LM’s Guide to British…Transport (Part 2)

If the thought of driving on the wrong side of the road and being stuck all day on a roundabout has put you off the idea of traveling by car (part 1) then perhaps you’d like your characters to try our British public transport system.


I am pretty sure we Brits complain about the trains here nearly as much as the British weather, and usually with a lot more reason.

The UK has a wide network of trains run by various different companies *cough* each as bad as each other *cough*  Okay, maybe they aren’t as bad as I am making out, but they really do it to themselves.

Excuses for trains being late and/or cancelled are almost infamous over here.  We’ve all laughed about the “leaves on the line” and the “wrong type of snow” excuses. A few I have heard in my own experience of traveling by this particular mode of transport are:

  • Lightning – on a clear sunny day with not a cloud in the sky and no storm anywhere nearby.
  • The last train was late – apparently this set a precedent!
  • Single line track issues meaning you get stuck waiting for the track to clear, which they apparently can’t work into the timetable properly.

Then there are the genuine reasons for delays and cancellations:-

  • A bus accident – this was actually because it was a double decker bus crashing into the bridge the train passed over.
  • Vehicles broken down on the tracks – three times in the exact same spot seems a bit excessive.
  • Kids throwing rocks at the train.

UK trains running late is one of those long running jokes that never gets old.

So, if you want a chance meeting between two commuters in your book, getting them chatting about the late trains is perfectly acceptable British thing to do.

They could also complain about the prices.  They go up every year and you practically need to win the lottery to pay for a season ticket these days.  Public transport cheaper than running a car?  Not in this country.

As for the trains themselves, they vary from company to company but are generally very similar.  Some are split with sections for first class passengers, but not all of them are.  Some, usually the same ones with a first class carriage, also have a buffet car, though it isn’t always open.

One little known quirk/annoyance about British trains is that it is possible to have passengers on a train with tickets booked for particular seats, while at the same time having other passengers with tickets to sit anywhere.  Oh the fun that causes on an early morning commute!   There you are, half asleep after getting up at the crack of dawn, already running late thanks to the first train, you get on the second one with your ticket and sit down in the first seat you come to only to find a few minutes later someone comes to the seat and claims you are in their seat and they have a ticket to prove it.  Being typically British it is easier to get up and find another seat, but the actual rule is apparently that if you leave your ticketed seat on the train you are liable to lose it.  This is just typical British disorganisation.

Train stations themselves vary in facilities depending on the town/city.  The smallest stations are quite simply a platform with a shelter on it.  At those you purchase your ticket from a conductor on the train.  The larger stations have a ticket office and toilets, while the biggest also have shops/newsagents and cafes with very overpriced food and drink in them.

London has the most famous underground train system, though is not the only one in the UK.  It is the only one I have traveled on though. Glasgow has a subway as well and there are also apparently underground trains at Tyne and Wear and Merseyside.

The Tyne and Wear system is called The Metro, which is also the name of the free newspaper that can be picked up on both trains and buses, though it is more commonly found on trains.

You can read lots more about British Rail at the usual wiki.

But there is a quick run down of a few of the quirks of British trains.  Have your character comment on the extortionate prices and have the train running late and you can’t go far wrong.

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