On a Sunday, the first train from Lancaster to Manchester departs at 11:24 (this is the Furness line). On Saturdays this is at 6:24. To Birmingham, the first train on Saturdays is 6:58, on Sundays 11:58. To Glasgow, Saturdays 6:64, Sundays 11:54. The pattern is true elsewhere as well: from Blackpool, first Saturday train departs 5:18, first Sunday train 11:21. Boston, Saturdays 6:13, Sundays 12:13. Lincoln, Saturdays 5:26, Sundays 11:05. It's not true everywhere, but it is in many places. For the rest of the day, the Sunday frequency is not much less than the Saturday frequency.

I've taken the first Sunday train from Lancaster to Manchester twice. Both times, the train was extremely busy. On neither occasion could I find a place to sit. On one occasion, people were left behind on the platform as they could not board the overfull train. Although a sample size of two is small, I will assume this train is always busy.

Considering that demand clearly outstrips supply on Sunday morning, why do trains start running so late?

  • 7
    Don't know about the UK, but some railroads need regular periods without service in order to perform maintenance. Sunday mornings might be the least bad option. May 10, 2017 at 19:43
  • Encourage you to attend your local church? May 10, 2017 at 23:18
  • 1
    Just to make a quick point, for Lancaster to Manchester, from the 25th if June an earlier departure will run at 1022 (A: 1122) and for Lancaster to Birmingham, remember that Real-time trains only show direct services, the same new train will also allow an earlier Sunday service with a change at Wolverhampton. (Depart Lancaster: 1022. Arrive Preston: 1041. Depart Preston: 1117. Arrive Birmingham: 1250.)
    – skifans
    May 11, 2017 at 7:07
  • 2
    Comment rather than an answer, but it is entirely historic. UK had the first passenger railways in the world and has always had a very much reduced timetable on Sundays. This strongly contrasts to the way the rest of Europe/the world does things. 'Blood, Iron & Gold' by Christian Wolmar expands somewhat on this.
    – DaveP
    May 16, 2017 at 13:32
  • 1
    @AndrewLazarus Just look up the time tables by The Israelian Railway (rail.co.il/en). Their service basically halts all service each Shabat / saturday, all across the nation.
    – Buttonwood
    Dec 18, 2019 at 21:53

2 Answers 2


Since the question was "why", historically in the UK, driver's salaries were quite low, and British Rail ran the Sunday service on an overtime-only basis[1]. That is, only drivers who volunteered (for significant overtime pay) would drive trains on a Sunday. I believe this was similar for other grades of staff.

For this reason, British Rail would only timetable services where they could expect enough volunteers to make it viable to run it on a regular basis.

Nowadays, as many people know, drivers' salaries have gone up massively with privatisation, and in return some Train Operators in the UK have started making Sundays part of the official working week, and no longer voluntary. But the old timetables from the British Rail era often remain relatively unaltered, as many of these Sunday services are loss-making, and the government has not mandated an increase in most cases.

Another reason is that major engineering work is often done on a Sunday, so the timetable is quite often geared towards having long stretches of the railway reduced in capacity (eg down to one track from two, or two tracks from four or six), and so reducing the impact of such work on the number of trains that can be run.

In some new franchises a much better Sunday service is being mandated, eg the new South Western franchise. It remains to be seen whether this will be a common element among new franchises or just reserved for the ones seen as important by the government...

[1] http://www.traindriver.org/what-the-job-involves.html


Trains in the UK are run by private rail franchises who make commercial judgments on when to schedule trains to run on particular lines.

This means that for a line like the Furness line that may have low passenger traffic numbers earlier in the morning on a Sunday the company has decided it is not economically viable to run trains earlier than 11.24.

Other busier lines such as ones into and out of London have trains that start at 05.45 for example.

The various rail franchise holders also have certain service commitments placed on the by the Government when they are awarded the franchises and these vary from franchise to franchise.

  • 2
    I find it hard to imagine it is not viable to run trains before 11:24 when the 11:24 is so crowded that passengers are left behind on the platform. It's rather evening (after dinner) services in the same region that seem to have pretty low occupancy. Therefore, I am not convinced this is the full story.
    – gerrit
    May 16, 2017 at 11:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .