Traveling by rail in Europe is economical and fun; it is the way most Europeans travel. Now that there are several cheap, regional airlines you can also get around Europe by air. But remember that most of these airlines fly from small, out-of-the-way airports. Trains bring you into the heart of the city. Learning the ins and outs of traveling by train in Europe will make your journey easier and more enjoyable.
Rail Europe is a one-stop shop for North Americans purchasing Europe rail tickets. From rail passes to single tickets, Rail Europe offers easy, safe, on-line booking. Your travel agent can also book these tickets for you. One of the most economical ways to tour Europe on your own is with a Eurail Pass. If you are traveling to fewer countries or to just one country, there is a pass for that as well. As a matter of fact, there are so many combinations, Rail Europe has developed a great tool: the Interactive Rail Pass Finder. It takes into consideration the countries you want to visit and offers several different pass suggestions.
To make the most of this tool, it is important to rough out your ideal itinerary in advance: what city you will fly into and return from, where you want to go and how many days you plan to spend in each location. (Remember, it doesn’t cost much more to fly into one city and return from another, and it actually saves money by eliminating the need to plan a circular route.)
Another little secret: Rail Europe offers promotions on a regular basis, so check their site early and often to ensure you are getting the best deal on your rail travel.
Be on Time ( actually, be early)
Trains in Europe are very prompt; they usually arrive and depart when they say they will. They stay in the station for varying times depending on the size of the town. So, in Frankfurt, they may be there for 5 minutes, but in some little town, the stop may only be for one minute. We always get there early to avoid trying to figure things out at the last minute
If you have a train pass
If you have a pass, it must be validated at the station before your first travel day, and afterwards you can simply board the train. Be sure to fill in the date of each travel day on your pass before showing it to the conductor.
Finding your train
Finding the right train is easy when you know what to look for. Most stations have timetables on computerized display boards that show departure, arrival and platform numbers. Some smaller stations have posters; timetables can be recognized easily by the background color. As a rule, departure timetables are printed on a yellow background. Arrivals are on a white background. Trains are listed chronologically from 0 to 24 hours.
Next to the time of departure are the names and numbers of important intermediate stops, plus the track and platform number where the train departs.
Notice on the yellow picture on the right of a train Timetable, that it gives the time of departure, the train number, where the train is headed, the platform (on the right) and the areas where you should wait for the train.( under the the platform number)
Finding the right car and seat
Once you have found the right platform, the next step is to locate your assigned car. Your ticket gives that information. The car number is usually located near the door of the train. Some trains will split at certain junctions, one part going one way and the other heading to a different destination, or terminating altogether, so it is necessary to locate your assigned car.
Also, if you have a reservation, you must match the number shown on your ticket with the correct car and seat number.
If you are planning to get off a train at a small town not noted on the side panel, it is wise to ask the conductor which car you should be on before or slightly after, boarding.
To further assist passengers, many train stations will have diagrams located on the platforms that illustrate the location of each car on the train. These diagrams enable travelers to situate themselves on the platform very close to where their car will be.
Each Train Car has an Identification Panel on its side indicating:
- On top: the name of the city where it originated.
- On the bottom: the name of the final destination.
- In between: the names of the most important stops en route. Each car is also marked 1st class or 2nd class by a number “1” or “2” displayed on its side. There may also be a yellow stripe under the roof for 1st class, green for 2nd class.
- Beside the door: a digital panel will indicate the car number.
The map above is usually located on the platform where you wait for your train. It shows where each coach is on the train and where to stand so you will be close to the coach you need. Click on the picture to see a detailed guide.
We also learned that the the first class cars are always located near the Bistro (dining) car and usually near the front or back of the train, which is why when the train pulls in, you can see people rushing to get to their car; they don’t know where it is until it arrives. We try to take a place on the platform where we think the middle of the train will be and watch carefully to find our car, then make a dash for it.
Many trains have a little paper brochure placed on random seats that give the entire time-table for that train. Since that paper is in the language of the country you are in, we had at first ignored it. But we later realized that you don’t need to know the language to figure it out. It has the name of each city where you will be stopping and exactly how long the stop will last. Some of the really modern trains we rode had a little computer screen at the end of the car that showed where we were in real-time, and when we would arrive at the next stop… a nice feature.
And don’t travel with more bags than you can handle yourself. And the lighter your bags are, the happier you’ll be. Many train stations provide baggage carts, but you still need to load your bags on and off the train. On the trains you are allowed to bring as many carry-on bags as you can place underneath your seat or in the baggage rack above you. Some trains have special racks for baggage, but unless they were checked, you are always responsible for them.
For your next trip to Europe, consider a Eurail pass; you’ll see Europe in a new way and relax along the journey.
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com