Options for commuting between London and Cambridge?
October 3, 2007 9:54 PM   Subscribe

What is the most reasonable option for commuting between London and Cambridge? My partner needs to live near University College London, and I'll be going to Cambridge, but not really making any money so the cheaper the better-- if you can quote costs that would be fabulous. I've heard its minimum 30 pounds, which seems steep for a commute...
posted by ThinkNut to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What do mean by commuting? Like daily?
posted by bigmusic at 10:11 PM on October 3, 2007

Response by poster: yes, somewhere between 3-5 times per week, depending on the week.
posted by ThinkNut at 10:19 PM on October 3, 2007

Unless you own a car, I wouldn't plan on commuting at all. It's a long ass trip. When I lived close to Cambridge (about 5 years ago) the cost was about 14 pounds for a one way trip. You might be able to get a student rail pass for less.
posted by bigmusic at 10:35 PM on October 3, 2007

The bus is cheapest, but takes a long time. Trains are much faster and a bit more comfortable, but more expensive.
posted by Phanx at 12:30 AM on October 4, 2007

Part of your problem is that the line from London to Cambridge is also the line to Stansted airport - and so the service is priced accordingly. Going by train is going to be awkward and expensive. 30 pounds sounds over the odds though - I'd swear it was less the last time I went up there, but it may depend on the service. I'd suggest living somewhere between is a better idea (I've known couples who did that) but from your post it sounds like that's not an option.

I couldn't recommend driving as as an alternative - it's a long drive and there's a reason it's always the first motorway to be closed when there's a snowfall.

Bus may be feasible. I knew someone who commuted for several years from London to Oxford on the bus. It was a slow trip, but he incorporated it as part of his day: reading and studying on the way.
posted by outlier at 1:26 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: 3-5 times a week probably makes it worthwhile to get a season ticket. I did Cambridge to London for a couple of years, and the cost was about £3000 / year. Probably a bit more now, but say you commute 200 days a year it works out somewhere round £15 a day. You can also get monthly cards, although that will make it a bit more expensive.

Also don't forget Cambridge is served by both Kings X and Liverpool St so you get the benefits of redundancy in the route. LS is slower (~1h15) but tends to be a bit less crowded, KX is non-stop on the best trains (45min). Actually since you're doing Lon->Cam it probably won't be that busy either way.

Don't forget Cambridge station is a way out of the centre - you may want to look at getting a bike - you can take folders on the train, or get a crappy one to leave at the station. Cambridge buses are not very reliable.

Email's in profile if you want more information. You could also try searching cam.transport where I'm sure this topic has come up before.
posted by crocomancer at 1:57 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: You save about 40% by getting a monthly season ticket as opposed to daily tickets, but of course getting value for money requires you to do the journey about 20 times / month. Monthly peak travel season ticket is around £330 from Cambridge to London.

Actually it's slightly more than £30 for a daily peak travel ticket I think (a friend commutes for work from Cambridge to London - I assume it's the same cost in reverse, around £33 excluding tube travel).

Factor in tube travel to your decision about where to live (time AND money - the tube is hella expensive). Taking a pushbike is not a bad idea - you should be able to take it on the train with you, and it will help out at both ends of the journey.

It will become significantly cheaper if you can travel after 9:30 in the morning (around £18 at a guess), trains can be pretty fast so this might be an option depending on your working arrangements.

First Capital Connect run the Cambridge - London franchise I believe, so you can probably get exact prices from this site.
posted by bifter at 1:58 AM on October 4, 2007

The London-Cambridge service has high demand on its own on the line that goes nowhere near Stansted, which really has nothing to do with the high prices.

Fast trains take about 45 minutes. Many trains take as much as an hour. Of course you have to get from the rail station to wherever you're going in both directions.

You can look up the costs for day tickets and weekly season tickets on nationalrail.co.uk. It's not cheap. It's cheaper if you can travel off-peak (I believe this means trains departing KGX or LST after 9:30 but I can't look it up right now). It's even cheaper if you use a railcard.

The coach would be somewhat inconvenient from the UCL area.
posted by grouse at 2:18 AM on October 4, 2007

I just did a quick search on the National Rail website, it quotes fares at around £20 return.

But play around with varying days/times to see if the fares drop.
posted by selton at 3:02 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: You can commute to between Cambridge and London, but it's not cheap if you need to travel during the morning peak (before 9:15, when travelling from Cambridge to London, 9:30 from London to Cambridge).

In terms of time - Cambridge's train station is 1/2 walk away from everything. There are unreliable buses. Most people cycle in Cambridge, but you are not allowed to take regular bikes on the train; you are allowed folding bikes. King's Cross station in London, however, is not far from UCL - maybe 20min-30min walk, but there is a good tube.

Money - As a full-time student (no matter what age) you qualify for a Young Person's (YP) Railcard, which will save you 1/3 off train fares (yearly fee of £20 - really worth it). I regularly travel Cambridge to London, and pay between about £12 (off-peak) and £15-16 (off-peak with tube) for same day travel (coming and going in one day); the few times I have travelled peak, I believe I still paid under £20 (because of the YP railcard). I believe the prices should be the same London to Cambridge -- certainly the Saver Return (that is coming one day, returning a few days later) is only about £16.50 from London to Cambridge, same as it would be Cambridge to London). It may be cheaper to travel between Cambridge and London Liverpool Station (it is from Cambridge) than between Cambridge and King's Cross, but King's Cross is within walking distance of UCL and is a faster train (45 min vs 1hr+).

Peak/Off-peak is station dependant - some have morning peak only (basically before 9:15/9:30 on a weekday), some very busy stations have afternoon peak as well (King's Cross does, between 4pm and 7pm, but Liverpool Street does not).

That said, many students have done this (living in London and coming in only a few times a week) if they are research students (masters or PhD), and especially if their primary place of research is in London, such as the British Library or the PRO.

What are you studying at Cambridge? What is your partner studying? If you are a humanities research student (without classes), you may find that you only need to be at your university once a week or less - some only come for biweekly seminars. Even classes may only happen once or twice a week, depending on the program (some undergrads have very little lecture time).

I would point out that rental accomodation in Cambridge, while not cheap, is still cheaper than London, if your partner does not need to be in London every day.

My husband has also suggested that you might consider living inbetween Cambridge and London - you may find that two commutes are less than one, if they are shorter ones. (St Albans is a different line, but about 1/2 an hour from London - cost about £5.40 off-peak, whereas Cambridge is 45 min from London).

On preview - This is crazy - I just checked the National Rail enquiries website (linked above, go here for fares, etc), and it seems like you have to pay much more for a cheap day ticket from London to Cambridge than vice versa. I know I usually only pay about £12, and it wants £18 to do the reverse, which makes no sense. Maybe National Rail is broken - it's not unknown for the website to just mess up fares. Or maybe First Capital Connect is just evil (also very likely).
posted by jb at 4:32 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend did the opposite for about a year. It's doable, but expensive and tiring. The best option ended up being the train.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:00 AM on October 4, 2007

As jb noted, it is more expensive to get a London to Cambridge cheap day return than a Cambridge to London one. (Travel from the provinces to London is slightly subsidised by travel in the opposite direction for some routes/tickets.)

Will you be working in Cambridge or are you a student? If you're a University of Cambridge student, you do know that you need to keep the requisite number of nights, don't you? That means that you'll need to live within 10 miles of Great St Mary's for about half the year.

I think the comment about needing a bike in Cambridge is a good one, but I wouldn't commute with one (as I'm guessing you're going to live near Gower Street and can get around London by foot) and I'd leave the bike at Cambridge station overnight. (When I was a student, I'd do that a lot and never had problems.)
posted by boudicca at 8:53 AM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Seconding jb, basically - I agree that the Young Person's Railcard day return is your best option. If you are feeling unscrupulous, there are no ticket barriers at either Kings Cross or Cambridge, so if you have a return ticket valid for a month it is unlikely to get stamped. If you or your partner are not students, you can also purchase a Network Railcard which gives you the 1/3rd off rail fares but only travelling after 10am.

As far as keeping term goes, if you're a graduate student they may not notice or care if you don't live within ten miles of Great St Mary's.
posted by penguinliz at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the suggestions and ideas. We have to be near UCL as my partner is working at the hospital there, and needs to be available. I have some flexibility as I am visiting to do research (but not as a student), so a fair bit of it will require me to be there at least for the first few months. After that I'll be able to work from London.

The Network Railcard sounds like a good idea....
posted by ThinkNut at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: If you are 25 or under you can get a YP railcard even if you aren't a student.

Also, if you are willing to leave from Liverpool Street station, inconvenient as it is, the fares will be cheaper (£13 off-peak return before railcard discount).
posted by grouse at 12:28 AM on October 5, 2007

What kind of research are you doing in Cambridge? Are you doing historical research? (I ask because I am a graduate student who has been doing historical research in Cambridge). The Cambridge University Library does not allow photography, but the County archive does. I don't know about the smaller college archives and libraries
posted by jb at 5:07 AM on October 5, 2007

If you are feeling unscrupulous, there are no ticket barriers at either Kings Cross or Cambridge

Sure, and why not help yourself to a bike: there are still many people in Cambridge who don't lock them up effectively. You could easily fund a number of journeys by picking up some of the saleable old volumes from those poorly-guarded libraries, too. Welcome to England.
posted by Phanx at 3:00 PM on October 5, 2007

There is a Usenet newsgroup for Cambridge that was useful when I lived there a few years ago: cam.misc and also, for this question, cam.transport.
posted by bystander at 3:37 AM on October 8, 2007

« Older I may have discovered some illegal waste dumping....   |   Who’s this comedian playing God? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.