BritRail trip recap – railroading around Great Britain


Since my first trip to London (July 6 to 16 2005, tough time) I had been organizing my UK vacations around events like Queen concerts, NFL games, Destination Star Trek conventions and the like that took place in London, Birmingham, Manchester. Therefore I never saw anything north of the midlands.

This year there is no major event for me, so it was time to visit new places on this green island.

Fortunately Geoff Marshall, in a YouTube video about his and Vicki Pipei’s All The Stations project , mentioned some 14 day all-network railway ticket, so I searched the web and found BritRail, kind of Britain’s Interrail ticket, available in several variants but only to tourists from outside the UK.

The following numbers and remarks summarize the BritRail round trip I finished Sep. 24th 2017.
I intentionally excluded the trip from Innsbruck to London and back, except for the arrival at St. Pancras which I counted as station visit.

15 day BritRail round trip by the numbers

Rail journeys

In 15 days (Sep. 9 to 24 2017) I spent 40 hours on 37 train journey, using 54 trains from 14 different railway brands.

Stations “visited”

While I chose the trains to fit my travelling preferences (favouring fast trains off-peak) and did not write down train numbers, I did log the stations so I could let my Computers count them.
Applying ATS’s project rules to the 245 stations I came along I visited 154 unique stations or 6 % of the 2563 railway stations in Great Britain.

Railway observations

The Good

  • Every railway employee I came across (maybe one exception)
  • Punctuality (sic!): Only one delay over a minute (on a local train)
  • Unified scheduling, ticketing, ticket gates, reservation system, tracking, despite high number of railway companies and station owners
  • Almost perfect signpostings (kudos to how Edinburgh manages complex layout and ongoing reconstruction) as well as visual and acoustic information systems in stations and trains
  • Top companies are competing for best onboard service (WiFi with journey portal, power plugs, drinks, food, …)
  • Toilets, even on Pacers and the like
  • Presence of security services (unfortunately unavoidable, I have to admit it made me feel saver)
  • USB power plugs in some trains

The bad

  • Diesel trains on fully electrified routes (another Diesel scandal …)
  • Broken Wifis (I’m not talking cell reception holes, but broken DHCP configurations)
  • Signposting gaps (particularily in York of all railway places; also tiny gaps in Glasgow Queen Street and Cardiff Central)
  • Half-empty bottels and beer cans rolling through trains and trams (Worst example not a train but Blackpool tram: 3 on-board employees walking along in 10-minute break did not care to stretch a hand to remove dangerous rolling items, WTF)
  • Some mid to long distance trains without 1st class areas

Other notes and observations

By the numbers

I may be obsessed by numbers, but this is for my own documentation too 😉

  • transporter bridgesMiddlesbrough and Newport (South Wales)
  • 3 coasts: West, east, south; 5 beaches: Saltburn, Newcastle Tyneside north, Blackpool, Barry Island, Brighton
  • 3 tube systems: Glasgow, Newcastle, London (does Merseyrail in downtown Liverpool count as 4th?)
  • 5 hotels: Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff, London
  • 6 boat trips: Newcastle (2), Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol (2). Plus 3 more in London the week after.
  • 6 bus trips: Edingburgh and Newcastle (3 each). Plus a few more in London the week after.
  • 10 tram trips: Edinburgh (4), Blackpool heritage (3), Blackpool modern (3)
  • 21 places: Edinburgh, Glasgow, North Queensferry, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Saltburn, Shildon, Manchester, Blackpool, Liverpool, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Barry Island, Bristol, London, Richmond, Cambridge, Oxford, Wembley, Brighton

The good

  • In Edinburg Dynamic Earth and 2 great vegan meals at 2 different Hendersons restaurants
  • Coast views
  • Transporter bridges (links see above)
  • In Newcastel the small but exceptionally maintained bluereef aquarium (I oppose aquariums and zoos, but the space per animal ratio and animal care there seems mostly OK even by my standards)
  • In Blackpool the Star Trek 50 exhibition and maybe even better the heritage tram day (didn’t like the Las Vegas style ‘amusements’ though)
  • In Liverpool the Imagine room in main site of The Beatles Story, and the Slavery Museum
  • Cardiff Bay and how they use water aeration, also see this citiscope arrticle
  • London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot,. Their open weekends are, as Doctor Who would say, a fixed point in time.
  • Goodwill of TfL (resp. their social media team)
  • USB power plugs in some hotel rooms (some European wall plugs available too)

The bad

  • A sea turtle in Deep Sea World that either had about 1 cm (!) to move or was padded without comment (I’m hoping for the latter)
  • Missing Dr. Who Experience by 9 days, this vacation’s top SNAFU
  • Wifi coverage in GB worse than I was used to. Most want to know everything about guest users and sometimes require valid UK post codes.

Odd moments

  • In Newcastle I walked 3 adjacent pedestrian crossings with 3 totally different models of traffic lights and signal request systems
  • mp/h, kp/h, imperial or metric, make your mind up Britain. Speed limit signs usually with numbers only, but sometimes with “50 km” (meaning kph but not printed as km/h or kp/h)

And now for something completely different …

  • Sometimes you need p to pee. When travelling UK, always keep a stack of 20p coins in your pocket. Public toilets are either free and available around every corner, or they are rare and cost 20 or 40 p. Maybe be prepared for 50p toilets, too.