National Rail Enquiries - How to Find the Best UK Train Times & Fares

A local train passes over the arches of the Six Arches caravan site at Scorton, Lancashire
A local train passes over the arches of the Six Arches caravan in Lancashire. Loop Images/Jason Wells/Getty Images

One Source of Train Times and Fares for All

Find the cheapest UK train fares, the best times to travel and where to book using National Rail Enquiries. It's the online UK guide to all scheduled British train services; the fast, official, online source for train service information, UK train times, timetables and a great deal more such as: 

  • maps of individual train stations around the country with accessibility information
  • information to help disabled travelers plan their best route around stations.
  • information about which stations have automatic ticket machines, lifts (elevators) and other services.
  • a Cheapest Fare Finder
  • live Departure and Arrivals boards to keep you informed about the status of your train
  • updates about engineering works on various lines.
  • useful local information about buses and taxis near stations.

We could go on and on - luggage? bicycles? animals? If you're traveling by train and you need to know something, you can almost always find out with the National Rail Enquiries website.

A Bit of Background

Britain's passenger rail services were once operated by a nationalized company. All that ended in the early 1990s when the railroads were privatized. When that happened the railroad tracks, most of the stations and other elements of the rail network infrastructure went to a semi-governmental company called Network Rail.

The passenger trains themselves are run by about 20 private companies that operate on a regional basis. For a while, finding out about different train services, schedules, stations, fares and connections, was a nightmare. If you needed advance information -- or wanted to know which station to turn up at -- you had to telephone and face long waits on hold or hours of busy signals.

These private companies are now part of The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and one of the great services they provide together is National Rail Enquiries - thank goodness for the Internet.

How to Use UK National Rail Enquiries to Find Train Schedules and Fares

The website is a functional looking page. The Journey Planner appears in a blue shaded box across the top of the homepage. This is a really useful tool. Simply enter in the "To" and "From" information, the date and times you want to travel, whether you want a Single (one-way) or Return (round-trip) journey and whether you are willing to change trains or want to travel direct (not always possible).

Hit SEARCH and after a few seconds, the screen displays a selection of train service trip options.

What Do I Do Next?

Pick the trip option closest to when you want to travel and click See All Details. More details about the journey appear, including the names of all the stations.

If you are simply planning a journey, or if you have a BritRail pass and don't need to purchase a ticket, that's it.

If you do want to buy a ticket or make a reservation, click Check Fares. You can refine your search by seeking the cheapest or the fastest ticket. The system will then present you with more choices and explanations of which fares you are eligible for or which apply to the train journey you've chosen.

Is the Information on National Rail Enquiries Reliable?

Usually. But, if you are traveling on a British Bank Holiday, trains run to a different timetable and it's a good idea to double check at a manned train station, a day or two ahead of your trip. There are usually short queues at the Advance Tickets window.

Generally, the information, including service status and updates, is accurate.

The site also has information about handicapped access at stations, rules on luggage and animals, information for families and all sorts of things you never knew you wanted to know about British rail travel.

The site will usually keep you up to date about planned engineering works, labor disputes and other issues that can delay trains or cause the published schedules to change. 

Can I Buy a Ticket From The National Rail Enquiries Website?

No, that is one thing that is still left to the individual train companies.

Once you've picked your journey and checked the fare, choose "Buy a Ticket" and a drop down menu with live links to all the train companies will appear. You can sign up and use your credit or debit card to buy your tickets directly from the train company websites. Make sure you note down the details of your selected journey and fare because, once you click on a train operator's link, those details will disappear and you will have to enter them again on the train operator's website.

Now here is the good news - any of the train operators that participate in National Rail can sell you a ticket for any journey, whether they operate that service or not. So, once you have used the National Rail Enquiries website, all the hard work is done.

What About BritRail Passes?

Generally speaking, rail journeys in the UK are relatively short - with the exception of traveling from London to destinations in Scotland which can take more than five hours. You might want to consider a BritRail pass if you like train journeys and plan to spend a great deal of time riding trains rather than arriving at destinations. If it seems that this writer is not recommending these passes, you'd be correct. But you can find out more about them here.