Difference between revisions of "Rail travel in Europe"
Revision as of 01:09, 1 May 2006
This article is a travel topic
Trains are a convenient mode of short, medium and long distance travel across Europe. For short distances, they are fast, reliable and frequent. For longer distances they can be preferable to flying for several reasons. Trains have more spacious and comfortable interiors, may offer scenic routes, and do not require long waits at security like at airports. They usually run more frequently as well, and take their travellers to railway stations located in or very close to city centres, whereas airports, especially the ones that budget airliners fly into, can be up to 100 km away from the city centre, requiring expensive and time-consuming connecting services. Ultimately, many people may choose the train over the plane for the feeling of romantic travel they provide.
The quality, speed and price of train travel depends on the country, Western European countries generally offering higher speed and more luxury trains at higher prices than Eastern European countries. When bought on the spot, trains tickets are more expensive than cheap flights over the same distance, but this difference may disappear when the tickets are booked in advance. Not to forget the costs to get to the airport. Train travel is getting faster every year through the construction of new high speed lines which travel up to 300km/h. Especially Germany, France and Italy have extensive high-speed networks.
The one problem with rail travel is security. Railway passengers need to be alert about pickpocketing and luggage theft, especially on crowded commuter trains. Since baggage isn't screened, there is also the remote danger of terrorism, though the rarity of such attacks in Europe should not cause worries to the occasional traveller.
All trains have coach seating or often labeled as 2nd class in the local language. Most long distance trains travelling from one large city to another large city will have first class seating too.
Planning your trip
Most countries have timetables and travel planners available on the sites of their national railways. The website of the German national railways () has a very convenient route planner that covers all trains across Europe. Price information is available for train rides which go through Germany only, however: for that information you still need the national websites. Locally, look for the departure timetables posted in the station. Staff at the ticket counter may be able to help you out with planning your trip.
Tickets and Passes
The cost of rail travel varies greatly by country. Eastern European countries tend to offer very cheap travel. Italy is comparatively cheap as well. The most expensive country is the United Kingdom.
If you can, try booking in advance rather than walking up to the ticket desk on the day of travel. Train fares booked in advance are usually competive with airlines fare, or cheaper. E.g., return tickets from Edinburgh to London are just 25 pounds if booked in advance, a 75% discount on the walk-up fare of 94 pounds. German return tickets are 25% cheaper if booked 3 days in advance, 50% if you stay on your destination over a saturday night, and up to 5 fellow travellers get another 50% off on top of the advance ticket fare. Three people travelling Cologne-Munich and back could thus pay 224 rather than 672 euro's for their entire trip.
Advance booking can be done from home if you want to, through the websites of the national railway companies. For international tickets use the railway website of either country you are travelling through. Compare the fares, as they may differ. Tickets can sometimes be printed at home, they may be mailed to you or made available for collection at a railway station. You will usually be offered the option to reserve seats or sleepers; seats may be free or cost 2 euro's; sleepers are usually 20 euro's. Reserved seats are recommended especially on long trips.
To save money on a multiple destination trip you may want to look into purchasing Inter Rail passes (For Europeans only) or Eurail passes(For non-EU citizens/residents). Note that with these passes, you may still need to reserve seats or sleepers on some trains; on international and high-speed trains, reservations are often obligatory. In eastern European countries Interrail tends to be bad value for money as the local cost of point-to-point tickets is very low.
On weekends in Germany get the Schönes Wochenende ticket, which is valid for unlimited travel on all regional (RegionalBahn and RegionalExpress) trains accross the country, local public transport in most cities and even a few international trains. The ticket costs just 30 euro's and is valid for groups up to five people. It's a bargain, especialy if you can a group of people together. During weekdays there are similar tickets available, which offer the same unlimited travel but are limited to one Bundesland.
If you stay a long time in the Netherlands it might be interesting to get yourself a 40% discount card for 50 euros. It is valid for 1 year and it allows 3 other passengers travelling with you to benefit from the same discount.
These are a few companies that offer tickets for passengers, often at a discount for a somewhat restricted trip and for trips that will require you to go to more than one country. Please also see the Rail companies section
Inter rail Sales Agents
When travelling, you need to watch your luggage and stay alert. This is true when you're on a train as well. Theft is can be comparatively common on metros or trains with a lot of stops in short succession, since this will allow a thief to get off the train quickly. Trains that cover longer distances are usually safer; on high speed trains passengers routinely take laptops on their journeys. Late in the evening and on nights in the weekends, travel in well lit areas of the train and if possible in the same car as the conductor.
In Eastern Europe and Central Europe there have been reported incidents of "gassings." This is when a thief enters a cabin and sprays a "perfume," which causes the people in the cabin to fall asleep and awake several hours later with their possessions stolen.
Always, report suspicious characters to the conductor and move to a more populated and lit area.
Passenger rail companies
National railway companies