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Planning a train journey in the UK using any of the major booking services allows you to specify stations to avoid or travel via. I would like to avoid taking the tube. In this case it is only a preference because of luggage and a small person; for someone who couldn't manage stairs it would be much more significant.

Avoiding the London mainline stations doesn't do the trick: If I tell (e.g.) thetrainline.com to avoid Paddington on a route from say Bristol to Norwich it says I should change at Reading, take another train, then the tube.

If I specify a plausible alternative route (via Birmingham New Street), I'm either ignored or I get a ridiculous route that manges to include London and Birmingham. Doing this manually I can come up with a very slow journey, but I can't think of all possible interchanges.

So is there a tool that allows train routes to be calculated avoiding the tube? Or step free?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Aug 19 '17 at 11:57
  • For step free (not necessarily Tube free) and less walking in general, be mindful of Finsbury Park: the Tube station became step free this year, two platform pairs of the rail station has lifts, the other two are planned for 2021. There's direct connection to Heathrow and Gatwick, coming from Luton or the Eurostar, it's easy and short walk at St Pancras to take a Thameslink train one stop north, much easier than going to and navigating the Kings Cross tube station. – chx Jun 30 at 17:36
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The National Rail Journey Planner allows you to specify 'London - all stations' in the 'Advanced search' area of the 'Journey details' area - which as far as I can tell is only shown on the results page once you have done a search!

So what you do is:

  • enter Bristol to Norwich, and click Go
  • expand the Journey details area
  • expand the Advanced search area
  • choose Avoid from the dropdown, and enter London
  • click Update your journey

and you get what you want.

Note that the results may include travel in the sort-of-London-area - eg one route is to go Reading -> Richmond -> Stratford -> Norwich, where Richmond -> Stratford is on the London Overground - but this is 'big trains' rather than the Tube.

Some journeys are via Birmingham New Street and Ely. Note that all such tube-avoiding journeys are (for this journey) at least an hour slower than the tube-y option.

Interestingly, thetrainline doesn't allow simply 'London' as an Avoid point.


I should also mention the excellent https://traintimes.org.uk/ which is an accessible (ie de-fancy-web-design-ed) wrapper around the NR engine. It also features bookmarkable URLs, eg

https://traintimes.org.uk/bristol/norwich/10:00/today?avoid=london

which does what you might expect it to from reading it.

  • Thank you. It's a shame that the trains from Birmingham New street to Peterborough or Ely are so slow (but I wanted to ask a general question rather than "help me plan this journey"). Traintimes looks good too. I've also found that GWR.com has a buried option to avoid the tube in thir accessible booking tool, even more buried than the one on nationalrail (I'll almost certainly accept this answer but tend to leave a little time) – Chris H Aug 16 '17 at 9:19
  • Traintimes Reading to Dover avoiding London avoids London, but does take the tube a "Metro" from Stratford (London) to Stratford International, which I believe is on the DLR. See traintimes.org.uk/Reading/DVP/11:45/today?avoid=London – gerrit Aug 16 '17 at 10:40
  • @gerrit I'm confused, DLR certainly wasn't a tube or anything like one if I recollect right. – JeopardyTempest Aug 16 '17 at 11:21
  • @JeopardyTempest Me too! Don't ask me, ask traintimes! It's them who use the word "metro" for the connection between Stratford (London) and Stratford International. I've never been there, I'm not sure what the nature of this connection is. – gerrit Aug 16 '17 at 11:51
  • @gerrit english.stackexchange.com/questions/6814/… might be useful. The term metro is maybe a confusing term it'd be better they not use, but think they have room to use it without implications of it being a subway (for that matter, for what it's worth, only 45% of the underground is underground (telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/…)) – JeopardyTempest Aug 16 '17 at 12:24
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The split-ticketing booking engine TrainSplit appears to be able to do this. In the advanced options, untick all of the modes of transport you don't wish to use (untick everything besides "Train"). In this case it suggests travelling via South West Trains and changing at Clapham Junction to get an Overground train to Stratford where you can pick up a Norwich train, or changing at Reading, Richmond and Stratford for a similar journey.

It's also worth pointing out that the tube isn't always going to be as bad as on the old deep-level lines through the centre of London. I suspect that you'd have an easy time (in terms of step-free access at least) taking the Hammersmith & City Line from Paddington to West Ham and changing there onto the Jubilee Line to Stratford, and picking up your train there. This is likely to be quicker than going via Richmond. I'm not aware of a national-level journey planner than understands the intricacies of step-free tube access, on the other hand.

Similarly, just because it's a mainline station doesn't mean it'll have easy step-free access between platforms - as pointed out in the comments, Clapham Junction for instance has a few very curved platforms with large gaps which are a little tricky for people with heavy luggage. Other stations might not have lifts or ramps, though this is admittedly less likely to be the case for major interchange stations.

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    It's worth pointing out that not all train stations in the UK have step free access. The Clapham Junction lifts are fairly recent, and depending on the platform you arrive at Clapham Junction, the gap between the trains and the platform is huge and a real challenge with e.g. a pushchair. If changing train stations in London it might be worth looking taking a bus and or consulting the official "avoiding stairs" Tube Guide content.tfl.gov.uk/avoiding-stairs-tube-guide.pdf – Marianne013 Aug 16 '17 at 11:07
  • @Marianne013 Absolutely, that's something I'll add to the answer. – Muzer Aug 16 '17 at 12:25
  • It is the high numbered platforms used by Southern Rail that are the main problem as they are the most curved. – mdewey Aug 16 '17 at 12:53
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    @Harper I mean, where do you draw the line when it comes to things like this? All the journey planners have their quirks. In this particular case, I noticed that this one happens to have some rather comprehensive options when it comes to avoiding tube travel. If we're not to give recommendations on which of the (finite and generally rather similar) booking engines have certain desirable features, I guess we'll just have to have an answer along the lines of "There is a booking engine that does what you want, but I'm not allowed to tell you which one. Go and try all of them!" – Muzer Aug 17 '17 at 8:43
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    @Harper As for your second point, let's be real here. This isn't really a "routing bug". It's a missing feature from most journey planners. Many, many train journeys in this country take you through London, and most of them would use the tube. This is something that applies to many. Even if not, you can apply the same tactic if for some reason you don't want to use the tram at Manchester - just untick the "metro" box as well as the "tube" box. – Muzer Aug 17 '17 at 8:44
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If the issue is accessibility rather than the tube per se then the TFL website allows you to plan your journey within London and specify various access options. Click on edit preferences and you are offered the choice between, Use escalator not stairs, Use stairs not escalator, Step-free to platform, Full step-free access.

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A further option (less good than AakashM's and Muzer's answers but exactly what I asked in the title and included for completeness) is GWR.com has an accessible booking tool which specfically has an option to avoid the tube (the tool is meant to be accessible, but it has some extra accessibility options for the actual journey). Other train oeprating companies may offer something similar.

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Another option to consider: Use the central London connections, but take a taxi rather than tube. There is a taxi rank at each London mainline station. It costs more, and can be slower than tube, but is the most convenient option if traveling with suitcases.

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For planning only you could try Traveline SE (There are other Traveline regions) this allows you to select or deselect various modes of travel including Underground but does not provide any booking facility.

Traveline also allows you to choose journeys which have step free access and also if you need staff assistance.

It also provides apps for mobile phones

For Bristol to Norwich it provides a route Bristol/Paddington/Kings Cross/Cambridge/Norwich using a bus from Paddington to Kings cross (and in that direction I don't think you have to cross roads.)

and if you ask it to avoid central London offers several including Bristol/Birmingham/Peterborough/Norwich and Bristol/Chesterfield/Norwich

  • I'll have to look at the Chesterfield route. Other online tools (other answers) don't give that one – Chris H Aug 16 '17 at 19:51
  • However iot does have a wait of nearly an hour at Chesterfield:( The Birm/Peterborough is an hour quicker and the Paddigton - bus - Kings Cross is 50 mins better than that - So fiddle with the options to find the best with you (I have not tries no steps etc) – Mark Aug 16 '17 at 21:51
  • When I try Reading to Harwich on traveline, allowing only trains, it says Sorry - we cannot find a journey that meets your requirements within 24hrs of the requested time – gerrit Aug 17 '17 at 10:39
  • @gerrit - add avoid Central London - however they are a lot longer than allowing buses or underground. I guess that it tries all the London routes first – Mark Aug 17 '17 at 10:45
  • That works, I'm impressed, looks like tube across central London is replaced by Overground across Greater London. – gerrit Aug 17 '17 at 11:13
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Occasionally the computer has a problem auto-routing. These work reliably.

  1. Phone up the train company, or, a travel agent. They can access the system in ways you cannot via a website; for instance they can build an itinerary as a sequence of trains -- rather than only "connect the endpoints" as the websites do.

  2. Learn enough about the train system to figure out a route you like. Then book each segment of the route individually (online still, just several 1-train rides which connect back-to-back).

If you are looking for an online system that will do all that for you, #1 that's a "shop-for-me" question, not allowed on StackExchange. #2 It seems like this would be a simple computing problem, but it's actually quite complex. Occasionally an auto-routing engine chokes on a route because of a bug. Fixing that would require a disproportionate amount of software engineering, so it will probably not happen. More complex routes and special requests make this more likely.

Upside, different engines will have different blind spots. Downside, there aren't very many - they're expensive to develop, so most consumer-facing sites use someone else's engine. If trying four websites doesn't do it, trying twenty probably won't either. There's no substitute for review by a knowledgeable human.

protected by JonathanReez Aug 16 '17 at 12:08

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