As I sit and observe, I watch commuters and families mingle on the most glorious of transport methods; the train. There is no beginners guide to how to travel on the rail network and sometimes it is dangerously obvious; so by the end of this article you should hopefully know the basics of how to travel on and use the rail network.... in the UK at least.

Today we will look at what to do when you arrive at a railway station; buying your ticket and waiting for a train. Then we will look at boarding and travelling on the train, including what facilities you might find; and finally we will look at leaving the train and the railway station.

Step 1: Before Boarding the Train

When you are travelling by train in the UK you must adhere to certain rules and regulations just like when you are driving a car, trying to jaywalk (in a nod to our US readers) or riding a bicycle. We will just call them the rules, but if you want to read more they are called the National Rail Conditions of Carriage[4593] and the Regulation of Railways Act.

The most important rule of travelling by train is that you must be in possession of a valid ticket. You can buy these at various Internet websites, in advance at the railway station or even on the day. Buying in advance is usually cheaper, being in possession of a discount railcard also makes many tickets cheaper - but check the restrictions first; and buying your ticket before boarding the train stops you being hit with a penalty fare on board or even a fine from a magistrate for fare evasion[4594].

When you have your ticket then you need to find out what platform your train is going to leave from. Most UK rail stations have information screens that will display next train or popular destination information; all stations will also have a help-point should you need further information or you are unsure about anything.

Your platform can be a dangerous place. Trains will pass through at speeds that can exceed 100mph and for safety the platform will have a safe distance marked with a yellow line which is where a person with average fitness should be able to resist the draft of a train passing through at speed. While on the platform you should stay away as far from the platform edge as is practical and make sure that you are not distracted:

Step 2: Boarding The Train

When your train arrives, you should make sure that it has come to a complete stop before trying to board your carriage. All of the UK rail network now insists that trains in public service have power operated or centrally locked doors, for the safety of customers and staff alike. If you are travelling on some London Underground trains then the doors automatically open when the train is safely on the station platform; on most national rail services the doors will unlock and you must press the open button.

When you get on the train, the door will be closed automatically either by the driver or the guard on board; except on a few routes where older carriages with manual doors which need to be opened or closed by those close to it.

If you have a problem on board a train then there will always be emergency communication equipment. The following video is an example of an emergency when you would do so.... although the passengers on this New York metro thought otherwise:

Step 3: Travelling On A Train

Once you are travelling on a train then you can relax in a seat, take a wander to the on-board shop or stand and congregate in a doorway talking about the football. Unlike travelling in a coach or car you do not need to remain seated throughout the journey on a train.

If you are not a commuter then you should avoid travelling on commuter trains; usually arriving into London before 9am and leaving London between 4pm and 7pm. Commuters are a strange breed of human that have ingrained ways and if you are sitting in their personal seat, talking slightly too loud or reading a newspaper that they disapprove of; they will spend the journey tutting in your general direction, breathing loudly or in extreme cases Tweet their displeasure. 

Singing is not always encouraged, but some people intent on suicide by commuter have pulled it off:

On most train services there will be on board staff who will inspect tickets. You must have a ticket before you board the train (unless there are no ticket facilities at the station you got on) and penalties apply for those that do not. If you are caught without a valid ticket then negotiating with the ticket inspector is best way forward; arguging, swearing and threatening will end up getting you removed from the train[4741] whether by the train crew or a fed up commuter who just wants to get home.

When you are on board the train, in an emergency the safest place to be is on the train. If you have to move because of a fire, accident or other serious emergency then you must try to move to another carriage as train services still run on other lines. Only if you are directed by railway staff or if there is no other escape route should you leave a train that is not at a station.

Step 4: Leaving the Train

When leaving a train you need to be heading towards the doors before the train has come to a stop; the doors are sometimes only open for one minute and the trains crew must stick to their timetable so making sure you are ready to get off is a must.

The doors again might not open automatically so you should make sure you know where the button to open them is. Taking care to step down on the platform, many older stations will have a gap between the train doors and the edge of the platform; move quickly to a position away from any moving or stationary trains before looking for the station exit. 

For our last video we have an example of people not standing far enough away from the trains. The people in the video are train enthusiasts but the principle is the same and they really should know better. Small stations on quiet lines will sometimes have no steps to cross the railway track and a foot crossing will be at track level; it is the individuals responsiblity to make sure they cross the line safely.

WARNING: Don't drink a hot drink while watching this clip.


The Beginners Guide to Travelling By Train

So there we have it; a quick beginners guide to travelling by train. Almost all train journies are uneventful, nobody gets hurt, nobody risks falling out of the carriage and regretfully nobody sings a proposal.

Next time you are travelling on a train, maybe you will see somebody like me, checking tickets and guarding the train like I did for many years. You will never see me now though as I lock myself in the signal box, unless I am travelling home on a train, just like you!

Do you have a top tip for travelling by train? Leave a comment here!