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On the Great Northern line between London's Kings Cross, Stevenage and Cambridge, services can be operated by 4, 8 or 12 coach trains. On parts of the route, you can also get 3, 6 or 9 coach ones. When you get to the station, the departures board will show things like "15:04 to Kings Cross, Great Northern Service formed of 8 coaches" or "17:22 service to Cambridge, Great Northern Service formed of 12 coaches". Other lines / bits of the country often have similar things.

I know that in the late afternoon, some of the services heading south on this route are 4 coaches, and you almost always have to stand on them. Some of them are 8 coaches, and you can normally get a seat, at least as far as Stevenage. I've tried complaining about the overcrowding on the 4 coach trains before, but due to the wonders of the "competitive" privatised rail system, the response was unhelpful and overcrowding remains...

What I'd like to be able to do is look up which services will be 4 coach, and which 8, so I can plan to get one with a chance of seats. Because of the service interval, I don't really want to get to the station to read the display board to see which that'll be, I'd like instead to check online.

I've had a play with the National Rail Enquiries Online Journey Planner, but while that's happy to tell me who operates the trains, and if they have 1st class or bike spaces, I can't seem to get it to tell me if it'll be a 4, 8 or 12 coach train.

Clearly this information is available somewhere electronically, otherwise the display boards in the station wouldn't know to announce the train lengths! How can I go about looking it up myself?

  • 1
    I suspect that this is decided on the day, and would not be available in advance. – Michael Hampton Jul 31 '15 at 14:47
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    You get the odd change due to problems, but on the whole certain trains are always 4 coaches, certain ones always 12. Plus, I only really want to know about ones in the next 2 hours, which the station boards know about! – Gagravarr Jul 31 '15 at 14:48
  • I was going to suggest reservations, as you can often do that (by phone) 2 hours before. But apparently no seat reservations on Thameslink. – CMaster Jul 31 '15 at 15:26
  • @GayotFow Nate has posted a link to PDFs showing the normal carriage counts for the morning peak for that line, so for at least some services it's known in advance. Display boards at paddington seem to show carriage counts for at least the next half hour, which would be pretty much enough for my purposes too – Gagravarr Jul 31 '15 at 16:50
  • @GayotFow Nate has given a PDF for trains on the routes I want to know about, proving the information exists, but not for the trains I want to know about, so my desire for an answer remains. Ideally I'd really like to know how to discover it for the general case! – Gagravarr Jul 31 '15 at 18:13
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For some stations,you can find this information on TIGER, a web-based version of the customer information system displays in stations. Here's London King's Cross for example, displaying number of coaches for most trains.

It doesn't seem to cover every station, and even for the ones it does cover, length information isn't always present, but it's better than nothing.

As for why this isn't available on RealTimeTrains: as I understand it, this information isn't part of any of the publicly available data feeds that RTT uses.

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At least for peak services, you can visit http://www.thameslinkrailway.com/your-journey/planning/gn-seats/ which has, for most stations, a table of peak-time trains showing the number of carriages and how crowded they are predicted to be.

  • Sadly that only considers "traditional" commuters which seem typical for Great Northern. I'm interested in the counter-peak services, eg evening from Hitchin to London, which are often have large numbers standing when scheduled as only 4 coaches. That kind of table for the whole day would be the sort of thing I'm after! – Gagravarr Jul 31 '15 at 15:43

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