Some London Train Journeys You Might Not Have Done

Last Updated 25 April 2024

Some London Train Journeys You Might Not Have Done
A vintage red tube train at Acton station
Bet we can find a London train ride you've not been on... Image: Martin Deutsch via creative commons

Londoners don't often make train journeys for fun. Yet the capital is home to an array of oddball rides that will bring some unmitigated glee into your life. Here's our roundup of train journeys that might have escaped you.

'Ghost' Trains

An Overground train
A 'ghost' train operates between Battersea Park to Wandsworth Road once a day during the week, late at night. Image: Aubrey via creative commons

Parliamentary trains — aka 'ghost trains' — do not have skeletal drivers or headless conductors. Rather, they're services that run very occasionally, because it's cheaper/less faffy to keep the route open than it is to shut it down. Like actual ghosts, these services can vanish into thin air never to be seen again (for instance this Paddington to West Ruislip service we travelled on in 2016). At the moment, it's possible to catch an Overground service from Battersea Park to Wandsworth Road which only runs at 10.41pm each weekday (and pre 9am on Saturdays). Hopefully that's infrequent enough to be considered a ghost train.

Airport trains/monorails/pods

A Heathrow transit train
Heathrow's Terminal 5 transit train. Image: Terminal 5 Insider via creative commons

Whether or not you're rich/lazy enough to have caught the Gatwick Express, you may well end up on the airport's driverless monorail service, which shuttles passengers between the North and South terminals with an average journey time of two to three minutes. OK, it's not strictly a train journey, but it is on rails, so it makes our roundup.

Heathrow Airport's self-driving pods aren't even on rails — though they do run a pretty much fixed route. (And they're pretty awesome — see video above.) But Heathrow DOES have another train, where it feels like you're riding an illicit version of the London Underground — namely the Terminal 5 transit train, which whisks you from one section of the terminal to another. Look.

Epping Ongar Railway

A steam train covered in fairy lights passing through the woods
Holidays are coming, holidays are coming... Image: Epping Ongar Railway

In an age when London's rail network is rapidly expanding — hello Northern Line extension, Elizabeth line and various other planned add-ons — you sometimes forget that other strands of the network have shrunk. Take the Central line: until 1994, the easternmost station wasn't Epping, but Ongar. Today, a heritage line runs on this route instead. Board a steam train from Ongar station to North Weald, a diesel from North Weald to Coopersale, and complete the journey to Epping on a vintage Routemaster or Greenline bus. There are various specials throughout the year, themes ranging from Peppa Pig to beer to Christmas.

TfL heritage trains

A red 1930s tube train on the track
Travel back in time on one of these beauts. Image: London Transport Museum

23 June 2019 was the very final time a heritage steam train travelled on the Underground through central London — owing to the installation of a new signalling system on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. However, TfL does occasionally still run these steam trains in outer London. It also tends to run gorgeous 1938 stock trains around north London every September. Not a cheap experience by any means, but a rather special one.

Miniature railways

A miniature railway in operation
Acton Miniature Railway runs on special open days at the London Transport Museum Depot.

There are a number of miniature railways in London, eager for you to plonk your comparatively large backside on the back of it. They are as follows:

  • When's the last time you purchased a £1 return train fare? That's how much it costs to ride the Brockwell Park Miniature Railway, although admittedly it only takes you from one bit of the park to another, slightly different, bit of the park.
  • Where in London can you catch a steam train through the woods to the beach? Why, Ruislip Lido, of course!
  • Where in London can you catch a steam train through a car park to a Victorian sewage pumping station? Why, Crossness of course!
  • A visit to the wonderful London Museum of Water and Steam in Kew isn't complete without a ride on one of its two mini locos, Thomas Wicksteed or Alister — which ply the short Waterworks Railway route.
  • With a heritage stretching back to 1954, the Barking Park Light Railway makes for a pleasant outing with the kids/not with the kids during the summer holidays. There are three engines on the line: Jack, Drewery and Gnat.
  • While you can pretend to drive a train on London Transport Museum's simulator (see later on in this article), at its sister depot in Acton, you can actually ride one. The 7¼in gauge railway features an array of beautiful mini stock; you might even be lucky enough to catch their cutesy tube train. While you're at the depot you'll also have the chance to clamber aboard a number of decommissioned train carriages. Best day ever!
  • Kempton Steam Railway, way out west of Twickenham, runs on Sundays between March and November along the picturesque Hanworth Loop in carriages pulled by a cherry red 1903 locomotive. The functioning stretch of line is part of a bigger route that was once used to transport coal from Hampton to Kempton.

Funicular lifts

A funicular lift running alongside an escalator
Funicular lifts are now a common sight on the Elizabeth line. Image: Crossrail

It may not look much like a train, yet the London Millennium Funicular does run on rails, so we're going to count it. Situated at the north end of the Millennium Bridge, it provides easy access from Paul's Walk up to Peter's Hill (an epic journey of 26.85 metres). Since it opened at the turn of the century, London has been blessed with more funiculars — one at Greenford tube station, and others across the Elizabeth line tube network.


A tube, train bus hybrid
"Is it a train? Is it a Tube? Is it a bus? Yes!" Image: Londonist

"Is it a train? Is it a Tube? Is it a bus? Yes!" These were the immortal words from the 1991 advert featuring Supercar, a gimmick dreamed up to market the One Day Travelcard. The wonderful thing about Supercar is that it's REAL. Though Supercar runs on tarmac, not tracks, it has a hybrid chassis concocted of one third train, one third tube and one third bus. It makes occasional cameos at events throughout London, so keep your peepers peeled.

The Tube simulator, London Transport Museum

The irony of the Transport Museum's tube simulator is that you'll spend more time waiting to get on this than you ever will an actual tube train. That it has levers and buttons you can get your mitts on, means there's invariably a queue of transport nuts gasping to have a go. Your reward is a rather brilliant driver's eye-view. (We also had a play on a Crossrail Elizabeth line simulator back in 2018, although that was never open to the public.)

Mail Rail

A Mail Rail train shooting through the tunnels
The Mail Rail is a London Underground in miniature. Image: Mail Rail

The narrow-gauge London Post Office Railway or 'Mail Rail' driverless train plied its underground Paddington-Whitechapel route between 1927 and 2003, carting piles of letters and parcels beneath the feet of unknowing Londoners. After a brief retirement, it's now reopened as the show-stopping attraction at Clerkenwell's Postal Museum — and lots of fun it is too (apart from the bit where they pretend it's broken down and you have a bit of a panic attack).

Kew Explorer

What could make the world's largest curated collection of living plants any more remarkable? How about a bunch of ersatz train carriages yanked from greenhouse to greenhouse by a modified Ford Transit van? All jibes aside, the Kew Explorer land train is a useful aide to weary parents with kids who've seen one-too-many herbaceous borders. Plus the accompanying commentary will help you gen up on all things plant-like. Like herbaceous borders, for instance.

The Northern Heights

The old wall of a station, with the sculpture of a sprites sticking out of it
Not all train lines have trains. Image: Londonist

Here's one railway you'll need to traverse with your feet. The Parkland Walk is a popular sylvan thoroughfare which traces the Victorian railway line that ran from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace. It is a fascinating, if sometimes eerie, woodland corridor — replete with weed-choked platforms and bridges passing over nothing in particular. It's the kind of place you expect to glimpse an actual ghost train. And in fact, it does have a resident sprite.

Underground tube trains that aren't going anywhere fast

Tube Supperclub: A man in a yellow sweater drinking wine at a dinner table in a tube carriage
At last! A tube train you're actively encouraged to eat hot food on. Image: Londonist

The former tube trains at Village Underground in Shoreditch aren't going anywhere fast (or slow) — they're static offices after all. On special occasions such as Open House London, there is the chance to sit in one of the 1970s cabs — replete with original dials, buttons, phone and dead man's handle — and pretend you're driving. (When you're visiting, make sure you don't ask the people who work there "Doesn't it get cold/hot in here?" Apparently everyone asks that. )

At Supperclub.Tube in Walthamstow, meanwhile, incredible plates of Colombian food are dished up on a disused Victoria line carriage — thus making this the only tube train where you're actively encouraged to eat hot food.

Bar seating made to look like an old tube train
And who says you can't drink on the tube anymore? Image: Cahoots

And while Supperclub.Tube has the grub sorted, at Cahoots in Soho, you can sit in an ersatz tube carriage upholstered with bona fide vintage moquette, while indulge in a 1940s that never really happened, courtesy of carrot martinis, and zero bombs falling on your head.