Through my work, I often find myself needing to get between two fairly random places by public transport at short notice. Earlier this month I needed to get between Braintree and Basildon in Essex.

There are various train company websites that let you search for and book tickets between any two stations. A website will work out a route and a price for the tickets required for your journey. Whilst I am reasonably familiar with the rail network and have a fair idea of what route to take and how long it will take, because of privatisation I may well be presented with a confusing choice of tickets.

The price is the same whether you buy online or at the station. But there may be a better way. A way that train company websites won’t show.

What Train Company websites don’t tell you

Sometimes it is more efficient to use buses if there is no suitable rail route from A to B. For example, until East West Rail opens between Bicester and Bletchley in about 2023 the most efficient way to get from Bicester to Milton Keynes by public transport is using the X5 which goes direct. By train it requires a trip either via Banbury and Coventry or alternatively via London.

I knew that I could get from Braintree by train with Greater Anglia into London then out again on c2c to Basildon. It would mean heading towards Liverpool Street then out again on the line from Fenchurch Street. National Rail suggests changing at Stratford for the Jubilee line to West Ham then out. Or I could use the DLR. Or alternatively take trains throughout changing at Shenfield then Romford and Upminster.

Finding your way using public transport

Google Maps is a good starting point for navigating from A to B by public transport showing more options. It came up with an alternative route using the train to Chelmsford then a bus from there to Basildon. It doesn’t show pricing.

Bus or Train?

The best way for this journey was debatable – there was little difference in cost or time. Either way I would need to use a bus for the final 3 miles of my journey. I’m a little wary of Google Maps advice on buses having been caught out before and missing connections. I have been delayed for at least a couple of hours as a result (however that is another story for another day).

For this journey, going by bus from Chelmsford to Basildon meant fewer changes and proved to be simpler. Whereas I could have saved some money if I had been able to travel off-peak by train and use a railcard.

Through bus/rail ticketing is not generally available – save that you can get a “PlusBus” ticket which itself is often good value. And you can use a railcard for additional saving on the “PlusBus” ticket.

Will it get me there?

It’s also worth noting that you can track the whereabouts of your train in real time if you know where to look. With buses it is more difficult. It is an old cliché, but it often seems that 3 buses will turn up at once after a long wait. No surprise that the public seem to have little faith in public transport. Especially with the poor frequencies on some rural routes, car is king.

I may be biased but, for various reasons, I generally have more confidence that a train will actually get me to my destination. If things go wrong, the Train Operating Company still has an obligation to get you there – even if it means using a bus or taxi. You may also be able to claim compensation for delays. With the bus you don’t get to buy your ticket until it actually turns up. If it turns up at all that is. Nevertheless I decided to trust the bus on this occasion.

Freeport Braintree

I ended up catching the train from the intriguingly-named Braintree Freeport station.  The single platform station is next to Freeport Braintree – a shopping outlet not dis-similar to Bicester Village. Although I arrived before the shops opened at 10.00 and I wasn’t there for shopping, I’d say Freeport has a more useful selection of branded shops and places to eat.

Freeport Braintree

Like Bicester it is a “designer village” primarily discounting previous years clothing. Brands here include Adidas, Barbour, Hotter, Hollister, M&S, Next, White Stuff amongst others – rather than Armani, Burberry, Jimmy Choo etc. There is also a Cineworld cinema, restaurants like Pizza Express, Wildwood and also a Costa.

Braintree Freeport station with a 12-car rake of  “Dusty Bins” arriving. Class 321 nos 422/445/329.

Braintree Freeport station is accessible on foot but not particularly well signposted. My train journey as far as Chelmsford took just 25 minutes. At Chelmsford the bus and rail stations are adjacent. They are effectively one and the same – a rare example of good planning.

By Bus to Basildon

I took the X10 bus from Chelmsford to Basildon via Wickford operated by First Essex. Most buses take contactless payments these days so there is no need to worry about having the right change. The A130 heading south is a relatively new 3-lane dual carriageway – a major highway with few junctions. I was surprised how busy it was for what is essentially a cross-country road. It didn’t take long to get to Basildon.

Like Milton Keynes, Basildon new town was planned without a railway station. Residents were supposed to live, work and play within the town boundaries. Commuting out was discouraged. Basildon’s station didn’t open until 1974. Yet although not quite as convenient as Chelmsford, here the rail station is now very central to the town’s bus station and shopping centre. A happy accident perhaps?

PlusBus Bargain

Had I arrived by train, I could have bought a Basildon “PlusBus” ticket for £2.00 along with my train ticket. This is a special price available during July and August. As it was I had to pay £3 for a ticket on the 28 bus to my final destination. PlusBus allows unlimited travel by bus within the local area for a day – I could have visited the Festival Leisure Park perhaps better known as “Bas Vegas”. Maybe next time!