General Information about UK Train Operating Companies
Trains in the UK are provided by two networks: National Rail (introduced in 1999) in England, Wales and Scotland, and Northern Ireland Railways in NI; these changes occurred following the privatisation of the rail networks in the UK. Around twenty companies operate on these networks including Virgin Trains, First Great Western, South West Trains, CrossCountry, Southern, Abellio Greater Anglia, c2c, Chiltern Railways, and Merseyrail.
Opened in 1825, Great Britain's railway system is the oldest in the world. Although train speeds in the UK may not be as fast as the high-speed train services provided in other countries, they are still agreed to be an excellent means for inter-city transport. There are also more services than many other European countries on average per hour.
Major Train Providers in the UK
There are more than 20 different Rail Operating Companies in the UK and Northern Ireland. These are franchised out to public transport operating groups. Click on the logos of the different franchises to find out more.
Abellio Greater Anglia's services predominately operate from the surrounding peripheries of London, mostly departing from London Liverpool Street station to the north-east of London and the counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Herefordshire and Cambridgeshire. It has only been known as Abellio Greater Anglia since 2013, prior to that the service was known by a variety of different names which reflected the change of hands; it is currently owned by the parent organisation Abellio.
For more information: Abellio Greater Anglia
Merseyrail operates trains in Merseyside. It comprises of two lines on the National Rail network, namely the Wirral line, which connects Liverpool to the Wirral peninsula, and the Northern Line, which runs North-South through Liverpool. More than 100,000 passengers use their trains on any given weekday. In 2010, they achieved the highest ever reliability rating of any UK train operating company.
For more information: Merseyrail
Colloquially known as simply Northern, Northern Rail operates the majority of its services, unsurprisingly, in the north of England. The services do extend, however, to the northern areas of the Midlands and southern areas of Scotland. The service predominantly focuses on more rural commuter train services and longer distance services, thus operates the most stations in the UK. Northern Rail has recently started operating Northern Electrics, making long distance travel with Northern much more accessible and quick.
For more information: Northern Rail
Scotrail operates trains in Scotland. Both commuter trains and long distance services within Scotland are operated by Scotrail, including some lines down into England, via Carlisle to Newcastle. The densest part of the Scotrail network is the subarban area surrounding Glasgow, which forms the second largest suburban rail network in the UK, after London.
For more information: Scotrail
Chiltern run trains in Buckingamshire, along the M40 corridor to destinations in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, as far as some in the West Midlands, to Birmingham. Their main terminus in London is at London Marylebone, a station which they also manage. Chiltern's scores in the Public Performance Measure are generally one of the highest in the country, regularly scoring over 90%.
For more information: Chiltern Railways
CrossCountry operates under the parent company of Arriva Trains and has done so since 2007. As the name suggests, CrossCountry operates a great deal of routes from one end of the country to the other including the longest direct service from Penzance in Cornwall to Aberdeen in Scotland. It is one of the few remaining franchised train companies that does not operate any train stations, however, given its central location in the UK, all routes either stop at or terminate at Birmingham New Street.
For more information: CrossCountry
Grand Central operates trains through the heart of England, it connects Yorkshire and the North-East to London along two routes. There is the North Eastern service which runs between London King's Cross and Sunderland via York, as well as the West Riding service which runs from London King's Cross to Bradford Interchange via Doncaster. On both lines, the trains run non-stop until they reach Yorkshire from London and vice-versa.
For more information: Grand Central
Arriva Trains Wales operates trains in Wales. They run along a number of different lines in all parts of the country, as well as being the primary train operator to run services that connect North Wales to South Wales. The company also manages all stations in Wales, as well as some in England, including Shrewsbury and Hereford. All stations in Wales managed by the company show bilingual station names.
For more information: Arriva Trains Wales
First Transpennine Express run trains across the Pennines. The company operates along 3 key routes, North Transpennine, South Transpennine and Transpennine North West, with Manchester as its primary hub. These routes run respectively from Newcastle to Liverpool via Manchester, Cleethorpes to Manchester via Sheffield and Edinburgh or Glasgow to Manchester via Carlisle. The franchise will remain under the First Group umbrella until at least 2023.
For more information: First Transpennine Express
Owned by the First Group, the Great Western Railway operate 210 stations in the UK, largely concentrated in the south-west of England and Wales. Originally known as Great Western, since its foundation in 1995; it was subsequently bought out by the First Group and in 2006 other partner organisations were reorganised to form the First Great Western Franchise. A large amount of high-speed journeys between London and other cities are operated by the Great Western Railway. Of all the rail providers under the First Group umbrella, the Great Western Railway is the largest in terms of passenger numbers.
For more information: Great Western Railway
Hull Trains is an open access train operator in and around Hull to London. In 1999 there was still only one train per day to London and so an open access operator was formed. Now there are up to 6 return services running daily between Hull and London King's Cross.
For more information: Hull Trains
Great Northern run trains to and from the north of London. The Great Northern route runs along the southern end of the East Coast mainline and services leave and arrive at one of either London King's Cross or Moorgate. It's a major commuter line, transporting people from Stevenage, Cambridge, Welwyn Garden City and many more places, into London every day.
London Midland operates trains throughout the country. They operate both local services within the West Midlands, as well as long-distance and commuter routes from and to London Euston along the West Coast main line. The franchise will continue to be in the hands of Govia until at least 2017.
For more information: London Midland
Officially known as London & South Eastern Railway Limited, Southeastern offers high-speed commuter trains departing from, mostly, south east London but the routes offered go as far east as Dover. It wasn't until 2006 that the company was referred to as Southeastern Trains when it was taken over by their current parent company Govia.
For more information: Southeastern
Southern operates trains in the south of London and beyond. The majority of commuter services out of London Victoria and London Bridge to South London and Sussex are operated by Southern. They also operate some routes into parts of Hampshire, Kent and Surrey. They are one of the main operators on the major London to Brighton route.
For more information: Southern
East Midlands Trains run trains in the East Midlands. From its base in Derby, their trains run in at least 6 counties - Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire. They also run trains down to London from the East Midlands, calling at London Luton airport parkway en route. Stagecoach group operation of the franchise will continue until at least 2018.
For more information: East Midlands Trains
South West Trains operate trains across the country. It operates the majority of commuter services from its base at London Waterloo, with many of its trains passing through Britain's busiest domestic railway station, Clapham Junction. They are the major operator for trains from London to Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, although they also run some services to Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon. Stagecoach has operated the franchise since 1996.
For more information: South West Trains
Commencing services in 1997, Virgin Trains offers connections between some of the UK's largest cities, including Birmingham, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow. As well being a reliable service provider, Virgin Trains sponsor numerous events across the country, such as the Manchester International Festival. Virgin Trains ownership is split between the Virgin Group (51%) and Stagecoach (49%).
For more information: Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains East Coast operate trains along the East Coast Mainline. The primary routes are between London King's Cross and Edinburgh, York or Leeds, all via Doncaster. There is at least 1 train per hour along each of these routes, with 2 trains per hour running between London and Leeds. Operation of Virgin Trains East Coast is a joint venture between Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin (the remaining 10%).