In this paper, we show that the cost of an optimal train journey on level track over a fixed distance is a strictly decreasing and strictly convex function of journey time. The precise structure of the cost–time curves for individual trains is an important consideration in the design of energy-efficient timetables on complex rail networks. The development of optimal timetables for busy metropolitan lines can be considered as a two-stage process. The first stage seeks to find optimal transit times for each individual journey segment subject to the usual trip-time, dwell-time, headway and connection constraints in such a way that the total energy consumption over all proposed journeys is minimized. The second stage adjusts the arrival and departure times for each journey while preserving the individual segment times and the overall journey times, in order to best synchronize the collective movement of trains through the network and thereby maximize recovery of energy from regenerative braking. The precise nature of the cost–time curve is a critical component in the first stage of the optimization.