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Frequently Asked Train Questions
With a train pass or ticket in your hand, Europe
is your playground! Most of you will master the various European train
systems by just jumping in and learning from your mistakes. To help
you learn even more quickly--from some one else's mistakes--here are
a few useful pieces of information and tips.
1. Many cities have more than
For example, Paris has 6, Brussels has 3, and Switzerland's little Interlaken
has 2 stations. Be sure you know whether your train is leaving from
Paris' Gare du Nord, or Gare de Lyon or Gare de l'Est or
Gare........! Most city train stations are connected by train, or subway,
or bus. When arriving in a city--particularly on a milk-run train--you
are likely to stop at several suburban stations. Signs posted on stations,
will indicate your destination's name along with the neighborhoods name,
e.g. Madrid Vallecas. Don't jump off until you have reached the central
station, e.g. Madrid Chamatin.
You can avoid another arrival frustration by finding out if your train's
final stop is at a cities main or central station instead of a suburban one.
For example, a few trains from Rome to Florence leave you at Florence's
suburban station--Firenze Rifredi--where you will be stranded.
TIP: The best way to avoid these mistakes is to do a little
research before departing to Europe. I grab a city map or a guide
book map with train stations clearly marked for my various destinations.
My favorite guides are Rick Steve's guide books
which clearly labels All train stations and provides written directions to
and from them. With map in hand, I next go to my favorite online timetable
source, DB, and check timetables
for my destinations--noting the departure and arrival train stations as
well as transfers between stations. For example, DB will tell me what
subways I should use to switch from Gare du Nord to Gare du Lyon in Paris
as well as how long it should take. The timetable booklet that comes with
your railpass provides station information between most large
2. Get accurate timetables and
save time & money.
Trains between popular destinations
tend to run on time and more of these routes are using speed trains
that require you make a seat reservation in addition to your ticket
or rail pass. The cost of seat reservations vary from $6 on a week
day in France to $25 in Italy. You can pay even more on week-ends and
holidays. One money saving trick we use is getting timetables
for the entire day and look for trains that don't require seat reservations.
I recently checked schedules on
DB (which is the most
accurate source) from Venice to Florence and found four schedules
out of ten that didn't require seat reservations departing at: 9:42,
13:47, 15:07, & 15:42. Leaving at one of these times will
probably save me $15 per/person and I know I just need to be at the station
10-15 minutes before departure instead of 40-60 minutes early to stand in
line to buy my seat reservation. I checked these times and trains against
the current RailEurope timetable booklet and none of these times matched--30-40
minute differences for the two that were listed,.
Travelers who want flexibility will appreciate
the new train schedule computer in most Italian
stations--and spreading across Europe. They save long waits in information
lines. To use them, indicate your language, departure and arrival points,
and rough time of departure, and all workable connections will flash on the
screen. Most sizable stations have airport type flip boards that continuously
display updated departure information such as train destination, train number,
departure track and time. You will also find mini booklet schedules
for local destinations in train stations and sometimes on trains. These
can be helpful planning tools.
TIP: Be sure to pay close attention
to train operating days. Not all trains run every day, or at the same
time every day. Sundays, weekends, and holidays will often vary timing
wise from weekday schedules. Also remember, each country has its own
collection of holidays, some you may never have heard
3. Ask for
help & observe.
Managing on the trains is largely
a matter of asking questions, letting people help you, and assuming things
are logical. I ask someone on the platform if the train is going where
I think it is going before I board it. Point to the train or track
and ask, "Roma???" (a shoulder shrug or nod of the head answer means
the same in Europe as it does here). When ever possible I look for
Uniformed train personnel to answer my questions. When a loudspeaker
comes on, watch what the waiting people on your platform do. If they
all rush off to track 22 leaving you on track 6--you can assume some kind
of change has occurred. Check it out!
4. Find your Train's Departure
Track/Platform in a Station
Hopefully you have timetables or
reservations cards that provide information
about your departure Train Station Name, Time of departure, AND TRAIN #,
Finding Your Train Most European train stations post timetables
on a large overhead computerized monitor in the main lobby of the
Smaller stations may have wall signs which show departure,
arrival and platform number of various trains.
are listed chronologically from 0 to 24 hours.
Fast trains are usually shown in red
rather than black ink. Next to the time you'll see the name and number of
the important intermediate stops, as well as track and platform number at
which the train departs and arrives.
More and more stations have TV monitors on the train Track/Platforms with
soon departing trains and their track/platform number.
How to say train track or platform
in different languages
Photo by John Moore of Sequim, WA
Finding Your Train
When you get to your Track, make sure the train sitting there is your Train
number. (see train on a track)
If you have a reservation, look for your "Coach" = Train car # and
board. If you have an open ticket or a Railpass with no reservations,
look for first (1) or 2nd (2) class train car. Sit in any empty seat.
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 seat 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.(but not all
beside the door: a digital panel will indicate the car number.
TIP: If your train is going to leave real soon, get on any car
quickly, then walk through the train to your correct car class or reserved
3. Never assume the whole
train is going where you are going.
Before boarding a train car,
check the nameplate on the side of the train car next to its entrance. On
the name plate you will see all the cities and villages that car is going
to. Is your destination on the list? If you get on the "correct"
car and find it full--then decide to move to the car next door that seems
to have empty seats--you may later discover you changed final destinations!
Train cars are often added and dropped here and there along a journey.
I'll never forget making this mistake and winding up in Belfort instead of
Beaune. There are destination name plates inside each train car--usually
located next to the WC and train car exit.
5.. Learn to use the 24 hour
Europe operates time wise on the 24 hour clock.
It is used everywhere including timetables. After 12:00 noon,
Europeans keep going--13:00, 14:00, and so on. To convert to the 12
hour clock, subtract 12 and add pm.
6. There is always room for
You don't have to check your
bags with train travel--and in fact is difficult to do!. Throughout
Europe, you carry your own onto the train and then heave it up onto
the racks above the seats. (check out "Packing
Light" if this sounds like a stumbling block). There are places
to store luggage at the end of many train cars, near the exits. I never
use these areas. It is said, "There is a thief on every train planning
to grab a bag (union rules) ",..... so I don't want to make it easy for them!
Before leaving my suitcase in a compartment to
go to the WC, I develop a relationship with everyone there--thus creating
a "luggage neighborhood watch". (I will cover more
"Train Safety" on another page)
Should you need to "check" something large like your bike, make sure
it is headed to the same destination you are headed. I recently
heard a story re. a traveler who hurriedly loading his bike onto a
baggage car, then later learned the baggage car went somewhere else!
Luggage handling is a "do it yourself" activity at train stations
too. They don't have Porters. Some have "airport type"
luggage carts or trolleys that will get you to your first set of stairs.
Then you are on your own again. ...and elevators are almost non-existent..
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