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Getting to Edinburgh by train
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Getting to Edinburgh by train
Trainspotting: the view from the window

Forth Rail BridgeContrary to the horror stories beloved by the British media, travel by long-distance train is (usually) no more stressful than driving or flying.  The door-to-door time doesn’t compare all that unfavourably to air travel; and at least on the train you can settle down in one place, rather than being herded through security, departure lounge and gate.

On-board food, though pricey, is pretty tasty these days, and it’s even worth investigating options for First Class travel – there are great deals available if you commit to particular times and trains.

Edinburgh is served by two long-distance rail routes from England: the state-owned East Coast, which operates up the east of the country via York and Newcastle, and Virgin, which swings west through Birmingham and Carlisle.  Which route works best for you depends, of course, on where you’re coming from.  If you’re on the way from London, you can theoretically choose either, but the only sensible option is East Coast – the fastest trains on their route complete the journey in as little as four hours.

To keep yourself amused on the way, trains on both routes have power points available for laptops or DVD players.  East Coast also has at-seat wi-fi Internet access – which, though a little erratic, is fine for email or web browsing.  If you’re planning to use these services, check with the operator to make sure they’ll be available with the ticket you intend to buy.  You’ll generally be fine in First Class, but otherwise you may need to book particular seats to be close to a power outlet.

Finding the best fare

The price structure for railway tickets is notoriously confusing, and to get the best deal it’s essential to be flexible about your ideal time to travel.  Most of the cheaper tickets are quota-controlled, while others aren’t available on particular trains at all – so travelling just an hour earlier or later than your original plan could make all the difference when it comes to finding a decent fare.

There are so many variables involved that it’s hard to give general advice; however, travelling on Friday is usually a bad idea, as is taking a train which arrives in or leaves from Edinburgh or London during the morning or evening peaks.   Weekends are normally good days for cheap fares, but watch out – journey times are often longer, and you might be delayed by engineering works, especially on a Sunday.

The best way to piece it all together is to go online.  If your journey is a simple one, then you may get an extra discount by booking directly with the train company in question, but for more complex trips we recommend nationwide ticket seller (see “Also on the web”, below).  By entering the dates and approximate times that you want to travel, you can compare the fares available on different trains and different routes that day... and do be aware that, strangely, two singles are often cheaper than a return.

It’s also important to understand the rules applicable to the various fare types; most of the cheaper ones are valid only on the train you book, so if you miss it, you’ll have to buy a whole new ticket at full price.

In all cases, to get a decent fare, it’s vital to book in advance – overseas visitors will be able to collect their tickets from the railway station.  It’s also essential to ensure you have a reserved seat for your journey.  This will happen automatically if you book online, but make sure you ask if you’re arranging your ticket in person at a station.

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