here

You’ll want to make sure that you get to the station with enough time to spare. Trains at London Terminals tend to board around 20-30 minutes beforehand. 

If you’re at King’s Cross, head upstairs to the ‘Mezzanine’ level where the cafes/restaurants are (escalator facing Platforms 9-11). Turn around at the top of the escalator and you’ll see a smaller set of ticket gates. 

Once your train is announced, head straight through there and you’ll get a head-start compared to the large crowds waiting on the main concourse!

Help, I’m still confused!

We know that there’s a lot to take in, so don’t worry. Feel free to contact us if you need any help with booking a sold out train. 

Alternatively, a ticket office will be able to sell you a ticket without a reservation if your station has one. Just make sure that you leave enough time to buy the ticket first, as you might be charged a Penalty Fare if you board without one. 

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!