Changing Trains

Peterborough: trains for Ipswich and Norwich.
Unless we live in London or near a major junction station, we need to change trains from time to time to have a wide choice of destinations. The need to change trains does put some people off making journeys by train, but once we are freed from the fear of changing trains (maybe I could invent the acronym FOCT!) then some amazing journeys can be undertaken, anywhere in the world that is connected to the railway system - I describe some of these in this blog. Yes, there are some short trips involving one train (from my local station these are to Ely, Cambridge, Birmingham and even Audley End, for example) but most of them involve getting off our little local train and boarding another one to take us farther afield. But people I speak to often seem to fear either not being able to find the train they need or, worse, getting on the wrong train in a strange place and going hundreds of miles in the wrong direction. Now, I'm not saying this cannot happen, but simple systems are there to prevent it and it is up to us to make sure we use them. This article sets out to abolish FOCT and liberate readers to travel all over Europe with ease! I have made complex, multiple-change trips in the UK and abroad with no trouble at all.

Birmingham New Street:
trains for London and Bournemouth.
I have been travelling alone by train since my early teens and have never found a problem with changing trains, and newer information technology has made it even simpler and easier now. Further, by booking online in advance I can have an itinerary which gives me the departure times of all my trains and if I have seat reservations the time of the train is even printed on my ticket. In the old days I would turn up at an interchange station and read a printed Train Departures poster to find the next train to my destination, but nowadays I know when it is and simply need to find out where I need to be to board it. The old way can still be used, though.

The main thing about changing trains, as in most aspects of life, to be honest, is to keep your head and not panic! When it is time to leave your first train, gather your things carefully together (see advice on my Luggage page) and leave the train calmly, glancing at your seat and table to ensure that you have not left anything, and make your way to the platform. If you need to stop and adjust your baggage or check anything, do stand clear of the doors so that other passengers can get past you!

Train indicator at Birmingham New Street, showing my
train home to Stamford! The next train is a (delayed) train
to Nottingham.
Now to find the next train! Stations vary in the amount of information available at platform level, but all interchange stations (junctions where changing trains is a common thing to do) will have plenty of ways of telling you what train goes at what time from what platform. Each platform will show the next train and usually, displayed alternately for a few seconds each, the next two departures after that. But you do not need to go around the station in a mad panic reading all these displays until you find the train you want!

Somewhere on the station, and often in several places, there will be a comprehensive list of departures (and arrivals, too, for those meeting people off trains) for the next hour or two. At Peterborough, for example, there is a big display over the main entrance hall which lists the stopping places of all departures, and smaller displays showing the time and destinations are on the platforms and elsewhere, including, wisely, the waiting rooms. There are also staff around to be consulted, including several sitting at counters and employed for this very purpose (they are especially useful on those occasions when things go wrong and special advice is needed - as happened to us at York on our way to Whitby).

Mantra: "Time, Destination, Platform"


At main stations in London, Birmingham etc, there are similar but larger displays making it pretty simple to discover where you need to be. So, armed with the departure time, destination and platform number (as well as whether the train is on time, or how many minutes late), the next step is to find the platform. Simply look for the signs which will be plentiful at interchange stations. Sometimes a long platform is divided into A end and B end but a long train will occupy the whole platform and just the number may be all you are given - announcements will sometimes tell you which end to be for First and Standard classes, or where to stand if you've a bicycle to load.

If you allow five minutes to change trains, this will be adequate at most stations, but a few more minutes, especially if you've never been there before, would be wise at big complex stations like Birmingham New Street or Edinburgh Waverley. You need time to find the departures list, read the information about your next train (time, destination, platform), find the platform, walk to it and board the train, and at places like New Street, the walking alone can take a couple of minutes. If you're not in a hurry (and often one is not), then allowing a bit longer and just taking time to have a drink or even allowing a lot longer and visiting a museum can turn a journey into a tour! We do it a lot: I bought a shirt once while changing trains in Birmingham, and in London we sometimes spend a whole day!

A Cross Country Voyager at Birmingham New Street.
This station is key to visiting a huge part of Britain and is
designed to make changes of train as easy as possible.

Birmingham New Street


Nearly all inter-city and most local and regional services in the West Midlands call at New Street, and those that don't can be reached at Moor Street just across and along the road, so unless you are in Kent or Sussex you will often find that New Street is the gateway to some of England, Wales or Scotland's most interesting destinations. Indeed, even if you don't have to change trains you may find yourself passing through New Street: the UK's longest train trip, from Aberdeen to Penzance, comes this way.

At the A end of New Street's platforms the waiting areas are
separated by the main entrance from the Bull Ring, so
changing trains is best done at the B end.
New Street has twelve platforms, all divided into A and B ends and long enough to take two or three short local trains or one long inter-city train. It is at the hub of Cross Country Trains' network (all their trains call here) and is served by Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line to the north-west and Glasgow as well as trains to both North and South Wales. Main line and local trains to London, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester normally use platforms 2-6, and cross-country trains to York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Bristol and the south and west of England and south Wales normally use platforms 7-11. Read the signs and listen to the announcements and you really cannot go wrong. See my experience at my recent blog post, for example.

New Street's helpful guide to
which "lounge" you need for
which platform changes:
cut out and keep, or save to
your smartphone!
To change trains at New Street I strongly recommend that wherever your incoming train arrives, you leave the platform by the B end escalators or lifts. At the B end you will go up to a waiting area called the Red Lounge which has access to all platforms and is therefore the place to be for waiting for your next train. It has a variety of shops, cafés etc and plenty of space to wait, and lots of departure information.

If you've time to spare, this station is in the heart of England's second city and there is plenty to see and do within a few minutes walk of the trains, so there is no need to rush through, so long as you get your last train to your destination. To leave the station, ask at a manned ticket barrier if your ticket is valid for break of journey (no need to do this if you have full-priced "any time" tickets or separate tickets for each leg of the journey) and then the options are to leave via one of the street-level exits - the main one takes you out to the well-known Bull Ring shopping area - or to go up one more level to the new Grand Central shopping centre which is built above the station. There also exits to Stephenson Street and Station Street, but these are not so useful for a quick visit (unless you want the Ian Allan transport book and model shop on Stephenson Street).



Grand Central, with shops (including John Lewis department
store), restaurants, bars and cafés, is on a gallery above New
Street station's concourse. There are several eating and drink-
ing places on the concourse, too, and in the waiting areas.
If you need to get a train from Moor Street station (for Stratford on Avon, for example), then use the main Bull Ring exit, bear left and follow the signs: it is only a two-minute walk and is signposted throughout. This would also be the best way to go if you need a local bus service.

You are unlikely to have to go to Snow Hill station but if you do there are now trams from the Stephenson Street exit to Snow Hill, also signposted.

Trains which operate from Snow Hill also normally call at Moor Street, which is nearer.






London, Kings Cross and St Pancras International


London has never had a "central" station and changing trains here has normally meant a cross-town trek by Underground, taxi, bus or, if you know where you're going, on foot. The opening of the Thameslink service (strictly a reopening) between Farringdon and Blackfriars gave those of us in the north some limited access to the south and vice-versa, but the more recent opening of the high speed lines into Kent (principally for Eurostar services to Europe) and expansion of the Thameslink services has made the Kings Cross and St Pancras termini, with their shared Underground station - already the best connected on the Underground network - a real hub for London. The two main line stations' main entrances have been moved to face each other across the street, too, and make a journey from, say, York to Margate, a simple matter of crossing the road (and there's a subway route if you don't even want to do that!).

If you know Kings Cross and/or St Pancras from the past, it is best to forget all about them and start again as if they are newly-opened stations that you've never seen before, because they are used now in such a different way that if you try following habitual ways you will end up in the wrong place - not a disaster by any means, but it will take out of your way and lead to unnecessary confusion.

Before writing about changing trains at the Kings Cross St Pancras hub, I just want to mention that London Euston station is just a short walk from here, or one stop on the sub-surface Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City or Circle line, so it is also a hub for those travelling to/from London by the West Coast Main Line, too, including the Caledonian Sleepers.

I shall describe a change of train from one arriving at Kings Cross into a connection at St Pancras, and then the other way round: the second half of each will also work for passengers arriving here from other stations on foot or by Underground, bus or taxi.

Arriving at Kings Cross, leaving by St Pancras International



The main concourse at Kings Cross: go diagonally across for
domestic rail services from St Pancras
Exit to main concourse from Kings
Cross main platforms
Approaching the exit for St Pancras domestic rail services
Arriving at Kings Cross main line platforms you have to leave by the town end of the platform and then if taking a train from St Pancras, turn sharp right before the ticket gates and exit through the gates into the new concourse on the west side of the station (if arriving at suburban platforms 9, 10 or 11 you'll just go through the ticket gates straight onto the new concourse). For Southeastern High Speed services to Kent and for Thameslink services to Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, south London, Surrey and Sussex, the best exit is the northernmost one, near platform 11: as you look through the doors you can see St Pancras main entrance across the road! (If it is raining and you do not want to go outside, go down to the Underground concourse and follow the signs for St Pancras main line station.) If you are catching an international departure, leave by the exit on the middle of the west side of Kings Cross and the Eurostar departures area is through the doors on the other side of the road.

Arriving at St Pancras International, leaving by Kings Cross

Whether arriving by Eurostar from France or Belgium or by domestic trains from Kent, the Midlands or the London suburbs, any exit on the east side of St Pancras's main concourse level, below the main platforms, will take you to Kings Cross main concourse across the road. It is best not to head towards the old exits at Euston Road which are mainly for those wanting the Underground and buses. I generally go out of St Pancras by what is now its main entrance/exit near the Southeastern High Speed platforms and domestic ticket offices (there is a subway here, too, handy if it's raining outside), and straight across the road into Kings Cross main concourse - don't take the Underground entrance by mistake! Opposite the entrance is one of two huge departure displays listing all the calling points of all the trains due out in the next hour or two: often the platform number is only shown when the train is ready to board, so you can wait here on the concourse. There is waiting space on a balcony with seating, and from there a bridge curves across to the centre of the platforms, just right for the Standard Class areas of most trains. First Class ticket-holders might be best going onto the platforms via their ends - to the right of the information displays. There is also a lounge for those with First Class tickets, and if you leave this via the upper level onto the bridge over the platforms, the lift will take you nearer to the First Class coaches.

There are, of course, many other large junctions in Britain, but I hope that this description of these few key places will illustrate how simple change-of-train can be. I have quite confidently made changes in other European countries at stations which I've never seen before and never experienced any real difficulty - although the signposting of some of Paris's great termini does leave something to be desired. Just take it one step at a time: find out what time train, to what ultimate destination and at which platform, and only then start looking for it. Easy!

3 comments:

  1. Very helpful, thanks!

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  2. I find it tricky to change at Birmingham New Street now as I can see the platform number I need but cannot get there in a straight line as escalators always seem to be in the way. I end up having to pass through the barriers, walk along and then back through the barriers - it all adds time! Is this because I have not got off at the 'B' end of the platform you refer to? Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Yes. To my mind it should not matter, but it does. If you leave the platforms via the B end, you can get to any other platform without facing the barriers. Makeshift signs have now been erected giving advice to change trains via the B end of the platforms.

      The problem is that the station entrance/exit is between platform accesses at the A end, making that end better for those leaving the railway at New Street, but less good for those changing trains there.

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