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Getting Around in United Kingdom
 
 
 

By Air

Given the short distances involved it may be more practical and cheaper to use other forms of transport than internal flights. The main domestic hubs are London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The arrival of budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet at London's Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports saw a boom in domestic UK air travel, and have forced the cost down considerably. In Scotland, Loganair operate a British Airways franchise serving remote destinations in the Scottish Highlands and Islands from Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports (flights are booked through the British Airways website).

To get the best fare, it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible. It is worth noting that most UK regional airports are not connected to the national rail network, with connections to the nearest cities served by expensive buses.

By Rail

The UK has an extensive privatised train network, covering most of the country, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the North of Scotland. There is a huge multitude of different train tickets available, which can often make travelling by train in the UK fairly complicated. Generally, if you book 7 to 14 days in advance the journey is often cheaper. Avoid travel during peak times (6-9.30am, 4-7pm, Mondays to Fridays) as trains are often crowded, and in the former (and on some routes in the latter as well) tickets prices are extremely high. Visitors from outside of the United Kingdom may also purchase multi-day passes which allow for unlimited rail travel on nearly all rail lines. These are available for the area around London, the entirety of England, the entirety of the United Kingdom and even a pass that includes the Republic of Ireland. These can be purchased in four, eight, and fifteen day increments (and either successive day or "flexi" which allows the days of uses to be spread out). These are available through independent providers and must be purchased before arrival in the United Kingdom. (There is a rail pass available for travel within Great Britain for seven and fourteen consecutive days, which can be bought within Great Britain and by residents as well as visitors. This costs about twice as much as the pass available to tourists from outside the United Kingdom, and cannot be used on the London Underground or on Heathrow Express (or on Heathrow Connect west of Hayes & Harlington).

Train services seldom match their high-speed counterparts in France or Germany (the UK does have high-speed rail links up to 125mph, however these are no match for the TGV in France and the ICE train in Germany), but nonetheless are often faster than driving a car. Train frequencies are generally very good, although punctuality varies with operating company – some have dipped to 60-70% in recent years (arriving within 10 minutes of the advertised time). Delays of 30 minutes are not uncommon, so if you need to be somewhere urgently, get an earlier train.

Be aware that many popular tourist corridors have no rail service, or only an extremely indirect (and consequently slow and expensive) rail service. For example, there is no rail service to St. Andrews, and the rail routes between Carlisle and Stranraer (for ferries to Northern Ireland), between Cambridge and Milton Keynes or Oxford and between Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig are particularly indirect, lengthy and expensive.
The railways in England, Wales and Scotland were originally built and operated by numerous private companies, mostly in the 19th century. After nearly 150 years of independence (and successive amalgamations which consolidated them into four large companies by 1923) they were nationalised as 'British Rail' in 1947, but they were privatised again in the 1990s. The track has recently reverted to state control as 'Network Rail', but the trains are run by a number of different private operators referred to as the 'Train Operating Companies'.

Privatisation has resulted in a huge range of quality and price of rail services. While some connections and companies have poor standards of speed, reliability and cleanliness others offer excellent service and value for money. However tickets can be bought from any station for travel to and from anywhere on the network and it is perfectly normal to get a connection changing from one company to another.


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