Planning your journey

Online journey planners

Railfuture recommend that if you intend to book your tickets online, you should use the website of the train operator that you will be travelling with, because they do not add booking charges and may have special offers – so you may as well use that operator’s site to plan your journey as well.  Their journey planners are based on one or other of the well-known journey planning websites.  The list of train operators’ websites is given further down this page.

There are other online journey planners:
  • National Rail  This is the rail industry journey planner, which may give more options; it redirects to the website for one of the train operators at random if you choose to buy a ticket
  • Traveline To plan combined train and bus journeys
  • Transport for London Includes rail but often gives bus option when there is a better rail choice
  • Rome2Rio For combined bus and train travel, including trips abroad
  • Railsmartr is now used by Virgin Trains. There are no booking or credit card charges.
  • Trainline The best known site.  If you’re flexible on when to travel, its best fare finder will find the cheapest tickets  – but buy the ticket on the train operator’s website, because thetrainline may add extra charges to the ticket price
  • MyTrainTicket also adds extra charges
  • Raileasy also adds extra charges
  • Red Spotted Hanky Independent site now adds a £1 booking charge
  • Take the train Independent site that that now adds the highest extra charge of £5 per booking
  • FastJP allows you to plan a journey with multiple 'vias' and 'avoids' using only specified train operators, without any limitation from fares or permitted routes. On some occasions you may be able to find a faster route not shown on other sites because there is not a through fare valid by that route; you can then buy separate tickets for each leg of the route on one of the sites that sells tickets (we recommend the site of the train operator that you will be travelling with). Does not show fares, but these can be found at BR Fares
  • Open Train Times Can use either the public or the working timetable, but doesn’t include the facility to buy tickets
  • Traintimes.org.uk Can set up an appointment in your diary, but doesn’t include the facility to buy tickets. Not to be confused with traintimes.co.uk, which merely redirects to The Trainline
  • BR Times an independent site intended to enable passengers to use their own judgement on appropriate and achievable itineraries and connections; doesn’t include the facility to buy tickets
  • Trains.im another independent timetable site
  • Places to visit by train Produced by Railfuture member John Hewes
  • Loco2.com allows you to plan journeys and buy train tickets for the UK and across Europe
  • DeutscheBahn Plan journeys anywhere in Europe, including the UK – but online, you can only buy tickets for journeys in Germany
  • Google Maps now allows you to plan journeys on public transport, using data supplied by Traveline and other national and local operators; doesn’t include the facility to buy tickets
Online journey planners allow time to change trains, depending on the station – this may be longer or shorter than you actually need, depending on your mobility and the risk of the train being late.  They are also sometimes too generous for the time required to cross London via the tube.  They show the fastest route – you may need use the advanced search, ‘go via’ or ‘find slower trains’ options to find the cheapest tickets, which may be via a specific route, for example:
  • Reading to Gloucester via Stroud is cheaper than via Bristol Parkway
  • London to Birmingham is cheaper via London Midland or Chiltern than Virgin
  • London to Manchester is cheaper via Sheffield (East Midlands Trains) from St Pancras than via Virgin from Euston
  • London to Swansea is cheaper via Warminster (South West Trains) from Waterloo than via First Great Western from Paddington
Occasionally for more complex journeys online planners may not be able to find the fastest route, in which case you have to resort to the timetables.

Where you have a choice of travel time or route, you may wish to consider how reliable each alternative has been in the past. Recent Train Times allows you to select any train service and see its punctuality over the previous three months, whilst My Train Journey provides a smartphone app which shows for any specific service the percentage of journeys that were right time, up to 15 minutes late, or up to one hour late.

Note that with most journey planners you have to select a train before buying a ticket.  However, unless you buy an Advance ticket, you do not have to travel on that train – the ticket will be valid on other trains as well.


Each rail operator publishes pocket timetables for each of its routes, available from their stations or downloaded from their website.  However only South West Trains and First Great Western publish a full timetable book of all their services; these are available at their major stations or by post from their customer services department, but only at the time of the timetable change – they run out quickly.  For SWT you only pay for postage, FGW make a small charge.

You can download the full National Rail Timetable (70MB)! 

Middleton Press have made available the full 2-volume printed version at £26. Alternatively, a printed version of the British pages of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, covering mainline and rural routes with summaries of suburban services, is available in bookshops or online, published by Middleton Railway Press at £9.95.

You can create your own pocket timetable on the National Rail or train operator websites for your journey, which you can download and print.

The working timetable, which shows all train workings not just passenger trains, and is intended for rail industry professionals not rail users, can be downloaded from the Network Rail website.

TfL do not publish public timetables for the London Underground, except for the Metropolitan Line, but the working timetables can be downloaded for each line from the TfL website. A timetable book 'Tube Times' covering Underground, DLR, London Overground, London Trams, TfL Rail and Emirates Airline is also available for £16 from Here to There Publishing.

When travelling in London using Oyster, to change trains you sometimes have to go through multiple ticket barriers where you have to touch out at one and touch in again at another. These may actually be in separate but nearby stations. For this to count as a single journey, you must touch in within a certain period of time from touching out; but TfL do not publicise how long this Out of Station Interchange Allowance is. However this information is available at the independent Oyster Rail website.

Network maps

Each train operator publishes maps of their own network on their website.  Maps of the complete network are available to download at:

Routeing Guide

Tickets are often marked as ‘Any Permitted’ Route.  These will be valid over a variety of possible routes - the official Routeing Guide published by ATOC is complex, but allows you to check exactly where you can travel with any ticket.

Train operators

Trains in Britain are run by the following operating companies:
Their websites often advertise special offers for travel. You can see the area each operator covers on this interactive map.

Translink operates railways in Northern Ireland.

Sleeper trains

Sleeper trains run every night except Saturday, saving you time and the cost of a hotel room:

Accommodation near the station

Overnight accommodation in converted stations and trains.

Rail travel agents

There are many travel agents which specialise in rail travel, including:

What type of ticket | Finding the best price | Getting to and from the station | Making the journey easy | When things go wrong | Rail tours | Going abroad