Planning a journey, buying tickets

This is the fourth part of “British railways. Visitor’s manual”

The National Rail journey planner

The National Rail journey planner will be our primary tool for exploring schedules and finding tickets. Since it has a few shortcomings, we will also make use of some auxiliary resources to compensate for that.

Basic usage

On the planner’s homepage, enter the origin and destination stations of your journey. You don’t need to know if there is a direct train between them. The planner will automatically figure out the connections, if necessary.

Enter the date(s) and the time of travel. Check “Return” if you are planning a round trip.

By default, the planner looks for tickets for “1 Adult | No child | No railcard”. To change this, click a small drop-down control box. It opens the search options panel.

Let’s plan a round trip from London Paddington to Worcester with two adults and two children traveling.

Journey planner screenshot

After you’ve clicked “Go”, the planner will offer several itineraries for the outward and (scroll down) return journeys. It will automatically pre-select and highlight the cheapest itinerary. In our example, the cheapest itinerary consists of the 11:22 service to Worcester and the 16:01 return train. The price is £135.85.

Journey planner screenshot

If you are planning a round trip, you’ll see two tabs on the top of the price column: “Return from …” and “2 Singles from …”. This is because, for any round trip, there are two options: either you buy one return ticket or two one-way tickets (Singles). The planner checks both of the alternatives and highlights the cheapest.

The price shown in the tab header is the lowest total price for the entire trip among the itineraries presented on the page. If you click “Earlier trains” or “Later trains”, this price can change as the planner will look up other choices.

The price shown for a specific itinerary is the lowest ticket price among all available types of tickets for this itinerary. If the “Return from …” tab is active, this is also the price of the entire round trip. Otherwise, this is the price of the outward part only. In the latter case, the price options for the return part are found down the page where the return itineraries are listed.

For each itinerary, under the price tag you can find the basic type of the ticket (Anytime, Off-Peak or Advance) whose price is shown. If you hover the mouse over the ticket type, you’ll see its full specification and the route restriction.

Journey planner screenshot

In our example, the selected Off-Peak ticket is actually a Super Off-Peak Return. It has the route restriction that requires you travel via Evesham.

London to Worcester map

To find out what other trains conform to this restriction, click on “Other services you can travel on”.

Journey planner screenshot

You’ll see that you won’t be permitted to take the 11:36 service. This train goes to Gloucester (where you would have to connect to another train for Worcester) and, consequently, avoids Evesham. If you hover over that itinerary, you’ll see that it is routed “EVESHAM/STROUD” meaning that you can go via either Evesham or Stroud. Therefore, this more expensive ticket will be valid on both the 11:22 and 11:36 services (and on many others).

Return to the list of itineraries and scroll down to the return options. Note that not all return journeys can be selected. Those that cannot have route restrictions that are not compatible with the selected outward journey.

The “Chg” column shows how many times you’ll have to change trains. Zero means the direct train. Hover the mouse over the (non-zero) number to see the breakdown of the itinerary.

Click on “Details” to get information about the train(s). Hover over pictograms on the right side of the header - they’ll tell you about the trolley service, carrying bikes, etc. There is also a timetable of intermediate stops.

But most importantly, this is the place where you can find out what company operates the train. You already know that this information can be quite useful.

On the screenshot below, there are the details for the 11:36 service with connection in Gloucester. The list of calling points (intermediate stops) is shown for the second train but collapsed for the first. Both trains are operated by Great Western. The first one goes from London to Cheltenham Spa via Gloucester, and the second one is Brighton to Great Malvern service via Gloucester and Worcester.

Journey planner screenshot

For each itinerary, clicking on “Other tickets” will do two things.

Journey planner screenshot

In the left panel, you get the breakdown of the selected ticket’s price. In our example, one of the children has been reclassified as an adult thus allowing the application of Groupsave discount. With Groupsave, you pay only two fares for three traveling persons while without Groupsave you pay 2.5 fares for two adults and one child. The planner automatically finds the cheapest combination of fares, even as peculiar as this one. The other child is given the 50% discount, as it normally happens.

As a side note, if you buy a railcard, its cost will be offset by savings on the tickets for this trip alone. With Family and Friend railcard, the entire trip costs only £93.10. You can easily check it by specifying a railcard in the search options, just below the number of passengers.

In the right panel, there is a list of other, more expensive, tickets available for this itinerary. Usually, you are not interested in them. However, if the cheapest tickets are Advance and you find them too restrictive for your purpose, you may want to select a walk-up ticket instead. If you cannot find some ticket types, then they are not (currently) offered for this itinerary.

Modifying the itinerary

The planner automatically finds routes and connections for your journey. You may want to change the default search criteria if you’re going to try route planning tricks that we’ll discuss later. Another reason for adjustments is to safeguard your connections by allowing more time between the trains.

Open the same search options panel where you entered the number of passengers and scroll down to “Route” section.

You can set a route selection criterion by choosing “Travel via”, “Avoid”, “Change at”, or “Don’t change at” and specifying a station (station group). Note that the first two options mean that a train passes (doesn’t pass) the specified station but not necessarily calls at it. You can add more route selection criteria if you wish.

In the bottom of the panel, there is a checkbox “Show only direct trains”. If it is checked and there are direct trains conforming to the route selection criteria, the planner shows only direct trains. If there are no direct trains, the planner reverts to journeys with connections regardless of this checkbox.

If a journey has connections, the planner automatically allows for the minimum connection time. It varies from 5 to 15 minutes depending on the station. Oddly enough, the National Rail journey planner does not explicitly disclose minimum connection times. To find them out, consult BR Times website (enter station name, check “Station Info”, and press “Search for trains”).

You may allow extra time to change trains by selecting the corresponding option in the search options panel. The time is added in half-hour increments in the interval from 30 min to 2 hours.

What if you’re late for a connection

If your train has been late and you’ve missed the next train specified in your Advance ticket, you are allowed to take any later train(s) following a permitted route to your destination. Most often, your ticket will show the restriction worded like “On the booked trains and required connections” or similarly. This means that you’ll have to wait for a later train operated by the same company that runs the missed train. During major disruptions, the “same company” restriction is lifted.

In any case, it is advisable to approach the station staff to clarify any confusion; they can also mark your ticket so that inspectors down the line wouldn’t question you. If the station is not manned, you just board a later train and be prepared to explain the situation to a conductor if they are interested.

If you connect between two different tickets and have missed the train specified in the second ticket, you are also entitled to take a later train provided that the planned connection time is no less than the minimum connection time for this station.

It may also happen that you are waiting for a train that is being late and due to this delay you may/will miss the connection to your next train. But if you took a same company’s train that is coming before your booked one, you would be in time for the connection. You are not automatically entitled to take an earlier train but if you approach the staff and explain the issue they are likely to give you permission. I’ve been in this situation and easily got the green light.

Beware that missing the first train of your journey is unforgivable, whatever the reason. You’ll have to buy a new ticket.

Tips and tricks

I assume you are familiar with the ticket types and discounts which we discussed in the previous chapters. The main takeaways, related to planning, are:

  • Plan ahead and buy Advance tickets for medium and long distances. Walk-up tickets are for short journeys; otherwise, they are a rip-off.
  • Travel off-peak, especially if you don’t have an Advance ticket.
  • With a walk-up ticket, you can break and resume your journey at any intermediate station.
  • If you travel in a group and/or plan to take a lot of trains, consider buying a railcard.

In this section, we will take one step further and look into a few planning tricks that allow you cutting your ticket costs even more.

For the sake of simplicity, we will be planning journeys with the default setting “1 Adult | No child | No railcard”.

Station groups

Railway stations serving the same town may form a station group. When you travel from or to such a town, your ticket will be issued from/to the station group rather than an individual station. You may start/end your journey at any station of the group unless your ticket has a restriction that limits your choices.

Example: London to Canterbury

There are two railway stations in Canterbury: Canterbury East and Canterbury West. If you start to enter “Canterbury” into the trip planner, it will also offer the third option “Canterbury (All stations)” meaning that the two Canterbury stations form the station group. Unsurprisingly, the similar effect you will observe with “London (All stations)”.

If you are searching for trains from “London (All stations)” to “Canterbury (All stations)”, the planner will show you three routes by direct trains: London Victoria to Canterbury East, London Charing Cross to Canterbury West, and London St Pancras International to Canterbury West.

Journey planner screenshot

The latter option is more expensive but faster, and if you hover the mouse over the ticket’s type, you’ll see why. The route restriction for the first two options reads “NOT VALID ON HS1”, yet for the St Pancras train it is “PLUS HIGH SPEED”. Trains departing from St Pancras use the high-speed Eurostar route (“HS1” stands for High Speed One railway), and thus are more expensive. Click on “Other services you can travel on” to make sure when a certain ticket is valid.

Since the stations on both ends are members of their corresponding station groups, your ticket will be issued not for travel between particular stations but for travel from “London Terminals” to “Canterbury East or West”. With this ticket, you can choose any of the above routes (if you’ve paid the high-speed fare) or any of the first two (if you have not).

If you’ve got a return ticket, you have the same options for your return journey. For example, you can take the outward train from London Victoria to Canterbury East, and return from Canterbury West to London Charing Cross.

More information

If stations within a station group are connected to each other and you train does not call at a station you want to get to, you can alight at another station in the group and take a connecting train to your final destination. You don’t need a new ticket for that.

There are many towns with several railway stations, such as Bristol or Exeter, where station groups are not organized. There is no apparent reason why it is so. Check the planner, and if it does not offer “all stations” for a particular town, then there is no station group there. There is also the relevant Wikipedia article.

London has two overlapping station groups, London Terminals and London Thameslink, and both are special cases with many peculiar rules. National Rail explains them on a dedicated page “Travelling to, from and via London”.

Journey break

You make a journey break if you alight at an intermediate station, exit to town, spend some time there, and then return to the station to continue your journey with the same ticket.

If your ticket allows journey breaks, you can visit several places with one ticket.

Any walk-up ticket allows breaking the journey at any station that lies on a permitted route between the origin and the destination of the ticket. It does not matter whether you make a connection to another train there, or your train just calls at this station. With a return ticket, you can make breaks on both the outward and the return portions of the trip. (There is a quite rare restriction for Off-Peak Return tickets that prohibits breaking the outward journey. It will be printed on the ticket.)

You can make any number of breaks or even stay in intermediate towns overnight but make sure that your ticket is still valid on the date and time when you resume the journey. If you’ve got an Off-Peak ticket, you have to resume the journey on an off-peak train as well.

Example: from London to Rochester and Canterbury

You are in London and want to visit Rochester followed by Canterbury, and then return to London. Let’s assume you’d like to ride on high-speed trains from/to London St Pancras International but the same approach applies to slower trains from Victoria or Charing Cross.

London - Rochester - Canterbury map

If you bought a set of three Single tickets (London - Rochester, Rochester - Canterbury, Canterbury - London), you would pay £65.30 for the cheapest walk-up tickets for off-peak trains. There are also Advance fares available for the first and the last legs - this way you’d pay £35.20 for the whole trip, and would be bound to the specific trains.

However, you may notice that Rochester lies on a reasonable route from St Pancras to Canterbury. Therefore, with just one Off-Peak Return ticket from London Terminals to Canterbury East or West you can do the entire tour and visit both towns. The price of the Super Off-Peak Day Return is £32.90. This is two times cheaper than the price of the three single walk-up tickets and even cheaper than the Advance tickets.

Counterexample: touring towns between London and Edinburgh

For longer tours, where Advance tickets are offered for all segments, a set of Advance tickets is likely to be significantly cheaper than a return walk-up ticket.

For example, on your way from London to Edinburgh you are going to pay a short visit to Peterborough, and on your way back you will stay overnight in Durham, York, and Lincoln. The entire tour can be done with one return ticket from London to Edinburgh. The cheapest of such tickets - Super Off-Peak Return - is sold for £142.90. Yet the set of six Advance tickets, one per each leg of the tour, will come at the price of £68.20.

Journey break with Advance ticket

Advance tickets don’t allow journey breaks. However, you can bypass this restriction if you want to break your journey at the station where your Advance ticket requires you to change trains.

Example: from London to Birmingham and Hereford

You are in London and want to visit Birmingham and Hereford, and after that you are returning to London.

There are several permitted routes from London to Hereford, and one of them goes via Birmingham. There is no through train on this route, so you’ll have to make a connection in Birmingham. The Super Off-Peak Return to Hereford costs £78.90. With this ticket, you’ll have no problems with breaking your journey in Birmingham but we’d like to make this trip cheaper.

London - Birmingham - Hereford map

Alternatively, you may start with an Advance ticket from London to Birmingham. You’ll pay £8.00 for a seat on a fast and comfortable Virgin train if you buy well ahead and depart London after 10 AM. There are no Advance fares between Birmingham and Hereford, so your cheapest option is the Off-Peak Single for £17.40. To return to London you may take a direct train from Hereford to London Paddington for as low as £6.00 (Advance) if you are ok to depart at midday. The direct train, ironically, is not the fastest but it saves you the hassle of making the connection in Birmingham. The total cost of the tour sums up to £31.40.

Can you make it even less? Yes, you can. Instead of the separate London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Hereford tickets buy an Advance ticket from London to Hereford with the connection in Birmingham (£15.00). The total cost thus goes down to £21.00.

The catch is in the reservation system. The trains from Birmingham to Hereford do not offer seat reservations. As a consequence, the system won’t bind your ticket to the specific train on this leg of the journey. You are restricted to the booked train from London to Birmingham, but from Birmingham you can take any train to Hereford. You cannot stay in Birmingham overnight (you may, of course, but will have to buy a new ticket on the next day) but within the same day you may prolong your stopover until the departure of the last train to Hereford.

How do you know that a train is not reservable? Unfortunately, you cannot obtain this information from the National Rail planner. Instead, go to BR Times website and find the trains you are interested in. If a train has the diamond symbol, it offers seat reservations (either specific seat or counted place reservations). The site shows trains only in two weeks ahead. If your date is beyond, simply select the same day of the week on an available week. The chances are high that the train status won’t change.

The ultimate confirmation of seat reservability you receive only on the last stage of the buying process. Immediately before the payment, click on “Details” or a similar link to get the full information about your booking. For each reservable train, you’ll see the confirmation of seat reservation. It is either the location of the reserved seat or a general notice like “Seats have been reserved” for trains with counted place reservations. If the train is not reservable you’ll get something negative like “Reservation is not available”. If you don’t see what you’ve expected, you may abort the purchase.

Example: from London to Gloucester and Worcester

You are in London and want to pay a short visit to Gloucester followed by a stay in Worcester, and then return to London. The return will be covered by the £6.00 Advance ticket for the direct train from Worcester to London. We will now focus on the outward part.

London - Gloucester - Worcester map

This case looks similar to the previous one. A London - Gloucester Advance is £14.00, a Gloucester - Worcester Anytime Single is £13.30, but a London - Worcester Advance with the connection in Gloucester is only £6.00.

But there is a problem. The Gloucester to Worcester train is reservable meaning that you’ll be bound to the specific train on this leg. For example, you get an Advance ticket for the 9:36 departure from London to Gloucester. Your train will arrive in Gloucester at 11:29, and your ticket will require that you take the 11:37 Gloucester to Worcester train leaving you no chance to go on an errand in Gloucester.

To work around this impediment, take the following steps in the journey planner:

  • click on “More options, railcards & passengers”;
  • in “Allow extra time to change trains” select “2 hours extra”;
  • in “Travel via” enter “Gloucester”;
  • redo your search.

Now the 9:36 London to Worcester Advance ticket comes for £10.50 but it books you into the 13:37 Gloucester to Worcester train instead of the 11:37 service. Therefore you’ll have the two-hour stopover in Gloucester and save 60% on this part of the trip.

What if you want a longer stopover, for example, four hours? Unfortunately, I haven’t found the means to do so. I’ve also tried a few third party journey planners as well as the train company’s own website, and none of them is flexible enough even to book the ticket with a two-hour stopover.

Split tickets

You’re going from A to B and your train calls at X. Instead of the through ticket from A to B, you may make your journey with two tickets: one from A to X and the other from X to B. This is called “split tickets”.

It does not matter whether you change trains at X or your train just stops there. Split tickets are fine in either case. You may be required to change your seat at X if both tickets have different seat reservations. But if the train passes X without stopping, you cannot use X as a split point. You can employ any number of split points as long as your train calls at each of them.

The main reason for using split tickets is that sometimes the total price of the partial tickets is less than the price of the through ticket. This can happen with Advance tickets for medium and long distance journeys.

For example, you are going from Bristol to Edinburgh. You may take the 11:00 train to Manchester Picadilly, then change there to the 14:26 service to Edinburgh. The Advance ticket for this journey is sold for £79.00. However, the following set of split tickets will cover the same journey just for £49.20:

Part of journey Advance ticket price
Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham Spa 7.00
Cheltenham Spa to Birmingham Stations 9.90
Birmingham Stations to Manchester Stations 14.70
Manchester Stations to Edinburgh 17.60

Bristol - Edinburgh split tickets diagram

It is rather time-consuming to check all possible split points manually. There are a few specialized sites, like TrainSplit, who will do it for you. When they sell you a ticket, they retain a portion of your saving as their service fee. You can buy exactly the same tickets in the usual way via the National Rail journey planner without any fees. However, it is fair to compensate the specialized site for their effort.

When you buy a ticket from a third party site, make sure that it features the “National Rail accredited” logo.

Note that in many cases the split tickets will make you change trains where you wouldn’t necessarily do it with the through ticket. In the above example, you’ll have to change trains in Manchester. There is also a direct train from Bristol to Edinburgh leaving at 11:30. However, the Advance ticket on this train costs £89.20 and there is no cheaper split ticket option. In this particular case both routes to Edinburgh take roughly the same time, but generally, the route with connections will be slower.

Split tickets and PlusBus

You may also want to buy split tickets if you are making a journey break and would like to use PlusBus in the town of the stopover.

PlusBus is sold only for the origin or for the destination towns of your ticket. For example, if you are in London and going to visit Ely and Cambridge, you may buy either a through ticket to Ely and break your journey in Cambridge, or you may buy two split tickets, one London to Cambridge and the other Cambridge to Ely. From the railway’s point of view, both choices are equally valid. However, if you want to take buses in Cambridge, only the latter option can get you a PlusBus ticket for Cambridge. With the first option, Cambridge is not shown on your train ticket as the origin or the destination.

Some combinations of split tickets are cheap but others can turn out to be more expensive than a through ticket. Therefore, beware that saving on a bus with PlusBus, you may be paying more for the train.

Give ‘em a chance

Suppose you’re going from A to B with a connection at X. The A to X segment is a local line. At X you are taking a main line and there are frequent services from X toward B.

The journey planner will automatically connect your A→X train to the earliest possible X→B service in order to minimize the total duration of the journey, subject to the minimum connection time at X. However, it may happen that this time-optimal train is not the cheapest option but a train departing a few minutes later is.

If you could tell the planner to extend the stopover at X just for a few minutes, you would give the cheaper train a chance to step in and offer you a much better fare.

Let’s look at an example. You’re going from Hexham to York and have to change trains in Newcastle. You’re planning to take the 9:57 train from Hexham which will bring you to Newcastle at 10:39. The minimum connection time for Newcastle station is 8 minutes. Therefore, any train leaving after 10:47 can be suitable for continuing your journey. There are trains departing Newcastle at 10:58, 11:02, 11:18, 11:29, and so on, all calling at York.

Hexham - York map

The planner will offer you the connection to the 10:58 train which is time-optimal. This train is operated by London North Eastern Railway (LNER). The price of the Advance ticket for the entire journey from Hexham to York involving this train is £22.

Now go to the search options and set “Allow extra time to change trains” to “1/2 hour increment”. This will force the planner to consider only those trains that depart Newcastle after 11:17. Hence, you’ll get a connection to the 11:18 TransPennine Express service. TransPennine Express (TPE) happens to have lower Advance fares for the Newcastle to York segment, so now you’re asked only £10.90 for the Advance ticket from Hexham to York.

You are saving a half of the ticket price. On the downside, you’re getting to York 25 minutes later. This is for you to decide if the saving is worth the delay. In my opinion, if you are not really in a hurry, having a bit more time for the connection is always good - it makes the journey less stressful.

You may notice that the 11:02 train is also a TPE service. Is there a way to ask for 13 minutes of the extra time instead of 1/2 hour? This way, you would rule out the expensive 10:58 train but make the cheap 11:02 service feasible from the planner’s point of view.

Unfortunately, the National Rail journey planner is not flexible enough to let you request an arbitrary number of extra minutes for the connection.

I’ve also tried a few third-party planners and found that you can do it on TrainSplit. Click “Advanced options” and fill in “Extra Change Time (mins)”. (You are not splitting the ticket. TrainSplit can search for through tickets as well, although the interface is awkward in comparison with the National Rail planner.)

Alternatively, you can buy two separate tickets: one from Hexham to Newcastle and the other from Newcastle to York, so you can pick the train you want. In our example, you’ll pay £14.10 for both tickets if you take either the 11:02 or the 11:18 TPE service from Newcastle to York. This is more than the through ticket involving the same train (£10.90) but you still save almost 8 pounds on the ticket connecting to the LNER service (£22).

Traveling short

You “travel short” when you begin your journey at an intermediate station instead of the origin station shown on your ticket or when you end your journey at an intermediate station instead of continuing to the destination of the ticket. The former case is called “starting short”, the latter - “ending short”.

If you’ve got a walk-up ticket, you have the full freedom of starting or ending short. This is probably useful when you suddenly change your mind or somebody is giving you a lift for a part of the route. However, it does not make sense economically. A walk-up ticket for a shorter journey is almost always cheaper than the same type of ticket for a longer journey on the same set of routes. I am saying “almost” because anomalies may happen, although I haven’t seen any of this kind.

Cases involving Advance tickets are more interesting (and controversial). There are three of them.

Example: London to Winchester

You are in London and going to visit Winchester and Salisbury. As these cities do not share a common route from London, the Journey Break approach is ruled out. So you’ve decided to get three one-way tickets. Let’s focus on London to Winchester journey.

London - Winchester - Salisbury map

If you’re doing the search in a few days before the travel, you may find that Advance tickets to Winchester have been sold out, and there are only Anytime Singles for £36.30 (on off-peak trains). However, the train you’d like to take to Winchester continues to Southampton, and there are Advance tickets from London to Southampton Central for only £23.10. So, you can buy an Advance ticket to Southampton Central but leave the train earlier, at Winchester.

A problem? This is not allowed with Advance tickets. National Rail specifically states that “you may not start, break and resume, or end your journey at any intermediate station except to change to/from connecting trains as shown on the ticket(s)”.

This restriction looks weird indeed. You’ve paid your seat all the way to Southampton, and you’re not claiming more but going to take less. The railway does not incur any extra cost due to your leaving at Winchester as the train has a scheduled stop there anyway.

I should say that a couple of times I’ve ended short on Advance tickets not suspecting there could be a problem with that. Each time the automated gate at the station let me exit and even returned the ticket. I cannot comment on starting short because I’ve never done that.

Example: Lincoln to Peterborough

You are going one-way from Lincoln to Peterborough (presumably, as a part of a larger tour). An Off-Peak Single for this journey is priced at £16.30 and there is a direct train (a rail-bus, as a matter of fact) which you can take. You can also spot a £6.70 Advance ticket but under closer examination you’ll notice that it requires you to go the other way to Newark and change trains there. Moreover, you may have to undertake a one-mile stroll between Newark Castle and Newark Northgate stations which are not connected to each other.

Lincoln - Peterborough - Ely map

You’d prefer to get an Advance ticket for the direct service but they are not offered. The train terminates in Peterborough, so ending short on this train is apparently not an option.

However, you may search for an Advance ticket from Lincoln to somewhere with a connection in Peterborough. Locate the next major mainline station down from Peterborough. This is Stevenage. If you request an Advance ticket from Lincoln to Stevenage, you’ll play Give ‘em a chance trick inviting a mainline operator to make a bid.

And it works. East Coast trains (used to be Virgin, now LNER) offers a £10.20 Advance ticket from Lincoln to Stevenage with the connection in Peterborough.

The ticket will not specify a particular train you must to take from Lincoln to Peterborough because this local service does not provide seat reservations. Therefore, you can take any train from Lincoln provided that it is scheduled to arrive at Peterborough at least 8 minutes before the departure of the booked train to Stevenage. (Eight minutes is the minimum connection time at Peterborough station.)

So it looks as if you managed to obtain an Advance ticket and also relaxed the “only this train” restriction of the part of the route you’re interested in.

Is this kind of ending short allowed? It is not. Leaving the intermediate station (Peterborough) is considered a break of journey, which is prohibited for Advance tickets. However, the ticket barriers are likely to let you out.

Example: Lincoln to Ely

Extending the above example, suppose you are going one-way from Lincoln to Ely. There are no direct services, so you’ll have to change trains in Peterborough. An Off-Peak Single for this journey is priced at £25.80 and no Advance tickets are offered.

Yet there are Advance tickets from Peterborough to Ely for £5.00. Combining such ticket with the shorted Advance from the previous example, you’ll get from Lincoln to Ely only for £15.20, saving 41% on the through fare.

How are you breaking the rules now? This question is as odd as the rules themselves. If you don’t leave the Peterborough station while waiting for the connection to Ely, it seems that you don’t break your journey on the Advance ticket to Stevenage. No one can question your arrival to Peterborough and departure from there to Ely because each of this actions is covered by a corresponding ticket.

However, there will be a problem if your train to Peterborough is late, so you’ll have missed the train to Ely. To be entitled to take the next train to Ely you must be making a permitted connection in Peterborough. To prove this you must show a ticket with destination Peterborough which you don’t have. So, you are going to quietly buy a new walk-up single ticket from Peterborough to Ely (£12.60). At worst, if you’ve unwisely exposed you “ending short” schema to the staff and it’s a really bad day, you’ll have also to pay the full Advance fare from Lincoln to Peterborough which is £34.60, the total journey cost mounting to £62.40.

Buying tickets

After you’ve settled upon a certain ticket (a set of tickets), you either add them to the basket and continue shopping or press “Buy”. In either case,you’ll be eventually redirected to the site of the selected train company who will sell you the tickets.

In rare cases of complex journeys, the train company cannot find the ticket or confirm its price. Return to National Rail planner and pick another company, preferably one that will be operating a part of your journey.

On the other hand, it may happen that the train company offers a lower price by applying some quaint discount that has not been programmed into the National Rail site.

But in most cases your order is smoothly transferred to the train company. There you go through usual procedures of confirming the order and providing your bank card details. There are three steps in this process you should pay attention to:

  • Seat reservation: this step is obligatory for Advance tickets and optional for walk-ups. You will be asked your seat preferences (window or aisle, airline-style or at a table, facing forward or backward, quiet coach or not) and the system will book a seat. Yet if a particular train does not support reservations (local trains usually do not), even for Advance ticket you’ll get a message like “Failed to reserved a seat” - this is ok.

  • Ticket delivery - you should select “Print at a station”. There are no print-at-home tickets*. Every ticket must be materialized in the form of a piece of orange paper which is printed either from a self-service machine or by a clerk at a ticket office. You will be asked at what station you are going to collect your tickets. Actually, it does not matter, you can print the tickets at any National Rail station which has the machines or a manned ticket office. However, if you are going to do it at a small station, here you can check whether it has the facilities and when they are available. You may be warned that you’ve selected a station different from your point of departure; you may safely ignore this warning.

  • The bank card that you use for making the payment will be needed for collecting the tickets from the self-service machine. Make sure that you will have this card with you at the station.

* Some train companies have recently introduced electronic tickets that you can print at home but their adoption is not widespread. To be on the safe side, I recommend the old school way: print the tickets from the station machine.

To be concluded with “Taking a train”. Stay tuned!