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It's ridiculous to find that Google recommends taking a train to London then to Milton Keynes. This really looks like a roundabout route. But I can't find any bus services that are faster than this route. Does anyone have a better idea?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Willeke Jun 15 at 16:39
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Short answer: no, there doesn't appear to be a faster route.

The main bus route from Milton Keynes to Cambridge is the X5 followed by the 905, operated by Stagecoach. Until recently this was a single bus route, the X5, but it seems this no longer runs the full route.

Google Maps puts this journey at around 2h30, including a 30-minute connection in Bedford. That's slower than the train (1h40) but probably a lot cheaper.

Neither of the two main intercity bus operators, Megabus and National Express, seem to operate this route directly. National Express suggest a 5h connecting itinerary, while Megabus don't seem to serve Milton Keynes at all.

Some time in the future, the East West Rail project may lead to faster trains on this route, but as of 2021 that's nowhere close to completion.

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    If you get to Bedford presumably continuing by train to MK is an option. – mdewey Jun 15 at 12:28
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    Train from Bedford to MK is an option, but there are no direct trains - change at Bletchley. – Weather Vane Jun 15 at 14:17
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    the X5 is also famously unpleasant (at least among residents of Cambridge) – Tristan Jun 15 at 16:52
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    Its worse than this. The route existed until the 1960s. It was then closed down, and parts of the route just East of Bedford were sold off to housing develoipers, so it cannot be reinstated. Blame the infamous Dr. Beeching, and transport ministers of that era. – nigel222 Jun 17 at 12:39
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    The trains from MK to London are frequent and fast (some as little as half an hour). Trains from Kings Cross to Cambridge are also quite fast. London Euston to London Kings Cross is walkable, or a short hop on the tube. So all in all, it's not quite as stupid as it looks. But closing the direct Oxford to Cambridge rail line in the 1960s was! – nigel222 Jun 17 at 12:44
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There used to be a direct bus on this route, the X5 (Oxford - Bicester - Milton Keynes - Bedford - Cambridge), but it was apparently withdrawn in August 2020. I haven't travelled this in quite a while, but I used to take the X5 a lot when I was younger.

The replacement route seems to be Milton Keynes to Bedford on the X5 (about 25m), and then the 905 from Bedford to Cambridge (about 1h30). The X5 arrives at 15m past the hour and the 905 leaves at 15m and 45m past, so the perfect journey would be about two hours (straight from one to the other) and the longer journey would be about 2h30.

Google Maps suggests the two trains are about 1h45, depending on exact timings, so it does sound like that's the faster option. (The old X5 would have been about 1h50)

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  • Depending where in the city the OP actually wants to go, it's possible there's a 10 -15 minute advantage (or disadvantage) arriving at Parkside versus the station, but it doesn't affect the overall message. – origimbo Jun 14 at 23:48
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    Ironically, the X5 from Cambridge to Oxford was an hourly service that was increased to 30 minutes due to demand, before Covid-19 reduced that demand. The competiton with rail, though, wasn't on journey time but on ticket price. – Weather Vane Jun 15 at 9:56
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    Worth noting that the route is particularly unpleasant on a coach if you're prone to motion sickness as there are what seems like endless roundabouts – aucuparia Jun 15 at 21:23
  • @aucuparia Milton Keynes is famed for its many roundabouts. My experience of Bedford is limited but I seem to recall plenty there too. – Chris H - UK Jun 16 at 14:10
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Have you considered a taxi?

I'm not sure if that would be considered Public Transport, but there is at least one MK based company offering a connection 'from 75 GBP'.

This seems comparable to a full-priced, off-peak day single, which is 60.40 GBP [edited; see comment for details] according to Trainline. If multiple people are travelling, a taxi may actually be the cheaper option.

As a public transport, and especially trains enthusiast, this would not be my preferred option, but for convenience it may be hard to beat.

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  • It's an interesting point to compare the prices. Does 75 GBP cover a round trip? – Dr_Hope Jun 15 at 10:35
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    For the prices referenced, both trips are a single. I'd guess you may be able to negotiate a return fare with the taxi firm if you only need a very brief time in Cambridge (it'd probably be worth the driver's time to wait 30 minutes and have a fare home than drive back 2h without a fare), but if it is a short-medium length trip (a few hours to a month) then a train return is likely to be cheaper. – Neil Tarrant Jun 15 at 10:43
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    my God, is it 70+ quid to go from M.K. to cambridge these days on the train? amazing eh – Fattie Jun 15 at 15:58
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    @Fattie much closer to £60 for an off peak walk-up fair, but as the question points out, the route suggested is effectively a long dog-leg through London, and thus close to pessimal for pricing purposes. – origimbo Jun 15 at 20:45
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    Not mentioned here is that the day return rail fare is 10p more, making it effectively £30 per direction if you're coming back same day. And the 1-month return is £75.20, which is still a significant saving over two singles. Walk-up singles have traditionally been poorly-priced in the UK for a long time now. – Muzer Jun 16 at 10:25
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In addition to the taxi suggestion, depending on how long you're planning to spend in Cambridge, you may be better off actually hiring a car. If you book in advance and spend some time searching, and don't need a large car, you may be able to get a car for under £40 a day. Even adding the cost of petrol, if you're going for a day, i.e. returning the within 24 hours of pickup, that may be fairly cheap and fast, too.

EDIT: To expand on Willeke's comment, liftshare.com is a good resource too. Have a look: https://liftshare.com/uk/search/from/milton-keynes - put "Cambridge, UK" as the destination and see if you can find a reasonable match. If you're going the other way, then start with https://liftshare.com/uk/search/from/cambridge and put Milton Keynes as the destination.

EDIT 2: To address the second of Willeke's comments, there are also car share schemes that you may be able to utilise. Zip car is the most popular one, but there are also Virtuo, EasyCar club, E-Car club, Hiyacar and a number of others. I haven't check which ones are available in Milton Keynes.

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    Are there car share services around there? Might be easier than rentals and can work out cheaper, especially if you need to do it more often. – Willeke Jun 15 at 16:47
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    I did not mean liftshare, but it is a good method. I meant a kind of rental cars which you can book, rent, unlock and pay for on your mobile phone, without having to go to an office to pick it up. – Willeke Jun 15 at 17:04
  • @Willeke it's not clear the OP can drive (in the UK). As the question is locked I can't ask that, but I don't think it was in the comments before. – Chris H - UK Jun 16 at 12:19
  • Those comments are still available, click on the link to the chatroom. – Willeke Jun 16 at 12:44
  • @Willeke that confirms my recollection: no one asked directly, and the OP didn't volunteer that information. . They did however ask for public transport (which is also why I only commented about cycling part of the way, a solution that isn't great in this case anyway) – Chris H - UK Jun 16 at 14:08
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This really looks like a roundabout route.

The UK rail network is pretty London-centric and that area is particularly bad, In particular, once you leave London, there are no connections between the east coast and west coast mainlines until you reach the line that goes from Nuneaton to Peterbourough. From Milton keynes that seems to be an even more roundabout route than going via London.

There is a line going from Willesden junction to Highbury& Islington in North London, but the extra interchanges and slower trains mean using it is not a good choice compared to going into the city center.

Trains move significantly faster than even the fastest buses/coaches (both because of higher top speeds and because they don't have to deal with traffic), so even with a fast bus/coach service a roundabout train route can be time-competitive with a more direct bus/coach route. Add to that it appears from other answers that the fast direct bus has been cut back leaving only a regular local bus service for part of the route and it's not surprising that the train wins even with the roundabout route.

There is a currently ongoing project called "east west rail" which if/when it is eventually completed will link Oxford (served by a branch of the Great Western main line) to Norwich/Ipswich via Bicester (on the Chiltern main line), Bletchley (on the West coast main line), Bedford (on the Midland main line), Sandy (on the East coast main line) and Cambridge effectively linking all the main lines north of London. While some sections of the project have already opened the Bletchley to Cambridge section (referred to by east west rail as the "center section") is still in the consultation stages and is intended to be built on a completely new route because key parts of the old route have been lost to development, so don't expect it to open any time soon.

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    In France the rail network is pretty Paris-centered. (No surprise with such large, dominating capitals.) E.g. Villers-Cotterêts to Compiègne, a 27 km distance, is going through Paris according to Google maps and takes about as much time as the direct bike trip. Unfortunately the OP's route is too long (a bit under 80 km) to be competitive or even desirable with a bicycle. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jun 16 at 13:57
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Not just rail. Air travel too. – RedSonja Jun 17 at 7:56

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