Murder on the Orient Express might be a little too much excitement for you, but trains are an overlooked method of transport. Seen as slow and old fashioned by many, this mode of transport is making a comeback as more are concerned about the ecological impact of their travels. Trains are also a great way to see the countryside, and to get immersed into local culture. It can be cheaper too.
The Internet has made it much easier to research train journeys anywhere in the World. In most cases, the websites have an English option as well. If you can’t see an option for an English language version (possibly a button marked ‘EN’, or with the Union Jack), try adding ‘/en’ (without the quotes) to the end of the URL. If this doesn’t work, then Google Translate may help.
When using websites that are based in another country, you may find that you may not recognise place names as they will be spelt in the local language. So ensure that you have the various spellings to hand.
The prices will probably be in the local currency, so you should have a currency converter handy as well.
When searching for trains, you may find that some websites cover the national rail network while others only cover specialist lines, such as Eurostar.
The basic search method, once you’re on the website, is similar to searching for flights. All you have to do is enter you departure and arrival stations, dates and times. Unlike flights, you’ll probably get plenty of options before and after your desired time.
Things to look out for are;
- Available train lines
- Is the train a local one (it stops at all the stations along the route) or an intercity (only stops at the larger stations)?
- The number of stops
- Services onboard (including dining)
- Approximate travel time
- Classes of travel
You also need to check if the tickets will be posted to you, if it’s an E-Ticket, or if you have to collect them at the departure station (from a ticket office/booth or machine).
Classes of Travel/Ticket
Just like flights, there are various different classes of travel, so make sure that you sit in the correct compartment. They also have Fare Rules; some tickets can only be used at certain times of the day. If you travel in the wrong class, or at the wrong time you may get a penalty fine. Finally, a ticket does not guarantee you a seat. You may have to reserve one (at an extra cost).
Some trains are overnight and have an extra class of travel, called a ‘sleeper’. A sleeper could be a fold down bunk in a normal compartment, or there could be a section of the train just for beds, called a sleeper compartment. These compartments may offer washing facilities and lockable doors. Even if they don’t, the beds are larger and there is more privacy.
Rail passes can help to make ticketing simpler, as you can put most, or all, of your trip onto one ticket. A Eurail Pass, for example, can over a set period, provide unlimited travel in a country, a region (2 countries), a section (3, 4 or 5 countries) and a ‘Global’ pass will allow you to travel in all 23 member countries.
As with buying flights, you should read the terms and conditions of sale before booking your pass. Don’t forget to price up your planned journeys using ‘normal’ tickets. If you’re not planning on travelling every day, as a pass may workout more expensive.
To find train schedules online just search for your des¬tination (country, region, or city) and the phrase ‘train’. You will find that most countries have a national rail network of some kind, or there are companies that specialise in providing all the booking information that you need on one website.