A partial guide to British Trains for Dummies, Tourists and Ordinary Human Beings

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Dear visitors to Britain or Planet Earth,

Welcome to our beautiful country/planet! We hope you enjoy your stay. We are happy to serve you dead animals soaked in oil and heated until crisp, accompanied by boiled vegetable matter and tubers.

We understand that you want to travel around our island by train. The UK was a pioneer of train travel a century or so ago, to the extent that train speeds here have not increased since then. We are not sure if we should be proud of this fact…

Based on your humble blogger’s experience this morning, let me pass on two tips for how to make your train journey a relatively painless experience… because just buying a ticket and getting on the train isn’t enough in this great nation.

1) If you don’t want to spend hundreds of pounds on a return ticket just because you were naive enough to think you should buy it immediately before your journey, you need to buy it in advance. You will have to specify exactly which trains you will take, but you are probably willing to commit to that. Just don’t forget to bring all the documents and bumf you will be handed, because goodness forfend that a ticket would be enough; no, that would be far too simple, as two young ladies found out yesterday morning. One set of paper will say you bought a journey between two specific stations, you understand, while the other will say which train you are entitled to be on. Or something like that. Having one document without the other, or only with goddamn confirmation of your booking, is not good enough, and you will have to buy another ticket for your oversight.

2) If you don’t book your journey in advance, at least don’t be so foolish as to just buy a ticket between the origin and destination. It is often cheaper, obviously, to split your booking at an intermediate station, even though you will make an identical trip and not get off there.

For example, I went yesterday from my delightful and misnamed hometown of Blackwater to Coventry, and returning today. (This last is an important detail, as returning on the same day is cheaper, and it’s only because I knew this that I could point out to the confused train guard that he was selling me the wrong ticket, which of course by common courtesy I would be fully liable for.) Buying an off-peak return ticket between the two would cost a suspiciously exact £50. (A peak return would cost over £90). However, one of the journey’s stops is at Banbury. Duly rephrasing my order as two off-peak returns, one from Blackwater to Banbury, and another from Banbury to Coventry, resulted in a price of £43.40, without any change in my itinerary whatsoever.

Consider it one of those cute, quaint features of England that make it so attractive to visitors and residents alike, and is totally unrelated to the terrible state of the economy.

So once more, welcome! We will gladly take your money, but please don’t try and make any money back by staying and immigrating. That would just be rude…

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