Railroads and train tickets in Europe and USA
Today train ticket search engines allow the creation of complex routes using not only long-distance and suburban / commuter trains, but also other types of public transport, including buses, trams and so on.
This contributes not only to routes optimization and travel time reduction, but also can make your tickets much cheaper. But on the market of rail transit, due to the nature of ground transportation in general, mostly rule national level companies. So first of all determine a continent where you're going to travel!
Americans (despite the world's longest railroad system) don't travel by railroad very often and prefer other means of transport, like flights (which are relatively cheap) or cars.
In Europe you rarely have to travel such great distances like in America (because Europe is obviously not so big) and the trains in Europe are mostly (but not always) very comfortable, very quick (there's also a number of high-speed trains there) and very punctual (they don't have to comply with freight trains schedule).
But the last statement is a bit shaky due to occasional strikes, that lead to serious traffic disruptions and bring travelers a lot of troubles, but usually you're warned about them beforehand, besides rail-replacement bus services are usually provided.
On the whole, it's a great way to travel in Europe. The weight of your baggage is limited only by your own carrying abilities and according to General Terms and Conditions for the International Carriage of Passengers by Rail one passenger can have max three pieces of baggage with the greatest dimension of any of them 85 cm, often you can take your bike with you (there are trains with limited bike space, so you ought to make a reservation beforehand). It's recommended that you make necessary inquiries for any specific train and any specific railway company, if you carrying bulky luggage (including skis and surfboards). Some trains have their own baggage rules: for example, on Eurostar (train connecting UK with continental Europe) you're allowed 2 pieces of baggage (max 85 cm long, including skis) + one piece of hand luggage.
Usually for ordinary trains (as opposed with premier ones: high-speed, night trains with sleeping compartments, Thalys, Eurostar, Eurostar Italia, Swiss Scenic Trains) there's no need to reserve a seat, if only your trip doesn't coincide with high season or you aren't using local carriers during pick times.
For the most part of overnight trains is relevant the following: the more comfortably you sleep, the more you have to pay. You can reserve a berth in a couchette compartment (with place for 3 - 5 people) for a surcharge of about $35 to $50 or one in a private sleeper (+ $40 - $150 or for a single sleeper +$70 to $190).
European sleeping cars are hotels on rails with compact comfortable bedrooms. On some popular routes you have to reserve a sleeping place well in advance, or you risk to spend a night without one.
If you think that a sleeping place is too expensive, then consider these advantages:
- you won't be paying for a hotel room, but despite this —>
- —> you'll have a full day before you to enjoy (without fatigue or headache)!
The only drawback: during the night you won't be able to enjoy the scenery.
In Europe the best place to find timetables and pricing of tickets is the site of German Rail (Deutsche Bahn), they've also got DB Navigator app for smartphones (iPhone, Android, Blackberry) where you can also get your tickets. They've got a really convenient search where you can chose your preferred means of transport, on the DBahn web page you can also buy your Eurail or Interrail Pass (more on them below). So give it a try.
For travel inside Germany and if you don't mind using only the regional trains, DBahn has got some very interesting options:
- with a so called Day Ticket for Germany (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) you and up to 4 of your friends will be able to use trains all day long (from Monday to Friday from 9 am till 3 am of the following day, at weekends and on national German holidays — from midnight until 3 am of the following day) for €44 + €8 for each of your friends;
- a Weekend Ticket for Germany (Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket) costs €40 + extra €4 for each of your friends (also max 4), it's valid Saturday or Sunday from midnight till 3 am of the next day;
- there are also tickets for individual German federal states, their price varies between €23 and €30, they are valid Monday to Friday from 9 am till 3 am of the following day.
DBahn conditions for traveling with described above kinds of tickets:
- second class only;
- your own children or grandchildren up to 15 years and any children younger than 6 years accompanied by you travel free, other children considered to be normal passengers;
- if the number of passengers on your ticket is more than two, then your own kids / grandkids can no longer travel for free;
- for your bike you'll have to buy an all-day bike ticket (for every bike);
- animals traveling in carriers can be transported free of charge, dogs not in carriers count as passengers and then the German word for a dog (Hund) must be entered into your ticket;
- the free baggage allowance regulations of Deutsche Bahn are somewhat obscure, but for certain you can take one carry-on luggage and another item with no weight or dimensions limits, but it must not hinder your fellow passengers.
There's also German Rail Pass allowing people with permanent residence outside Europe, Turkey or Russia unlimited travel across Germany:
- it's valid on all trains (also high-speed ones) operated by Deutsche Bahn including the stations Basel Bad Bf (Switzerland) and Salzburg (Austria) and the ICE to Lüttich and Brussels (Belgium), also in Austria and Italy on the EuroCity trains operated by DB and ÖBB to Kufstein, Innsbruck, Bolzano/Bozen, Trento, Verona, Bologna and Venice (DB-ÖBB EuroCity train);
- and is available for 1st and 2nd classes;
- prices start from €188 (for 3 days in a row by the 2nd class).
Eurail / Interrail
If you're going to travel in Europe by train really a lot than you'll better obtain Eurail pass: link to the official Eurail online store. It was formerly called Europass or Eurorail pass and is valid on nearly all European railroads, some ferries + among the participants are some other public transport companies: here you can see the list of all Eurail participating companies. Eurail Pass can be booked by every non-European citizen, also excluded are the citizens of Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, for them exists Interrail Pass with the similar benefits.
Things to know, when traveling with Eurail:
- keep in mind, that in order to travel on trains requiring reservation (most high-speed, all night trains, most French trains with the exception of regional ones, some scenic trains, you'll be able to see it on the Eurail Timetable), you'll have pay additional charge, so sometimes it does not worth it;
- on the first day of
travel: children under 4 travel for free and do not need any pass,
for children aged 4 and up to 11 a free Eurail Child Pass is
required (can be found under the
Familytab); if you are travelling with 2 or more children, you'll have to purchase for them a separate 1st class Youth Pass;
- your free baggage allowance will depend on a specific railway company, but mostly it's three pieces of baggage with max length of any of them 85 cm and with no weight limit;
- pets in containers usually travel free, larger dogs travel for a price of 2nd class tickets, it's often required that they are on a leash and wear a muzzle;
- on board most of local trains you can take your bike;
- check Eurail deals, for now there's free shipping to the US.
You can choose from several types of Eurail Passes (lowest prices are for 2nd class Youth Passes).
Eurail Global Pass you can travel
within 28 European countries:
Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey:
- as you can see, UK with the exception of Northern Ireland is excluded;
- the prices start from €466 for adult (aged 12-27 — €305), for 5 days in a month and for traveling in 5 or more countries, for one month an adult will pay €940 and €1633 for three.
One Country Pass can be valid for one
or more countries as in the cases of Benelux (Belgium, the
Netherlands and Luxembourg) and Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland,
Norway and Sweden):
- there aren't any Eurail Passes for Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Switzerland, and Turkey;
- for Germany you'll have to purchase German Rail Pass of Deutsche Bahn (read more on it above);
- prices start from €60 for Poland, Romania or Slovenia;
- Passes for Benelux from €130 and Scandinavia from €175.
- You can purchase passes for two, three or four different countries or areas (Benelux, Scandinavia): e.g. Benelux + Germany (considered to be two countries, from €208).
A great alternative to trains in Europe are buses (or must we better say long-distance coaches?). They are cheaper and pretty convenient. More info: European long-distance buses/coaches.