I have a travel to Liverpool coming up in April and I have bought my outbound train ticket, but seem unable to buy the return ticket. The return journey is planned to be on a Sunday, and I prefer a train early in the day, and the sites give me 'time table is not confirmed' or 'no fares available for this journey', while for the weekdays and even the Saturdays around this Sunday there are time tables and tickets. All tickets (and hotels nights) are booked, except the Liverpool to London ticket.

I would be most happy with a 'super off peak ticket' or if not available on this line an off peak ticket (for which a time table is not needed,) but those do not seem to be on sale.

If I check out for which Sundays there are tickets on sale it is only for the next two or three weeks from now, with the cheaper tickets not available for those the farthest out.

Is there a way to secure train tickets for this journey up to the 'normal' three months ahead?

  • There might be track maintenance scheduled over a weekend or a Saturday/Sunday night. Quite often this work overruns, making the the early Sunday morning schedules unreliable. Not sure it that is the case here. Perhaps two months ahead, the schedule has not been finalised, and might include the whole of Sunday. Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 19:15
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    Is Liverpool served by avanti (or any of the journey)? They tend to not release their weekend timetables until ridiculously late (too late to book a bike space, so I ended up cycling for 2 days instead, with a night in a hotel. It saved me money). This is because they're incapable of running a staff rota Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 19:22
  • It is indeed avanti that seems to run this line. I would expect them to replace trains with buses (or give an other alternative) in case of works. But maybe they are allowed more leeway than the train companies I am more familiar with.
    – Willeke
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 19:37
  • If there are bus replacements scheduled it can be better to go by National Express bus instead. The train operators aren't always keen to show bus replacement, so as not to lose business. Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 20:10
  • @Willeke for engineering, yes. For poor planning, they don't. Once a replacement bus is confirmed it will show on national rail enquiries anyway Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 21:05

2 Answers 2


During the height of the pandemic, most of the intercity rail operators in the UK introduced compulsory reservations, at least on paper. In practice these were only enforced at a few locations even at the height of the pandemic.

Some operators removed the compulsory reservation flag from the timetable data but Avanti and LNER are still setting it despite all reports being that they are no longer enforcing reservations (and indeed at Liverpool Lime Street the station is not set up for enforcing reservations).

The pandemic and industrial relations issues have also made a mess of timetable planing. Particularly at weekends, this is causing reservations to be released much later than they should be. The retail sites do not* distinguish between a train for which no reservations have been released yet, and a train for which they have sold out.

Unfortunately websites nearly always insist on a valid itinerary before they will sell you a ticket. If the timetable data says that the train is reservations compulsory and the reservation system cannot provide a reservation they will not sell a ticket against that itinerary.

If you really want to buy a ticket before reservations are released there are a few possible workarounds.

  1. If buying a return ticket that is valid for a month on the return, select a different date for the return. This won't help you for this particular journey since you have already bought your outward ticket, but it's something to remember for the future.
  2. You can use operator and/or route options to force an itinerary that only uses "regional" trains that do not have the compulsory reservations flag set. Trainsplit/trainscanbecheaper are particularly good for this as you can allow/deny individual operators compared to most sites which only give the options of "any operator" or "one specific operator". Note that if you force an itinerary that only uses West Midlands Trains (aka London Northwestern) the website will probably try to sell you an operator-specific ticket, it should be possible to select the "any permitted" ticket instead though.
  3. There is apparently a loophole on the southern railway website, you can plan the journey for a different day, select the ticket you want and add it to your favorites. Then from your favorites you can buy the ticket for whatever day you want without an itinerary.

But ultimately there is little point, you won't be able to buy advance tickets for a train until reservations are released for that train and if you want a flexible ticket you should be able to just buy it on the day.

* Until recently they could not, I think a recent upgrade to the backend systems means they now theoretically can but I don't know of any that actually do.

  • This is correct, though I'd put more emphasis on the option of buying the ticket at the station on the day, as for a flexible ticket this is really the answer here...
    – Muzer
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 10:51
  • It would be, except an increasing proportion of ticket machines are now "planner based" and suffering from similar problems to online sales. I think ticket offices are still ok but i'm not 100% sure, hence why I said "should" rather than "will". Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 3:43
  • Good point, though I don't think the ones at Liverpool Lime Street are so affected.
    – Muzer
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 11:38

If you aren't in a hurry London Northwestern Railway offer a journey from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston that takes about 4 hours, with a single change at Stafford or Crewe. Searching for 16 April it offers me a Super Off-peak Single for £37 - this is a flexible ticket that can only be used on LNR and West Midlands Railway trains, but any of those on the day with no prebooking (there are no prebookable seats on WMR or LNR anyway).

The first full LNR connection is the 1033 from Lime St, connecting at Crewe, arriving Euston 1425. If this is too late there is an earlier train from Crewe at 0952 arriving Euston 1242 - there isn't an LNR connection into that from Liverpool, but perhaps, when the times are confirmed, an earlier non-LNR train (with an extra £13 Offpeak Day Single from Liverpool to Crewe) would enable you to catch the 0952 LNR from Crewe (£35).

The Super Off-Peak tickets cost the same when bought on the day, so you don't need to commit yourself to buying the ticket now.

LNR trains are likely to be Class 350 so reasonably modern, spacious and comfortable inter-regional trains, rather than the inter-city Class 390 used by Avanti.

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    I think the other answer might be more general, this answer gives me a good plan for the day. Break the travel in Stafford en see the place.
    – Willeke
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 10:54
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    This did not work in the end, as I would have had to change trains 5 times, due to the locations of the works. Or pay over 100 pound for an off peak split ticket.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 9:13

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