The quality of the rail network, of the rolling stock, and of the operating performance is now world-class. This is evident from the current boom in rail travel. Today’s visitor to Wessex has a choice of three rail operators: First Great Western; South West Trains; and Virgin Trains. Together, these three operators serve every city and almost every town in the region. Those towns or villages not served by rail will invariably be served by local bus services that are usually based at or near the local railway station.

Eurostar also offers visitors from Europe a high-speed rail link to Wessex via London.

To contact National Rail Enquiries: phone 08457 484 950 or visit www.nationalrail.co.uk

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First Great Western

From its base at London Paddington, First Great Western (FGW) operates two express networks: the first spanning north Wessex twice an hour via Reading, Swindon, and Chippenham to Bath and Bristol, and on to South Wales; the second slicing across central Wessex once or twice an hour via Reading, Newbury and Taunton to Exeter and points beyond in Devon and Cornwall.

First Great Western also operate three linked “cross-country” routes: Bristol/Bath – Exeter; Bristol/Bath – Weymouth; Bristol/Bath – Salisbury, Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton. Services on these routes involve frequent stops, often on request. They provide an essential public service to the many small scattered communities throughout Wessex. They also provide a unique service for foreign visitors wishing to explore the region by rail. FGW actively promotes its Weymouth service as the “Heart of Wessex” line and offers travellers an interesting choice of special events and attractions, including unusual restaurants and pubs.

Visitors arriving from abroad at Heathrow can travel by FGW’s Railair coach service direct from terminals 1,2 and 3 to Reading Central rail station to join their main-line services. Visitors arriving at Bristol airport can use the Flyer coach service direct to Bristol’s Temple Mead main station. Southampton, Bournemouth and Exeter also offer easy local links.

To contact First Great Western: phone 08457 000 125 or visit www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk

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South West Trains

From its base at London Waterloo, South West Trains operates an extensive and intensive network of services that reach across Wessex and as far as Bristol and Exeter. Four illustrations:

London/Southampton – two/ three per hour, journey time - one and a quarter hours;
London/Salisbury – two per hour, journey time - one and a half hours;
London/Bournemouth – two per hour, journey time - two hours;
London/Dorchester – one per hour, journey time - three hours.

SWT also operates a frequent service from London Waterloo via Salisbury through to Bradford-on-Avon, Bath and Bristol in conjunction with First Great Western. These services usually involve a change at Salisbury although SWT also operates its own twice daily fast through service to Bristol and Bath via Salisbury.

On most routes, SWT operates a combination of fast services, stopping only at major points, and slower services stopping at all stations. In this way their network covers the entire region. Passengers able to book well in advance will find fares as low as £1 on SWT’s Megatrain.com website.

A special feature of South West Trains service is that London Waterloo is also the terminus for the Eurostar express service that links London to Paris and Brussels via the Channel Tunnel. These typically operate twice per hour to each point, with express onward connections throughout Europe.

Passengers travelling via Heathrow can access South West Trains using their Railcoach service between Heathrow (the central coach station and terminal 4) and Woking (two per hour, journey time around an hour).

To contact South West Trains: phone 0845 6000 650 or visit www.southwesttrains.co.uk

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Virgin Trains

Direct access to Wessex from Birmingham, the Midlands, and all points north: this is the special feature of Virgin Trains service. South from Birmingham, two routes serve Wessex: one via Cheltenham, Bristol and Taunton to Exeter and on to Devon and Cornwall; the other via Oxford, Reading, Winchester and Southampton to the New Forest and Bournemouth. Virgin also operates a direct service linking Gatwick airport to Reading thus allowing rail connection with its own services and those of First Great Western.

To contact Virgin Trains: phone 08457 222 333 or visit www.virgin.com/trains

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Eurotunnel

No list of rail operators serving Wessex should exclude the two operators using the cross-Channel rail tunnel link between Calais and Folkestone. Motorists can travel in their own vehicles on board the specially built trains of the Eurotunnel. These operate around the clock at a frequency of two or three per hour. Journey time is just over half an hour. Those not wishing to drive can chose to travel through the tunnel using the high-speed direct service offered by Eurostar from Paris and Brussels to London Waterloo (the London terminal for South West Rail). Europe’s growing high-speed rail network offers connecting express services from most major points beyond.

To contact Eurotunnel; phone 08705 353535 or visit www.eurotunnel.com

To contact Eurostar; phone 08705 186186 or visit www.eurostar.com

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