How to avoid the main line rail closures in February and travel between England and Scotland
Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the railway, with no future strikes currently set, Network Rail has decided to cut all direct Scotland-London links due to engineering works on 18 and 19 February.
The rail infrastructure provider is closing the West Coast main line between Glasgow and London Euston in the Preston area, while the East Coast main line from Edinburgh, northeast England and Yorkshire will not make it as far as London King’s Cross – because the terminus station will be closed.
Convoluted journeys involving rail replacement buses and multiple changes are being recommended – such as a train from Glasgow to Preston, a bus to Buckshaw Parkway, a local service from there to Manchester Piccadilly and finally an express to London Euston.
From Edinburgh, the main choices are between a convoluted journey changing at Peterborough and Cambridge – or a train to St Neots in Cambridgeshire followed by a 45-minute bus ride to Bedford and a train onward from there.
So for travellers who prefer to have their lives made easier, The Independent has come up with some alternatives. These are all for Saturday 18 February, but similar options are available for the following day.
All the rail fares are standard class adult singles, and are discountable with any valid railcard.
Take the 5.48am from Edinburgh – or board the same train at Dunbar, Berwick, Alnmouth, Morpeth, Newcastle (7.30am), Durham, Darlington or York (8.32am) and you reach lovely Doncaster station at 8.54am.
You have exactly five minutes to change to the 8.59am on Hull Trains, nonstop to London St Pancras in just over three hours, getting you to the capital at 12.03am. The 6h15m journey is probably the fastest you can expect between the English and Scottish capitals that weekend – for a combined fare of £67.50.
Two changes involved to get around some bizarre pricing that weekend – which makes Edinburgh-Tamworth just about reasonable at £70.90 on most of the hourly trains, but going only as far as Derby (where you have to change to reach Tamworth) is currently almost twice as much on most of the departures.
Combine it with a £11.90 one-way to London Euston on London Northwestern Trains and you can reach the capital for £82.80. The connection at Tamworth requires a wait of almost an hour, but the town’s castle is open until 4.30pm.
The fastest National Express bus is at 10.45am, taking 10h50m to reach London’s Victoria Coach station, for a reasonable £27. Megabus actually leaves later (11.25am) but with a journey time of just 9h20m it arrives 40 minutes earlier, fare £20. Flixbus (10.20am) is five minutes faster but is charging £50.
Airlines appear to be cashing in on the rail closures, with the cheapest flights (on easyJet) over £70. Choose from the 6.20am from Edinburgh to Gatwick for £75 or the 7am to Stansted for £73. The Gatwick flight will work out cheaper because rail connections to London are much less expensive.
Make the most of the closure to enjoy some spectacular scenery: Glasgow Central to Carlisle. Start with the 6.30am sunrise express (Avanti West Coast, £9.90) to Carlisle, arriving at 7.45am. You will have time to grab a cup of tea before the most spectacular of English train rides: the 7.53am south along the Eden Valley and then across the Pennines (including the majestic Ribblehead Viaduct) to Leeds (arrives 10.34am); Northern, £13.50.
From here it’s all downhill, with no direct trains to London. But another Northern train at 10.38am will get you to Sheffield at 11.35am for £6.20 (though this is not the most scenic of journeys).
At Sheffield, things get tricky with few cheap tickets on offer. But spend an hour at the Sheffield Tap (housed in the Edwardian refreshment room) on the platform and you can get a £43.50 Advance ticket on the 12.36pm, arriving at London St Pancras at 2.38pm. It will have taken over eight hours and cost £66.90, but you will have enjoyed the most scenic journey from Scotland to London.
Avanti West Coast trains from Glasgow Central are going no further south than Lancaster. But some excellent fares are available, as low as £13.80 for the journey of 2h15m or so. Most passengers are expected to transfer to a bus replacement to Preston – taking 40 minutes to cover just 21 miles. If you are going to catch a bus you might as well enjoy lunch in the town then meander south to the board the once-a-day Megabus at 2.05pm. Yes, it takes seven more hours to reach Victoria Coach Station in London, but:
The bus costs only £18.30, making the overall journey as little as £32.10
You can talk to students on the long and winding journey south.
Three companies are competing for your custom. At 9.15am National Express will take you to London’s Victoria Coach station in 10h35m for £21.50.
But wait until the 11am Megabus and you pay just £17 for a 10h05m trip (picking up at Lancaster University) and avoiding Milton Keynes.
Flixbus isn’t at the races, taking 10h50 and charging £36 for the 8.30am departure.
Relative to Edinburgh, Glasgow has few flights to the London airports. The cheapest is the 7.10am easyJet to Luton (historically, the first-ever route for Britain’s biggest budget airline) at £85, but of course the free baggage allowance is small, buses to Glasgow airport are expensive and the Luton to London journey is a faff with the long-delayed airport-rail station link not yet open.
Car sharing and hitchhiking
BlaBlaCar, the lift-sharing organisation, has nothing available for that weekend from either Edinburgh or Glasgow to London, but says: “Drivers usually publish their ride two-to-three days before departure.”
Hitchhiking from Edinburgh, ignore the A1 (which spends a long time getting no closer to London as it heads east-north-east). Instead, take bus 4 or 15 to Fairmilehead, follow the A702 over the ring road and take up a position just after the second roundabout. A sign for Carlisle will help; once on the west side, you can just take the M6 and M40/M1 as the mood and the drivers take you.
From Glasgow, you can start very centrally where Wallace Street meets Dalintober Street (the latter leads to an M74 slip road), but you will need a sign (again, try “Carlisle”) to alert only the drivers who are travelling a long distance.