Here is a round up of the various regional rail networks and the student discounts or offers that they provide.
Cross Country Trains
Cross Country trains cover more of the UK than any other company, however their routes are less direct so can take a bit longer. Most journeys from South to North will involve a change at Birmingham which can be a bit of a hassle in busy periods. They do not offer group discounts but do have some student specific deals. NUS student extra and Graduate extra card holders can save 10% on Advance tickets. They also have special student fares for journeys to Cheltenham racecourse from York, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and Exeter. Offer 30% savings if you have a Young Person’s Railcard.
“Good for getting to smaller towns, I use it to visit mates in the holidays” – Bella, second year, Newcastle
“I have an NUS card so try and use Cross Country so I can get my 10% off” – Tim, third year, York
TransPennine Express runs trains between cities and towns in the North of England, including Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, York and Middlesbrough. They offer up to 50% savings on advance tickets as well as a special student deal which means that a Young Person’s Railcard can save you 50% on tickets rather than the standard 30%.
“Really great value with a rail card, 50% saving!” – Fergus, second year, Leeds
“Use them a lot to get home or to visit mates at other unis, always seem pretty reliable and good value” – Amy, third year, Manchester
East Midlands Trains
East Midland runs fast trains from Manchester, Sheffield, Norwich and Liverpool to London (via the rest of the East Midlands). Their trains are fast and they also offer late night services so you can make the most of your visit. You can save money if you book online, in advance, as a group and with a Young Person’s Railcard. They also operated Megatrain, where you can buy tickets online for upwards of £1.
“Managed to get to London for £1 last year! Amazing value” – Sally, second year, Liverpool
“Trains are really fast, you’re in London before you know it and they’re really good value if you book far in advance” – Tom, first year, Sheffield
Southern provides services in South London and between central London and the South Coast, through East and West Sussex and Surrey, and parts of Kent. They offer the occasional deal, such as 10% off if you book online before a certain date.
“I always use Southern trains to get home in the holidays, you can get really good deals if you book far enough in advance” – Sarah, first year, London
“You can get a return from Brighton to London for a fiver if you book in advance! Takes less than an hour as well” – Tom, third year, Brighton
Virgin trains cover the main north/south route in the UK and is the most efficient way to travel from London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland. Fares are cheaper off peak so avoid the rush hour when purchasing tickets. They also up their prices when they know a lot of people will be traveling for a special event, so don’t plan a shopping trip in Manchester if there’s a big football match on! There are occasional special deals and they offer discounts for group travel (three or more people). They also offer a 2 for 1 discount at tourist attractions if you buy your travel tickets with them. The best way to save money on fares is to use a Young Person’s Railcard when booking.
“I use Virgin trains to get from Birmingham to Edinburgh every term. I think the trains are really comfortable and they always have a shop that’s open. They can be really busy on long journeys so I always book a seat in the Quiet Carriage to avoid the rowdy stag parties” – Alison, third year, Edinburgh
“I use Virgin quite a bit, they’re not too expensive if you book with a Young Person’s Railcard but it annoys me that you have to pay for Wi-Fi” – Nick, second year, Newcastle
South Eastern Railway
South Eastern runs trains in London, Kent and East Sussex. They offer group save deals where four people can travel for the price of two. They also offer a Weekender ticket which means you can travel off-peak on a Friday or Saturday and return on the Saturday or Sunday, for little more than a normal off-peak day return. They offer a third off tickets with a Young Person’s Railcard.
“I’ve used the Weekender ticket a couple of times to go home for the weekend, it’s pretty good value” – Anna, first year, London
“I live in Kent and it takes hardly any time to jump on the train back to university in London!” – Isabel, third year, London
First Great Western Trains
First Great Western’s trains run across the South of England: from London to Cornwall via the South Coast and into South Wales. They offer similar initiatives to other companies for saving money on tickets: saving up to 60% by booking in advance rather than buying tickets at the station; group savings and 2 for 1 offers on attractions at your destination. Using a 16-25 railcard is the easiest way to save money on tickets.
“Really cheap (especially if you book in advance) to get to Bristol from Exeter!” – Carrie, first year, Exeter
“Pretty good but make a lot of stops so the journeys take quite a long time” – John, second year, Birmingham
East Coast Trains
East Coast runs trains from London up to Scotland via Lincoln, Leeds, York and Newcastle. They also offer discounted group travel and saving perks on off peak tickets. Cheapest tickets are released twelve weeks before the day of travel so book in advance to save some extra money. The offer a rewards scheme which is worth joining if you use them to get to and from university every term, the more you travel the more points you collect and these can be exchanged for tickets or on board Wi-Fi.
“Pretty good if you book far in advance, and use a railcard!” – Rory, fourth year, Glasgow:
“Got a really cheap upgrade to first class once but it was awful! The ‘complementary’ food never arrived and then the staff blamed us for not asking for it” – Emily, third year, London
Scotrail runs trains across Scotland. They offer up to 75% savings on advance purchase tickets and Groupsave initiatives make it possible for three or four people to travel together for the price of two.
“You can save money if you get a group together to go shopping in Glasgow! Much quicker than the bus” – Rona, first year, Edinburgh
“Pretty good value but only if you book a few weeks in advance!” – Iain, third year, Aberdeen
National Express operates trains throughout East Anglia. They have group save initiatives and accept Young Person’s Railcards for reduced rates. They have some non-student specific deals such as rail and sail to Holland from £39 however they don’t operate the same 25% off with an NUS card scheme as they do on their coaches.
“Wish they did 25% with a NUS card!” – Natalie, first year, UEA
“Me and my friends are considering a rail and sail deal to Amsterdam in the summer!” – Simon, third year, Cambridge
London Midlands Trains
London Midland connects London, the Midlands and the North West. They offer a group save deal and give 1/3 off ticket prices for Young Person’s Railcard holders. They have competitions online which offer tickets to big events, such as the Clothes Show Live, as prizes.
“I use London Midland quite a lot to get to London, always found them very good!” – Rose, second year, Birmingham
“Really reasonable if you use a railcard” – Tom, third year, London
Arriva Trains Wales
Arriva run trains from Birmingham to destinations across Wales. They do offer discounts on group travel but do not have any student specific deals. Like other companies, they accept a Young Person’s Railcard as a way for students to save 30% on travel.
“Good value if you book in advance and use a railcard but the trains aren’t that great- very cold in winter!” – Matthew, first year, Cardiff
“Last time I went to Cardiff I ended up getting stuck in the middle of nowhere for four hours!” – Sarah, third year, Aberystwyth
South West Trains run from London, across the south coast and as far west as Exeter. The offer no student specific deals but do offer 30% for students with a young person’s railcard.
“I use Southwest to go to shows at the O2, always been on time!” – Sam, third year, Exeter
“Southwest are good because they go to lots of small towns in the south, takes a while to get anywhere though!” – Neil, second year, Weymouth
* All terms and conditions are correct at the time of publishing this post