I thought I would post some more tips here based on my whirlwind rail trip through Europe last spring.
I bought a SwissPass, paid directly for my other legs since it was a mixed business/personal trip. I flew into London, took the Eurostar to Paris, an overnight train to Stuttgart, then a train to Zurich, and toured Switzerland for 3 days before flying to Stockholm and then home.
I planned and pre-purchased all my train tickets and seat reservations.
Many trains require a seat reservation in addition to your ticket or pass.
I found I could generally arrive 30-60 minutes prior to departure and have a comfortable amount of time to find and board my train. Once you know the layout of a train station you can cut it much closer like the locals.
Study schedules and tickets carefully for date and times. Remember in Europe it is common to write March 3 as 4/3/2007. You may see a scheduled departure as 8:04pm or as 20:04. I made one mistake. It happened that there was a train from Stuttgart to Zurich at both 8:04am and 8:04pm. I wanted the evening train and had a ticket on the late train! It was not crowded and the conductor allowed me to use the ticket and seat reservation anyway.
Learn to read the station map to find all the tracks. In bigger stations some tracks may be off to the side, on a different level, or across the street.
Learn to find and read the departures & arrivals poster to find your track. The main sign may only show the trains leaving in the next 30 minutes in a busy station.
For may trains specifically or generally on platforms, there will be a train layout poster, and you may also see square signs overhead that indicate where the 1CL and 2CL - first class and second class - cars are likely to be. Confirm by finding the sign on the rail car before you board, it's hard to tell after you've boarded. The poster for special trains may also show dining car locations.
If you are taking a tourist journey that includes trains not covered by your pass, get all the tickets where you start if you can. I was heading up to the Jungfraujoch where you need an extra ticket and forgot to buy it. I got off in Interlaken, had 6 minutes to get through the line and buy my ticket then find my platform and board... with 2 minutes to spare.. BUT
Be aware that some trains head to more than one destination and split at some point. I boarded the wrong part of the train up to the mountain. Luckily, that train splits into two parts that go different ways to the same place, and the ticket is valid for both routes. whew.
I boarded most trains in Switzerland without a seat reservation, as I played free spirit and roamed around. Once I sat down and had someone come along later that had a seat reservation for my seat... oops. I had trouble finding a seat as he arrived just as the train departed.
Do as the locals do if your train is during a meal time. Every station has someplace that sells bread, sandwiches, drinks and more. Buy what you need and eat on board. Some trains have a cart but it often ran out of anything good to eat and it seemed the cart operators did not speak English.
Speaking of English, I found it was easy to get by with a few words in French and German. Any attempt was met with appreciation and help.
I negotiated a taxi ride to the Rheinfalls from the train station using gestures and showing how much money I would spend for the round trip.
All the train station agents seemed to speak Engish well. Train conductors had varying levels of English and with my tickets or railpass in order there was no problem.
I got a better rate on the Eurostar through the travel agency making my reservations than I could get on the web site. Don't know why. Remember if the price seems high you get a really good meal on that train in first class for very little more than second class.
My overnight train from Paris to Stuttgart saved me a lot of money when compared to a hotel night and plane fare.
Rail travel in Switzerland is as awesome as they say it is.
Happy to answer questions about my experience.
These are great tips, Pelicanbill -- thanks for sharing! I traveled a lot by train when I was studying abroad about four years ago -- I think I had a France and Italy pass -- and your stories reminded me of my travels.
Yes I used the E. Pass and would advise and was alot cheaper. I also used my special VIP passport, didn't even know I was American and they kept giving me upgrades after I went thru the special line at the airports.
Can anyone give me the information how long it will take time to go to Belgium from London.
I would like to book a train from Civitavecchia,Italy to rome.I can't find their web site.
I have used various Eurailpass products for more than 30 years and was completely blind-sided last summer when trying to book travel in France. My wife and I had first class Saverpasses and when I went into a SNCF office at Montpellier to make a F.C. reservation to Lourdes, I was told we couldn't book seats until the 8 PM train arriving in Lourdes after 1 AM! The agent said we could either purchase second class seats at full price on any of several earlier trains or take the late train she was offering with our Saverpass. We took the 8 PM train which connected to another and as a result of short connecting times and delays, we ended up stuck in Toulouse around midnight. What shocked me was that having a Eurailpass didn't entitle us to available seats in any class. This was new to me. We were treated as though we were trying to redeem frequent flier miles for a flight despite paying the premium for the First Class passes. Our first class passes were not even equivalent to regular second class tickets. Knowing this, I will never purchase another Eurailpass product again. I will buy individual tickets. The Eurailpass system really sucks IMHO!
Last edited by hbuhr; 01-14-2010 at 12:44 PM. Reason: spelling
You always have to have a seat reservation for any long distance European trains. That is in addition to anything you paid for your Eurail passes. Unless you plan to ride every train in sight in a very short period of time, buying point to point tickets for the trains you actually intend to take is usually much cheaper.
Thanks, LSKahn, for the response. I was aware of the need for seat reservations on many "name" trains and all trains in Spain, for example, but while first class seats were available on several earlier trains, we were not allowed to use our Saverpasses due to an "allocation system" much like airlines allocate only so many seats for frequent flier miles. I don't know that I agree with your statement that point-to-point is always cheapest especially since we wanted to travel in first class as much as we could since it was Summer.
There are many different type of transport available in different type of country. In Europe have many transport if I talk about train travel than its great and reasonable transport for everyone. Europe train is very useful as well as its stylish, luxury and all facility.