Saturday, 9 March 2019

BritRail Pass: A guide and review

I went on a trip to the UK from February 25th to March 1st. This was my first solo trip to the UK, but 8th overall to the country. This post will be on how I travelled within the UK: on trains, using the BritRail Pass.

 What is a BritRail pass?

The BritRail pass is a multi-use ticket for rail travel in Great Britain for visitors to the UK. BritRail was created and is managed by Rail Delivery Group (more commonly known as National Rail) - the organisation overseeing and coordinating operations of the 23 privately run passenger rail carriers. In addition to the 17 franchised carriers, BritRail is also valid on express trains serving airports around London, but is not valid on the London Underground or any other local light rail service. The BritRail pass also has special offers for museums and other sights across the UK.
My BritRail pass
BritRail passes are available for several areas of the UK, and for different periods - either consecutive or flexible (e.g travelling on 5 days out of 15), and is available both on paper and electronically for smartphones (M-Pass). Full details can be found on the official homepage, and passes can be bought from rail travel agencies, such as ACP Rail, where I purchased mine.

How to use?

The first step to using a BritRail Pass is buying one from a travel agency, such as ACP Rail. BritRail passes are not available in the UK - you must buy one before you travel. I bought a consecutive 4-day paper pass for England only. I also added pass protection, which covers loss and theft of the pass. My total came to €119, including express delivery included with pass protection. I would personally recommend the M-Pass though, as you won't have to pay for delivery or protection, and for other reasons you'll see later.

Once you've arrived in the UK want to start travelling on trains, your paper pass must first be validated. If you have an M-Pass, you don't have to - you have to select the dates of validity during the purchase process. Paper passes must be brought to a staffed ticket office at a National Rail station, where it will be marked with the range of validity and stamped with the start date. Users on flexible passes must also write down their dates of travel in sequential order on the pass.

When your pass is validated, then the next step is to get on a train and enjoy your travels! However, as most stations have ticket barriers which can't read your pass, you must show it to a member of staff to be let through. M-Pass users again won't face this problem, as many barriers are fitted with bar code readers, which can read the pass.

On an 'HST' train towards King's Cross from York. I couldn't have gone there without BritRail.

My experience with the pass

As stated before, I used a BritRail consecutive 4-day pass for England on my travels. My first trip on a train was a Heathrow Express service to London Paddington station, starting at Heathrow. I found out there was no ticket office which could validate my pass at Heathrow, so I had to travel to Paddington first. Fortunately I was told by members of staff that it's OK to use it, as long as I fill in the dates of validity myself.
My one true enemy

Most of my travels went without a hitch. Every ticket barrier however was a minor inconvenience for me though, as I had to get my pass out of my backpack and show it to a member of staff to be let on to the platforms. Fortunately this didn't cause me to miss any trains, but I will be using an M-Pass the next time to avoid this issue.

Guards on the trains seemed to be OK with my pass as well, even though they probably only see them once every few months at best. One guard on a train from York to King's Cross didn't like that I had the dates of validity filled in myself, even though they were written again twice by staff at Paddington in marker. He let me go that time, but warned me that he'd charge for tickets next time. This was fortunately the only encounter like this.

I recommend BritRail for anybody visiting the UK outside of London and thinking of taking the trains. Within London it is mostly not valid, and visitors would get a better value of using the Oyster card, on which there will be a post on in the future. BritRail passes provide a great value for anyone taking long distance trains, as tickets can get rather expensive. For shorter journeys however, it might be best to buy regular tickets from ticket machines. It all depends on your individual travel plans and budget.


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