On Trains & Buses

Travel news, views & information from Europe & North America by an independent public transport user

Train Companies

Reading time: 20 minutes.

This list started as one that only included train companies operating in Britain and Ireland, but the remit has expanded to include those in other parts. That means that it never will be comprehensive and that there always will be more to add as I potter about the planet. Then again, some companies will come into being while others cease to exist, so this page should remain a dynamic one that can be checked again and again. Hopefully, it also facilitates many a travel plan as well.

Train at Mallow Station, Co. Cork, Eire

Alaska Railroad

Alaska’s railway is detached from other parts of the U.S.A. as a consequence of geography but there still is one going through its wild Nordic landscape. Timetabling for passenger services is seasonal, but the network extends north from Seward to Fairbanks calling at such places as Whittier, Anchorage and Denali. The last of these is an access point for the National Park containing North America’s continental top.

Frequencies typically involve one departure in each direction a day, so this may not a strong option for a day trip. Journey times can be long too with trains between Anchorage and Fairbanks taking a whole day though others trips may be shorter. This is a way to sample the scenic surroundings of the railway and Alaska’s countryside has plenty of majesty that gets lost if you just fly over it.

Some of the operations are on a flag stop basis, which means that you can stop a train anywhere, so times may vary because of this. You also need to remember that early departures are possible too because they only wait for passengers with reservations and not anyone who decides to try travelling on a walk-on basis. So, it all needs planning and the expansiveness of Alaska together with its climate commands that.


You cannot talk about train travel in the U.S.A. without mentioning Amtrak since its network is the backbone of passenger rail transport in the contiguous forty-eight states. Journeys can take several days, so it is not the quickest way to go and timetable frequencies often involve one departure in each direction every day because of the distances involved and associated timetables may need you to read them from bottom to top to see times in an opposing direction. However, there are sleeping quarters for any overnight travel, and it can be a good way to see a lot of America as you go. Some of the routes are not transcontinental, and a better frequency is on offer dependent on state support and Thruway bus connections extend travel options as well. Flying may be faster but long-distance train journeys have their place too.

Avanti West Coast

This 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 several London-Edinburgh journeys.


The acronym stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, and the bay in question is San Francisco Bay. The system is an underground that serves all manner of places from San Francisco Airport, to Downtown and the East Bay Area. The network looks extensive and very useful should I ever make a visit to that part of the world.


This Florida-based operator provides an up to hourly service calls at Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach while there is work in progress to include Orlando too. As if that were not enough, there also are plans to link Los Angeles with Las Vegas as well so there their business could take in both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the contiguous 48 states. Business and commuter patronage is welcomed along with leisure traffic that includes connections to cruise liner sailings.

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 into a separate contract and that is being fulfilled by Serco. There are big plans for improving the service and teething problems meant a delay to their introduction before the onset of the ongoing pandemic.


The main part of the route plied by this operation extends between San Jose and San Francisco. The frequency is essentially hourly every day of the week, and there are weekday commuter service extensions going as far south as Gilroy. Connections with BART trains going to San Francisco Airport are possible at Millbrae. Electrification of the line is ongoing at the time of writing, and new electric trains will get introduced when this is complete. Then, service frequencies may increase.

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.

České dráhy

Also abbreviated as ČD, this is the largest operator in Czechia (Czech Republic). Its network features local, national and international trains along with overnight services. It has been around for nearly two hundred years and operates thousands of trains a day, carrying many passengers too. Thus, planning a trip to Czechia surely involves checking out what this operator has to offer.


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.

Deutsche Bahn

Germany has only served me as a way to get to Innsbruck in Austria and my exposure to Deutsche Bahn services is nearly as brief since I only used an S-bahn service to get between Munich Airport and München Ost train station for change to and from a return journey to my eventual destination. Their network includes high speed, regional and local rail services as well as some bus operations and my previous limited experience was good enough to encourage me to try longer journeys in the country. After all, the company is its main train operator while Abellio Deutschland operates in several regions and wholly owns Westfalen Bahn. Those areas may not be the focus of a possible next visit since the Bavarian Alps appeal and that moves things beyond the use of Deutsche Bahn’s journey planner as I used to do regularly a while back.

East Midlands Railway

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.

European Sleeper

The current climate situation coupled with an awareness of how polluting air travel can be is fuelling an interest in overnight train travel in continental Europe. This operation between Berlin and Brussels with stops at Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, among other places. Services leave Brussels on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while those from Berlin depart on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. There are plans to include Dresden and Prague on the network in 2024, and Barcelona in 2025. You can choose from sleeping and seated compartments, with former being single sex for women only and mixed sex otherwise.


With the construction of the Channel Tunnel, Britain joined the international high-speed 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.

GoldenPass Express

It cannot be said that the Swiss are not inventive. To have a service running on two different gauges with the same carriages is some feat, even if a change of locomotive is needed. That is what is offered by this offering between Montreux and Interlaken and the changeover happens at Zweisimmen without a change of train. That there are panoramic carriages giving superb views of the surrounding mountains only adds to the appeal and there is onboard catering too.

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 the Thames and Wessex areas 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 several 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 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 runs well and achieves what it sets out to do.

Saying that, the journey planner can suggest odd routes on some journeys. For example, some from Cork to Galway can take you to Dublin, and others involve changes at Portlaoise and Portarlington; recent decades have seen a 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. The most logical ones go via Limerick Junction and Limerick’s Colbert Station, but services on the Limerick - Galway route are not that numerous.


Liberalisation of the railways within the European Union has allowed this operator to commence high speed services within Spain. Thus far, its destinations include Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Valencia, Seville, Malaga, Cuenca, Córdoba, Alicante, Albacete, Antequera and Tarragona. This is a joint venture between the Spanish airline Air Nostrum, the Italian train company Trenitalia and Globalvia whose progress will be interesting to watch.


There seems to be the sort of developing trend with East Coast Mainline franchises that leads one beyond a certain quip attributed to Oscar Wilde (losing one parent is unfortunate, but two seems careless). GNER, National Express East Coast and Virgin Trains 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 NXEC overextending itself with debt when money was being shovelled at all and sundry haven’t helped either.

Between NXEC and VTEC, there was East Coast, and we now have LNER and that is another public sector affair. Usefully, they introduced new trains from Hitachi and these have been branded Azuma, the Japanese for “east”. Things seem steady for now and its seems that LNER will last longer than what perhaps was the initial intention.

Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn

Together with its sister companies Glacier Express (offering slow scenic trips between Zermatt and St. Moritz or Davos) and Gornergrat Bahn (a vertical climb to a viewpoint for the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa), this operation reaches parts of Switzerland that the country’s main operator does not serve. An example is Zermatt where I visited in September 2015 on a day trip from Geneva. The last part of the journey needed a change at Visp and car drivers cannot get to Zermatt anyway, so there are shuttle services between there and Täsch.


MTR also has contracts to run local train services around Stockholm from SL, so it probably should not come as a surprise that it might try its hand at Swedish intercity services too and this is its offering for the Stockholm to Gothenburg route. National operator SJ also serves the two cities with a similarly high-speed service but MTRX also calls at Skövde, Herrljunga and Alingsås depending on which service you book.

NI Railways

Northern Ireland’s railways may not be that extensive, 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.


NS is better known to me through its former Abellio subsidiaries operating rail franchises in the U.K. (they are listed here separately) than it is for rail services in its home country of the Netherlands. Attendance at a conference in Amsterdam during November 2019 had me using its intercity services for getting between the city’s airport and the city itself, and they did exactly what was asked of them. It was only a limited encounter though and the network extends to other cities and towns within the Netherlands to offer travel possibilities should a return trip materialise.


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.


It was on an extended weekend visit to Innsbruck, and around there, that I last made use of Austria’s national rail operator. That was for getting between Munich and Innsbruck and between Innsbruck and Jenbach. These services were part of the Eurocity network and proved to be quiet, comfortable and efficient as expected. The network is an extensive one that more than covers the countries main cities, and I was tempted by the idea of a day trip from Innsbruck to Salzburg or Vienna using a high-speed service but decided to stay local instead. There are sleeper trains too should the need arise for overnight travel.


The reason for the three sets of letters above is that this is Switzerland’s main national railway company. September 2015 was when I sampled its services extensively on an extended weekend that saw me travel to Bern, Zermatt and Grindelwald from my base in Geneva. Despite their reputation for timeliness, there were some small delays, but none were significant. What was not contradicted was the reputation for being expensive though obtaining a Swiss Travel Pass in advance would have helped a lot with reducing that and there is a Half Fare Card available. All the trains that I used during my stay were comfortable affairs and did exactly what I asked of them so there probably is little reason to travel around the country by car given how extensive public transport is there.


The French national rail operator became known to me during French lessons that were part of my Irish secondary schooling, and it was the existence of their high-speed TGV services that attracted the most attention. Of course, they provide other intercity, regional and local train services and I did spot one of them while on a visit to Switzerland in September 2015, but further exploration of France remains outstanding. There may be an ambition to travel to Paris by TGV during a school trip in the summer of 1989, even if it never came to pass. Other high-speed operations like Eurostar and British train franchises operated by subsidiary Keolis have come into being since then, yet I have yet to sample what to me feels like the original of them all.


Transport Scotland may be calling the shots these days and new train liveries are only part of this. After National Express, and First Group and Abellio, this is now a nationalised entity that operates most of Scotland’s daytime rail services. Given the wonderful countryside to be found there, the routes are well worth checking out and using.


My experience with Sweden’s main national rail operator is limited to its Stockholm to Gothenburg high-speed route while local rail services are provided by other undertakings. That was in August 2017, and it did exactly what I needed from it though leaving earlier and returning later would have left me with more time in Sweden’s second city, but that was my doing. The network does reach into neighbouring Denmark and Norway too and there are sleeper trains that facilitate overnight travel as I saw on my first ever wander around Stockholm in July 2010. If I ever do fancy a return to Sweden to sample its arctic regions, then more use of SJ may result, and this English language site could facilitate such an escapade with its timetable and fare information as well as its ticket booking facilities.


This is another local line in California with an acronym for a name. This one stands for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit and the service runs between Sonoma County Airport and Larkspur where there are ferry connections to San Francisco. The route also serves such places as Santa Rosa, Novato and San Rafael.

The timetable does not operate on a clock face basis and service frequencies vary from near two-hourly to half-hourly according to the time of day and the day of week. Sundays get six return journeys in the day while Saturdays get seven. There is also an extra evening return journey on Fridays compared to the rest of the weekday timetable.

Transpennine Express

Passenger capacity has been a bugbear on services operated by this company but three new five carriage fleets are coming into service that should help a little with that though some routes retain their older three carriage ones. Their network features Anglo-Scottish services as well as those around the north of England, and it has come a long way since it consisted of two routes served by two carriage trains. Those originals are now complemented by others on the west coast and east coast mainlines.

Transport for Wales

For many years, Wales wasn’t even considered as a single railway “region” but the establishment of an 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 worth a call. They also connect Wales with the likes of Birmingham and Manchester, the latter of which brings them through Cheshire. New trains are promised, so it will be of interest to see if there is added capacity since that is much needed, especially on the Manchester to south Wales route.

VIA Rail

Since Canada is the world’s second-largest country by land area, it creates challenges for the country’s railways so multi-day trips with departures on certain days of the week are common, especially for northern, eastern and western destinations. The corridor between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa does see service by several departures a day though and there are a few different routes from which to use. There also are services going to the U.S.A. with Amtrak operating the majority of them.

As with the network’s counterparts elsewhere in North America, Canada’s passenger train services are for those who relish the idea of going slower and seeing more of the place while most will fly for sake of convenience and speed. In these environmentally conscious days when we are thinking more about our carbon footprints, there is a place for long-distance train travel across continents, and you always can see a lot more on the ground than in the air anyway.


Until 2019, the Norwegian state railway company was known as NSB but changed to a new identity for its rail and bus operations. Its network got trimmed by the awarding of the contract for train service operation between Oslo and Stavanger along with associated branch lines to Go-Ahead Nordic and SJ NORD then took over much of is network north of Oslo too. Otherwise, its business is as before with multiple services per day on all lines even if journey times eat up much of the day in some cases. Train tickets for all of Norway remain on sale through the website and that is just as well since the one for Go-Ahead Nordic and SJ NORD are only in Norwegian while Vy does have a solid English language version.

West Midlands Trains

This used to be known as London Midland, but the name changed when the franchise was re-tendered to Abellio. 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.


Now that I think of it, most of the train services that I have used in overseas trips have been powered by electricity while my incursion in Zillertal was different for the railway between Jenbach and Mayrhofen is plied mainly by diesel trains. The same company also operates some journeys with steam locomotives and offers bus services as well. The main business involves the half-hourly service between the Austrian mainline and the then easy to reach terminus in Zillertal from which many an outdoor excursion has started. My visit there was beset by rain and there was an out of season feel to that Sunday afternoon in May 2016, but there remains a cause for a return.