Train Companies

Though not an exhaustive list of all the train companies operating in the Britain and Ireland, it hopefully sends you in the direction of more information on the services that are being operated. It goes without saying that more should get added as time goes on.

Arriva Trains Wales

For many years, Wales wasn’t even considered as a single railway “region” but the establishment of Arriva’s all Wales rail franchise changed that. Given that their services run into and skirt several national parks and other areas of outstanding beauty, the website is definitely worth a call. They also connect Wales with the likes of Birmingham and Manchester, the latter of which brings them through Cheshire.

Caledonian Sleeper

Until recently, overnight services between the likes of Fort William, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London were part of the ScotRail franchise but now are separated out in their own contract and that is being fulfilled by Serco. There are big plans for improving the service but we seem to be seeing a step backwards with regard to the locomotives that are to be used from Autumn 2015. Hopefully, the new carriages that are promised will be an improvement on what we currently have. The presentation appears to be that of a flagship premium service and let’s hope that the reality reflects that too.

Chiltern Railways

They may not be operating in my usual stomping ground but this is the only train company in England with a twenty year franchise deal. Is that why they have been investing so much in the infrastructure that they use? As if rebuilding Birmingham’s Moor Street station wasn’t enough, they also are looking to open up a new route between Oxford and London, adding a few miles of new track to help them get onto their usual line near Bicester. Alongside all of this, the Deutsche Bahn subsidiary, runs services from London Marylebone to places as far afield as High Wycombe, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon and Aylesbury with less frequent services to the likes of Kidderminster, Oxford and London Paddington.


Following Virgin’s loss of the CrossCountry franchise, it is now in the hands of Arriva and developments such as the removal of buffet facilities and fare increases have in for criticism from the likes of Barry Doe. Even without west coast mainline Anglo-Scottish services, their franchise area is probably the biggest of the operating companies with places like Cardiff, Aberdeen and Plymouth falling within their sway. Quite how the new catering arrangements play is unknown to me but I do get to wonder what those who expressed a preference for at seat catering make of the new arrangements.

East Midlands Trains

Along with services between London St. Pancras and destinations such as Sheffield, Chesterfield, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Loughborough among other paces, local services in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. Another offering is the Norwich-Liverpool service and places in Cheshire such as Alsager and Crewe fall within their sway too. I have always wondered if weekday peak time travel to London might be cheaper if I went via Derby and I do admit to going that way on a journey to London to visit friends when railway engineering works were causing disruption. The journey does take longer but avoiding extortionate fares would make it worthwhile.


With the construction of the Channel Tunnel, Britain joined the international rail travel league with speedy journeys to the likes of Paris and Brussels on offer. Being part of Railteam, high-speed train to destinations not served by Eurostar themselves is a possibility. The addition of High Speed 1 between Dover and London St. Pancras added even more speed though it meant deserting Waterloo. One benefit of the move is that trans-European train travel now becomes more accessible from more northerly starting points in Britain and plans are in preparation for High Speed 2. That holds the tantalising prospect of high-speed train travel reaching Scotland but it is looking more likely that it will extend only as far as Leeds or Manchester at this time, especially with the budgetary constraints being placed on public sector spending in the coming years.

Great Western

This franchise has a history starting from the dawn of privatisation when it was an express train operation with the same name that it has today. These still run with the London hub being Paddington station and services fanning out to reach places in Herefordshire, South Wales, the West Country and England’s southwestern corner. First’s involvement then became more apparent when it became First Great Western. It was later that local and commuter train services were added from Thames and Wessex to take their reach into Oxfordshire with the former. The restoration of the old name was a recent development and the prestige of that brand may be helped by line electrification and the introduction of new trains to replace the now venerable HST’s. It could with all the help it gets from those advances because poor performance earned it the moniker “Worst Late Western”. Passenger fare strikes were a consequence before things improved to the point that those headlines are history now.

Hull Trains

Now part of First Group, there have been a number of complaints about the performance of this once stellar open access train company. In recent months, there has been a change of management so it’ll be interesting to hear if things are on the way up. The website has a very upbeat feel to it so I hope that the onboard service is in line with it.

Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail)

This state-owned concern runs all of the Éire’s train services, with the possible exception of some services between Dublin and Belfast, as well as maintaining stations and railway track. In comparison with Britain, the network doesn’t look anywhere near as extensive, even on a pro rata basis, but it has to be said that it is run well and achieves what it sets out to do. Saying that, you end up with odd routes on some journeys with a trip from Cork to Galway taking you towards Dublin, particularly when you take into account the recent reduction in the number of stops on a typical Cork to Dublin service; there was a time when such trains stopped at nearly every station on the way.

NI Railways

Northern Ireland’s railways may not be that extensive in size and they should be invaluable nonetheless. Along with services within the province, they also work the cross-border Belfast-Dublin Enterprise service with Irish Rail, their counterpart in the south.


If you’re travelling on a local train service in the north of England, chances are that it’ll be operated by this lot. Not only do they serve cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle among others but their reach extends into the rural parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Northumberland, (County) Durham and Cheshire too. They even operate the seasonal DalesRail services from Lancashire into Yorkshire and then along the renowned Settle to Carlisle railway line as well as the Esk Valley Railway between Middlesbrough and Whitby.


Transport Scotland may be calling the shots these days and new train liveries are only part of this. After National Express and First Group, Abelio now operates the franchise for most of Scotland’s daytime rail services. New trains are on order too so the investment is continuing for the foreseeable future and the reinstated Borders railway line between Edinburgh, Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank is coming on stream later in the year. Alongside these, electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route that goes via Falkirk is ongoing. As for the website itself, timetable information and ticket sales all very much feature as you would expect.

Transpennine Express

The re-letting of the CrossCountry was used by the Department for Transport’s Rail Group as an opportunity to reshape the Anglo-Scottish express train landscape. Part of this was a split between east and west but Manchester services were taken out of the new franchise too. Whatever was the reasoning for this, Transpennine Express are the people who run these trains and I did question the wisdom of using three carriage diesels on the route, even if two are joined together at times. Recently, I found that I wasn’t on the wrong track with this thinking when I encountered severe overcrowding while travelling to and from Edinburgh. Is this sort of thing safe?

Virgin Trains

The company connects Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and other places with London via the West Coast Mainline. There also are services between Birmingham and both Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as a number of London-Edinburgh journeys. This also is one of those rare franchises that has been around since the dawn of privatisation and survived a previous brush with termination that brought the whole franchising system into a state of disarray. That many liked the operator helped its cause then, a factor brought about by its cheeky entrepreneurial approach to things.

Virgin Trains East Coast

There seems to be the sort of developing trend with East Coast Mainline franchises that leads one towards a certain quip attributed to Oscar Wilde (losing one parent is unfortunate but two seems careless). Both GNER and National Express East Coast came to a bad end due to paying too high a premium to H.M. Government and financial difficulties arising when passenger patronage growth did not meet expectations. Parent company problems such as the latter overextending itself with debt when money was being shovelled at all and sundry haven’t helped either. Then, a government company ran things before the next bout of franchise letting brought the current franchisee into place.

What once was a prestigious operation sadly became something less prized. Maybe that is what Virgin and Stagecoach now are trying to turn around. Usefully, they are to have new trains from Hitachi and these have been branded Azuma, the Japanese for east. That is a somewhat cheeky move on what has come into being as a government overseen project. Nevertheless, it does show some of the flair that has been absent since the demise of GNER and passengers may appreciate a bit of that magic as much as their counterparts on the West Coast Mainline. Balancing that against the payment of premia could be a challenge though.

West Midlands Trains

This used to be known as London Midland but the name changed when the franchise was re-tendered. However, the new name is not the one that passengers are likely to see since it operates its networks using two different brand names: West Midlands Railway for local services around Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton while long distance services along the West Coast Mainline use the name of London Northwestern Railway. The latter means that it runs trains between London Euston and such places as Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Winsford, Hartford and Liverpool.