Traveling in the UK Part 1–The Trains

Contemplative Joshua rides the rails

This is an installment in a series of posts about moving to the UK for a Ph.D, specifically at Durham University.  To read more posts like this, see our list here.

Americans inherited many wonderful things from the British.  I wish we had kept some of their transportation modes as one of those things.

My favorite part of traveling in the UK is the rail system.  Durham boasts a nice rail station close to the city centre.  It is on the main line that runs to London Kings Cross and to Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.  From Durham you can travel the length of the island in just a few hours.  There are also several stations along that line that will allow you to transfer to the other lines that run east and west.  Durham is also on the service line that runs direct to the Birmingham airport.   From London Kings Cross/St. Pancras you can catch the EuroStar under the English Channel to the rest of Europe.  The train travel is great from Durham to almost anywhere in the UK or Continental Europe.

Tickets can be purchased, in advance, online.  There are trains every few minutes so several travel options are available.  Tickets can be collected at the station upon arrival.  Many stations also have a news stand, coffee shop, and other little shops.  I’ll have to say that I rather enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and a copy of the Times in the train station.  I feel as though the world is at my fingertips.

On board, the travel is very comfortable.  When making your reservation, you can chose to sit forward or backward, window or aisle, table or non-table seat.  Each seat has an electrical outlet for your laptop or charger.  Wifi is available onboard for a fee.  However, we have found that data service on our phones is pretty reliable along the train lines.  Toilets (that’s the common English term for what the Americans call the restroom–I thought it didn’t sound “proper” enough when I first heard it) are available in your car or the next car over.  You are welcome to bring your own food on board.  There is a food bar available, or stay in your seat and the food trolley will be by shortly.

Silliness is encouraged on the train! Well, at least for these two!

One of my favorite parts is the way ticketing is handled.  When it is time for your train, simply go to the platform and board the train when it arrives.  Take your seat, settle in, and enjoy the ride.  Momentarily, the train guard (I keep wanting to call that person the “conductor”) will come by and ask for your ticket.  As you are rolling down the line, you show your tickets and carry on your journey.  No muss, no fuss.

For students moving to Durham, I highly recommend an annual train pass.  They are called “Rail Cards” and  there are several varieties available: Single Student, Couples, Family, Commuter, etc.  Find a list of them here:  There is an upfront cost, but ours QUICKLY paid off.  Buy one as soon as you get to Durham and use it early and often.  We found that for our family of 4, we could often travel by train for a fraction of what the trip would have cost us in petrol, er, gas if we’d had a car.  Additionally, sign up for the loyalty program.  We used the one through East Coast trains.  We were able to quickly get FREE tickets from the CHEAP tickets we purchased.  It is a WIN-WIN.  Additionally, you’ll find a good app from National Rail Enquiries:

There is so much to see in the UK.  Take advantage of the time you are here to take it in.  I wish we had another 3 years of time just to travel and see it all!  One year of catching time in between Ph.D. workdays is not enough to see thousands of years of history, culture, art, and amazement!





5 responses to “Traveling in the UK Part 1–The Trains

  1. Now if only you could get my fellow Brits to appreciate this convenience :-). I save 1/3 on train travel with my student rail card – 16-25 – although am neither 16 or 25 :-). It’s available to anyone in full time education. Love reading your posts x

  2. I have to say, that your family has taken full advantage of all that Durham and the surrounding area has to offer. What an adventure you have had!! Good for you and thank you for taking us along on your adventure. Always, Martha Anne

    • Thanks, Martha Anne. We have tried to make the most of what God has put before us. We want this experience to be a lesson for the entire family in His provision and His guidance. We want to celebrate His good Creation and the wonderful people He has put in our path. Thank you for going on this journey with us. We hope to see you when we return and share some of these stories face to face.

  3. A few comments:
    1) There’s no such thing as “traveling” in the UK – it’s “travelling”. And “momentarily” means something different for us (blink and you’ll miss the ticket man – which could be true too.). 😀
    2) Online railway ticketing is very limited compared with that available for air and coach travel. If there’s no ticket office at the station at which you are going to board your train (and that’s an awful lot of stations), or you are going to be boarding before the ticket office opens (that can happen very often too), then you’d need to book about 3 days ahead in order to be sure to get your tickets by post (ordinary First Class mail). It’s a right pain because the tickets you can buy on the day are dearer, sometimes a lot dearer.
    3) I don’t know whether they have guards any more. Certainly a lot of the ticket people on trains are indeed called conductors or senior conductors. There’s no guard’s van with goods and parcels like there was when I was a child.
    4) Rail travel is generally somewhat more expensive in Britain than in a lot of other European countries, so most people don’t do it very often, apart from commuters in major cities.

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