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About the Author

After crisscrossing Europe for 6 years as a train conductor, I guide intrepid travellers roaming Europe by rail.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino
Mar 19

Europe’s Trains during Corona

By Edward | Uncategorized

Europe's Train Services during Corona

On this page I am aggregating all rail travel updates from European operators as the corona virus pandemic progresses. More and more countries will be added as I go along. I am reliant on what is written on the various operators' websites. Things are moving fast, so I can't promise everything is 100% up to date. But I am doing my best.

Remember to click "Refresh" in your browser to ensure you are seeing the latest version of this post.

Now is a very difficult time to travel Europe by train. Have a specific question or some information to share? Need travel advice? Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club. You gain access to my private Telegram help group, can Ask Me Anything by email, and you get the password to my insider guide library.

General Observations

  1. Many international services are suspended, though Eurostar and Thalys are still running.
  2. Most operators have relaxed their refund policies, making it easy to reschedule your journey or get the money back for your ticket. Some do this in the form of vouchers.
  3. Currently, most domestic services are running. Local services are at a reduced frequency.


Great Britain 🇬🇧

Britain is in lockdown. An emergency timetable has been rolled out.

Eurostar

Eurostar is running at a reduced rate of four trains out of London. This I expect to decline further. As of 25th March, France and Belgium have tightened their restrictions yet further. Only

  • Continental EU citizens returning home
  • UK and non-EU with a  residency permit in an EU country
  • Essential workers

are allowed in. Means a romantic getaway or a brie run doesn't cut it.

Click here for Eurostar's corona page and timetable.

France is in total lockdown. Arriving in Paris, you'll need this form with you. If you can't print it, copy it out by hand.

National Services

All operators have introduced emergency timetables. At least half of all trains are cancelled. All franchises have been suspended, putting all railways under state control. 

Here is National Rail Enquiries' corona page, with links to all operators' timetables.

Refund policies

Off-peak and Anytime tickets can be returned for 100% money back. Advance tickets bought before 07:00 AM on March 23rd can also be returned free of charge

Updated: 26th March. Outlook: getting worse

The Netherlands 🇳🇱

The Dutch have introduced a basic timetable. There are fewer trains, but the service is still good. Many thanks to Thierry for writing in with all the details!

International services

Thalys is running a reduced schedule to Brussels and Paris. If travelling to France, be sure to have this form with you. 

Currently there are three Thalyses per day to Brussels, to be reduced to one per day next week. You have to change at Brussels to get to Paris.

IC Brussel is running hourly, but only between Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Since 23rd March, the Amsterdam-Berlin Intercitys have been cancelled on the Dutch stretch.

National Services

From every station there are two trains per hour in every direction (sounds better than many countries in normal times! But I digress). The reisplanner is fed with data two days in advance, and NS recommend you plan your trips at the shortest possible notice so that your timetables are accurate. They also discourage all but the most necessary trips.

Refund policies

Refund policies seem to remain the same. On a national level, most journeys are done with the OV chipkaart, so advance deals don't apply.

International tickets are refunded 100% free of charge.

Updated: 28th March. Outlook: getting worse

Belgium 🇧🇪

Eurostar

There are currently two daily services from Brussels to London. 

Click here for Eurostar's corona page and timetable.

Thalys is running a reduced schedule to Amsterdam and Paris. If travelling to France, be sure to have this form with you.

ICEs to Germany are running at a reduced rate.

IC Brussel runs hourly between Antwerp and Rotterdam.

It seems the Nightjet to Vienna is now suspended.

National Services

Trains are being reduced. A timetable with "Trains of National Interest" is coming into effect from 23rd March. By the 23rd of March, about 75% of the usual seats in any direction will be 

Here is SNCB/NMBS's corona page.

And here is a list of the trains that are planned to run.

Refund policies

Domestic tickets retain the standard rules. International tickets are refunded according to whoever is running them - be it Thalys, Eurostar or Deutsche Bahn. 

Updated: 3rd April. Outlook: stable

Germany 🇩🇪

International Services

Almost all international services are suspended. There are NO TRAINS to

  • Switzerland (though Basel is still reachable)
  • Czechia
  • Poland
  • Denmark
  • France

Railjets from Munich to Vienna are still running. Expect long and difficult customs stop at Salzburg.

TGV and ICE services to Paris are now cancelled.

Trains to the Netherlands and Belgium are running, but at a reduced rate.

Most night trains are cancelled. The Nightjets to Vienna continue to run, and EN 463/462 from Munich to Vienna and Budapest is still hanging in there. Expect border controls at Salzburg and Hegyeshalom. Nightjets to Innsbruck are cancelled as the whole of Tirol is in quarantine.

National Services

Deutsche Bahn are running almost all mainline trains. Only few ICEs and ICs are cancelled. There is an hourly service between most major cities.

However, local services are severely impacted. As I write they are being wound down to an emergency timetable effective from 23rd March at least until the 30th of April. Some lines are completely cancelled, on others the frequency has been reduced drastically.

It is likely that DB will reduce its long distance network to a minimum shortly, as there aren't many passengers and DB needs to conserve staff.

The DB lounges and the restaurant cars are all closed.

All Flixtrain services are suspended indefinitely.

Click here for DB's daily updates. (German only)

Refund policies

If you postpone your journey: DB tickets purchased up to the 13th March for travel between 13th March and 30th April are automatically commuted to fully flexible tickets and will be accepted until 30th June.

If you want to cancel your journey: you can exchange any saver (Sparpreis) ticket up to 30th April for a travel voucher of the same value. 

Fully flexible tickets can be exchanged or reimbursed free of charge.

Flixtrain exchanges your ticket for a Flixbus voucher. Deutsche Bahn kindly accepts already issued Flixtrain tickets up until 30th of April. Good show, DB!

Updated: 3rd April. Outlook: getting worse

Switzerland🇨🇭

Switzerland is reducing all its services, starting 19th March. 

International Services

International trains are cancelled

  • All Railjets to Austria are cancelled
  • All Nightjet services are cancelled.

Local cross-border services like the Léman express continue to run, but at a reduced rate.

Local services to Konstanz (Germany) and Domodossola (Italy) are still operational, too.

National Services

An emergency timetable is running to keep vital state functions going, especially hospitals. All frequencies are being reduced, some lines cancelled. Previous 15 minute intervals are now 30 minute intervals. Previous 3o minute intervals are now running hourly.

For the duration of the emergency timetable, cheap promo tickets (Sparbillette) are not being sold.

Click here for SBB's updates

Refund policies

SBB are secretive about their refund terms. They say they are being "lenient". 

Get ready for some serious filling in of forms and click here.

Updated: 3rd April. Outlook: stable

Austria 🇦🇹

Austria is scaling back its railway services to a bare-bones level.

International Services

There are NO TRAINS to:

  • Czechia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Switzerland

Some trains to Hungary are still running, but expect border controls at Hegyeshalom. Only Hungarian residents are being let into Hungary.

The Railjets to Munich are also running, but expect a long and difficult customs stop at Salzburg. Same goes for the ICEs to Frankfurt via Passau. Only German residents are being let into Germany.

Local services continue to reach Simbach, Passau, Lindau and Freilassing.

The only international night trains still running are the EN 462/463 between Budapest and Munich and the EN 498/499 between Villach and Munich.

National Services

Mainline and local services are being reduced. Vienna S-Bahns are running to a reduced schedule.

Two-hour schedule of Railjets between Vienna and Salzburg and Vienna and Graz.

Click here for more details.

WESTbahn are running every two hours between Vienna and Salzburg.

Domestic Nightjet services continue to run.

Refund policies

ÖBB-Tickets up until 13th April to Italy, Slovakia, Czechia, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Germany and Switzerland can be cancelled free of charge via customer service.

This goes for all Nightjets, too.

Updated: 3rd April. Outlook: stable

Italy 🇮🇹

Italy is in total lockdown. You are only allowed out with a sound reason which you have to have in writing when the police stop you. This is the form you have to have with you. Very few trains are running.

International Services

All international services are suspended

National Services

LeFrecce: one Freccia (high speed train) per day in every direction. Here is the link to that timetable.

In major cities ONLY the main station is served: Milano Centrale, Roma Termini, Napoli Centrale and Torino Porta Nuova.

Italo: severely reduced service. Here it is.

Intercitys: one train per day in every direction. Here is the link to that timetable.

In major cities ONLY the main station is served: Milano Centrale, Roma Termini, Napoli Centrale and Torino Porta Nuova.

Local services: strongly reduced. Here is the link for all timetables of all regions.

Refund policies

Trenitalia refunds all tickets fully. Long and medium distance tickets are reimbursed as a voucher, local tickets are reimbursed in cash.

Italo reimburses you with a voucher that can be used for up to a year.

Click here for all the Trenitalia details.

Updated: 26th March. Outlook: Stable

France 🇫🇷

France is in total lockdown. You are only allowed out with a sound reason which you have to have in writing when the police stop you. This is the form you have to have with you.

SNCF has reduced its TGV, OUIGO and Intercités services drastically. TERs are likewise affected. Ticket offices in stations are closed (and I assume the SNCF Boutiques are as well)

International Services

TGVs and ICEs to Germany are cancelled. The Paris-Moscow and Nice-Moscow trains have long been cancelled.

Eurostars are running at a reduced rate.

Here is the link to Eurostar's updates

Thalys to Brussels, Amsterdam and Dortmund are still running at a low frequency.

Here is the link to Thalys's timetable updates.

National Services

Trains are still running, but at a sdtrict minimum Every day at 17:00 the timetable for tomorrow is made available at the link below.

All OUIGO services are cancelled from 27th March. 

Here is SNCF's Corona timetable. (French. English version is now error 404)

RER and Transilien are running at a 50% level.

Police are at the entrances to stations. You are only let into the station if you've got a ticket and your form stating your crucial reason for travelling.

Refund policies

All tickets for TGVs, OUIGOs and Intercités for journeys up until the 30th of April can be exchanged and returned free of charge.

Those affected by OUIGO cancellations will get their money back automatically within three days.

TER tickets issued on paper can be returned to the SNCF boutiques up to 60 days after curfew has been lifted.

Updated: 26th March. Outlook: getting worse.

Spain 🇪🇸

Spain is in total lockdown. This was extended until April 11th. You are only allowed out with a sound reason which you have to have in writing when the police stop you.

International Services

I can't find any services between France and Spain. Assume all suspended.

National Services

Long- and medium distance train services are now reduced by 70%. Only 1/3 of seats on each train are sold, so as to enable people to keep at distance.

The start of RENFE's Avlo service is postponed.

Here is the link to RENFE's corona page

Refund policies

All tickets from the 18th of March to the 11th of April have been automatically cancelled and the money automatically 100 % reimbursed. 

Updated: 1st April. Outlook: stable

Poland 🇵🇱

International Services

All international services have been suspended.

National Services

National services are severely impacted.

Many trains are completely cancelled, some have had their route curtailed. Other lines have been amalgamated. Some EIP services are being run with standard Intercity stock. 

Restaurant cars are closed.

Here is PKP's extensive corona page.

And here is Polregio's extensive corona page.

Refund policies

Tickets bought before the 4th of March whose date of validity has not yet arrived can be returned for a full reimbursement.

Updated: 1st April. Outlook: getting worse.

Czechia 🇨🇿

International Services

All international services suspended. NO TRAINS abroad AT ALL. Only Czech citizens are allowed into Czechia, and Czechs are not allowed out. Free movement of all Czechs has been curtailed until 24th March 

National Services

SuperCity Pendolinos between Prague to Ostrava/Český Těšín cancelled.

National services are being drastically scaled back. The Olomouc region is in quarantine and trains do not call at Litovel, Červenka or Uničov

Here is a map of all services running as of 28th of March.

RegioJet have adjusted their reservation system to ensure that there is enough space between travellers. Disinfectant soap is guaranteed in all loos. Free water now only in 1st class.

Leo Express is running one train a day between Prague and Bohumín in both directions. They provide every passenger with a face mask.

Refund policies

Tickets can be returned for a full reimbursement, even First Minute Europe promo tickets.

I haven't found RegioJet's refund policy yet. 

Updated: 1st April March. Outlook: stable

Slovakia 🇸🇰

International Services

All international services suspended. 

National Services

ZSSK, Slovakia's national operator, have introduced a drastically reduced timetable. All restaurant cars are closed.

Here is a link to the whole Slovak corona timetable (PDF download)

From 1st April, free travel for students is suspended. Everyone is urged to pay for tickets contactless.

Refund policies

If you bought your ticket before 13th March, 06:00 AM, you have until 30th June to exchange it free of charge or get your money back.

If you have bought your ticket after 13th March, 06:00 AM, administrative fees apply, but I can't find where they say how much. It won't be much.

Updated: 30th March. Outlook: stable

Bulgaria 🇧🇬

Bulgaria has closed schools and parks and discourages all but essential travel. Its borders are closed to foreigners until at least 13th of April.

Here is Bulgarian Railways' corona page (in Bulgarian)

International services

All international services are suspended.

National Services

Most national services continue to run as normal, though there are no trains to Bansko. Travel is discouraged. In sleepers, only single berths are being sold.

Refund policies

Refund policies are unchanged. BDZ assume no liability if you are prevented from making your journey.

Updated: 30th March. Outlook: stable

Russia 🇷🇺

Russia has had few cases so far and is hoping to deal with the coronavirus before it gets around.

International Services

There are NO TRAINS to

  • Italy
  • France
  • Czechia
  • Finland
  • China
  • North Korea
  • Uzbekistan
  • Tadzhikistan
  • Ukraine
  • Austria
  • Germany
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Estonia
  • Azerbaijan.

Abkhazia appears to be reachable.

Trains to the exclave of Kaliningrad pass through Lithuania without stopping.

The most important trains from Moscow and Saint Petersburg to Belarus and back are running, but only Russian citizens are being let into Russia.

Trains to and from Kazakhstan are running, but Kazakhstan is letting in only Kazakh citizens or people with some narrowly defined connection with Kazakhstan.

National Services

National services are beginning to suffer. On March 30th, Moscow went into lockdown.

Expect more services to be cancelled soon.

Here is the link to RZD's corona page. 

Refund policies

Tickets for cancelled trains can be returned and fully reimbursed. On cancelled domestic passengers are offered an alternate train/date or full reimbursement. 

Updated: 30th March. Outlook: getting worse.

Ukraine 🇺🇦

Ukrainian Railways (UZ) have gone into suspended animation. 

International services

All international services are suspended until further notice. UZ are running special trains to bring Ukrainians back home from places like Poland and Czechia.

National Services

All national services are suspended until further notice. No long distance, no commuter, not even elektrichki. Nothing. 

Refund policies

All tickets are reimbursed free of charge.

Updated: 30th March. Outlook: can't get worse, so stable.

Estonia 🇪🇪

International services

The services to Russia and Latvia are cancelled. 

National Services

Elron, the Estonian national operator, is running a severely reduced schedule.

Refund policies

still looking for them, watch this space.

Updated: 25th March. Outlook: stable

Sweden 🇸🇪

My faithful reader Niklas has written in from Sweden. Thank you, Niklas, for sending  me the Swedish situation.

International services

NO TRAINS to 

  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Norway.

Denmark has closed its borders to all but Danish residents or people working in Denmark.

Norway quarantines ANYONE arriving in Norway for 14 days. All SJ trains to Norway are cancelled. Vy (ex-Norwegian Railways) services between Oslo and Göteborg run twice a day, from the 24th of March these are a bus replacement service.

National Services

Travel is discouraged. However, currently the whole network is still running, though SJ has reduced the frequency of its trains.

Here is SJ's corona page.

MTRX's Stockholm-Göteborg service continues to run. MTRX guarantee all passengers an empty seat next to them to aid social distancing.

Snälltåget is running about half its trains.

Refund policies

All operators have relaxed their refund policies. Non-flexible tickets have been made more flexible.

MTRX and Snälltåget refund non-flexible tickets as vouchers.

Updated: 1st April. Outlook: getting worse

Now what?

Well, I'm going to update this page every day. Truth be told, I'm up for some distraction now.

Why not have a look at one of my other posts and plan for better times? While you're at it, why not join my free Rail Guide Europe Club?

For the time being,

  • Keep washing those hands for 30 seconds
  • Stay at home
  • Be kind 
  • Be safe and be healthy.
Sleeping on a night train
Mar 12

13 Hacks for Sleeping like a Baby on Any Night Train

By Edward | Ask Me Anything

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    13 Hacks to Sleeping on any Night Train

    Sleeping on a night train. Silent Hunter asks: "What is your advice for getting a good night's sleep on a sleeper or couchette train?" Here is what I came up with in one morning. I haven't done all of these things yet, but I shall definitely try them next time.

    It is always a challenge, sleeping on a night train. Or indeed any environment to which you are not accustomed, be it at your in-laws, under a bridge, or just on a new mattress.


    I've racked my brains and screwed up all my years of experience with night trains. I touched this subject in a post I wrote for Amateur Traveler Podcast. Here is what I came up with to help you sleep:

    1.

    Be tired

    "Oh come on, Ed! I thought you said HACKS?" Sorry for stating the obvious, but this is a big one. It helps to be tired. Get this right and nothing else matters. Be up nice and early the morning of your journey and do lots of stuff. Say, trudging around Venice all day. 

    2.

    Drink

    I mean alcohol. If you can. Beer contains hops and hops make you sleep. Beer contains alcohol and alcohol relaxes. Relaxation makes you less tense. This can help with sleeping on a night train. Aim for a small, strong IPA. In Germany, some kind of Export. In Italy, Speciale. Or just have red wine.

    3.

    Don't drink

    Beer contains water and water makes you pee. So don't have too much. There is nothing worse than waking up on a night train and sort of needing to pee and then agonising for hours whether to... 

    • put on your wig and clump down the corridor with your strappy sandals not strapped up? 
    • or just go back to sleep?
    The answer to this, by the way, is immediately to get up and get it over with. If you force yourself back to sleep against your bladder, guess what? In the morning, when everybody is going to the loo, you'll be desperate and have to wait. And end up gulping stone-cold coffee half inside your coat as your train stops at your destination. But I digress.
    Sleeping on a night train

    Polish Rail are very generous with the beverages. It's a trap.

    4.

    Consider ear plugs

    Personally, I don't ever use ear plugs. But other people do. Ear plugs are definitely a thang for sleeping on a night train. The train is moving, there will be noise. 


    Once I had a sleeper in which somewhere, behind the cladding, something  kept softly tapping at irregular intervals. It drove me insane and I slept about one hour. I would have needed ear-plugs then.


    The Hungarian couchettes that run between Zürich, Munich, Vienna and Budapest have very loud air conditioning. Imagine sleeping on the wing of Concorde. Ear plugs would be good there.

    5.

    Go for a walk

    If you really cannot sleep, don't just lie there, fuming. Put on your wig and your strappy sandals and go for a wander up and down the train.


    If you are on a train with a dining car, and it is open, good for you. Have yourself a drink. If there is no dining car, you might still get something from the staff. I remember an American waking me coming at 3.30 AM and buying peanuts and a coke from me.


    Go to the very front of the train and watch the engine powering through the night. Then go to the very back and watch the stars spiralling in the vastness of the cosmos as the train winds its way through the dark. Ponder your insignificance.

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    6.

    Pour your heart out

    Chase down the attendant and strike up a conversation. A sleeper attendant is like a barkeeper. If you want to pour out your heart, they are there for you.


    Many's the night I've listened to some insomniac's story. Once on the way to Venice I had a beautiful chain-smoking Albanian (let's call her Aferdita) telling me about her forced marriage all the way from Rosenheim to Tarvisio. That's five hours.

    7.

    Bring sticking plaster, newspaper and blu tack

    I'm on a roll now. Keep a small roll of sticking plaster and a little bit of blu tack (Americans: Poster Tack) in your toiletry bag. These can be invaluable for keeping the door of the washbasin shut or preventing said door from vibrating in its hinges. Newspaper is also good for such interventions. 

    Sleeping on a night train

    Doors can sometimes open or vibrate. Tape, blu tack or newspaper can help fix this.

    8.

    Try lying the other way

    Sometimes it helps to lie the other way. Let's say you are lying in a bottom couchette with your head next to door. Now let's say someone keeps getting up, putting a wig on, fumbling with their strappy sandals and banging the door. You'll have much more peace with your head at the window. 


    Here is something fun to try: lie on your back, looking upwards out the window at the stars. Now imagine everything upside down. All of a sudden you are soaring through the darkness, watching the stars drift light-years below you.

    9.

    Leave your phone alone

    Another old hat, but I'm still going to mention it: try and resist the temptation to play with your phone. If you see what time it is, you might feel stressed by how little time you've got left. Then there's the blue light the screen emits. Scientists say this screws up your sleep cycle.

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    10.

    Master the air conditioning

    Most sleeping cars now have air conditioning. Me, I prefer windows, but I'm an old fuddy-duddy. Always have been.

    Sometimes the air conditioning can emit very dry air, parching your nose and mouth. This has stopped me from sleeping on a night train, I can tell you. Here's what to do:


    1. if there's a control knob, turn it down to cooler. It won't make much difference, as there is only one unit feeding all compartments. However, cooler air absorbs less moisture.
    2. Moisten (don't soak!) a flannel with water and drape it over such vents as you can find. The main vent is often at the bottom of the window frame. The aim is not to obstruct the air - merely to humidify it as it streams into your compartment.
    3. Don't ask the attendant to turn the air conditioning off. They won't. If they did, it would be 30 seconds before someone else came complaining. 
    Sleeping on a night train

    Polish Sleeping car compartment

    11.

    Safeguard your valuables

    This applies in all compartments, but especially if sharing with other people.


    Put your valuables somewhere safe when sleeping on a night train. You needn't be super original. It's enough that your wallet is harder to find than other people's. Also, spread your stuff about so that if something does get stolen, you don't lose everything.


    That said, things don't get stolen that often. More important than anything else is to acquaint yourself with the locking mechanism and use it.


    In 2015-2016 we had a terrible infestation with pickpockets on the Munich-Amsterdam line. After Frankfurt I would make a round and check that every couchette door was locked from the inside. Most were open, in spite of my exhortations to lock them.



    12.

    Book something in the middle of the carriage

    This is advanced geekiness, but for some people this makes a difference. I factor it in. When booking, ask to be placed in the middle of the carriage. In couchettes, that is berths 51-56, 61-66 and 71-76. In sleepers it is harder to say, but 31-35, 32-36 and 41-45 are a safe bet. The benefit is threefold:


    1. You are not above squealing bogies
    2. You are far from the loos, so fewer people lumber by
    3. You are further from doors opening and closing.

    On the Russian and Ukrainian railways' sites you can choose your berth on a little map. The Nightjet hasn't got this cool feature yet.

    13.

    Try not to give a toss

    If you follow all the above tips to the letter and turn up expecting to sleep, you are doomed to fail. You won't sleep a wink. Sleep is about letting it happen, rather than making it happen. [Insert more trite wisdom about sleep here].


    If you really can't sleep, just accept that it wasn't to be. You are more likely to sleep on a night train then.  

    Bonne nuit / Buona notte / Gute Nacht / Спокойной ночи

    I started off writing 6 tips, then went up to 9 and finally 13 as new ideas kept piling in.


    A combination of these tips ought to help you get to sleep quickly on a night train. I have aimed to give you stuff that is relaxing, changes your thoughts and makes you more ready for sleep.


    Then when the conductor knocks and brings you your breakfast you'll wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.


    This post is part of my Ask Me Anything series. If you want to Ask Me Anything, join the Rail Guide Europe club and shoot me an email...

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      Batumi Harbour
      Feb 19

      How to get to Georgia by Train

      By Edward | Ask Me Anything

      This post is part of my Ask Me Anything series. If you want to Ask Me Anything, join the Rail Guide Europe club and shoot me an email...

      How to get to Georgia by Train

      Dagmar writes: I want to go to Georgia by train. Have you got any tips about how to get there? Where can I buy tickets? How does train travel work in Georgia? What does one need to know?

      A lovely question for kicking off our Ask Me Anything series. How does one get to Georgia by train? I went to Georgia by train on my honeymoon and am thus well equipped to answer this.


      First things First


      If you look at the map there are three ways:


      • Across the Black Sea
      • South of the Black Sea via Istanbul and Ankara
      • North of the Black Sea via Russia

      Going north via Russia is not an option as it has no rail links with Georgia proper since the 2008 war.


      Going south via Turkey is daunting: getting through the Balkans involves multiple changes. Not all trains can be booked online. There is a longish coach journey through Eastern Turkey that you cannot avoid (yet).


      Across the Black Sea you get comfortable sleeper trains to Odessa on the Black Sea, followed by a two-night voyage across the Black Sea to Batumi. This post explains how to go via Odessa and the Black Sea.


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        1.

        Georgia by train and boat via Odessa and the Black Sea


        This is the route I went in 2016.


        If you have an EU, US or Canadian passport, this is the most painless way as you don't need any visas at all. Furthermore, you can book the whole lot online - all the way from Western Europe to Tbilisi.


        You travel through the EU, Ukraine and Georgia. There are regular ferry sailings from Chornomorsk (formerly Illichivsk) to Batumi. This service is all year round and run by Ukrferry. During winter the boat goes twice a week, during the summer more frequently.


        Here is how I did it


        1. Starting from Munich, I went to Cheb with a Bayern Ticket. Such a humble beginning for such a long journey, but there you go. This ticket I bought on the day.


        2. At Cheb, I got the (now defunct) Slovak sleeper to Košice. This I had booked a bit in advance from Czech railways.


        3. At Košice, I changed on to a train to Čierna nad Tisou. This ticket I bought at Košice station. It is cheap and cannot sell out.


        4. At Čierna nad Tisou I got the border hopper to Chop, in Ukraine.


        5. From Chop I went to Uzhgorod in a Marshrutka. This was to cut down my wait. I could have stayed at Chop, but a four hour wait at Chop gets boring.  


        Bogie change at Ukrainian border

        If you go on a direct Ukrainian service (i.e. Vienna-L'viv) the bogies will be changed at the Ukrainian border.

        6. From Uzhgorod to Odessa I went on the Ukrainian Railways' Khadzhibey train. Train №107/108 "Хаджибей/Khadjibey" runs daily between Odessa and Uzhorod. It left Uzhorod in the evening and reached Odessa at lunchtime the next day. This ticket I also got online directly from Ukrainian Railways.


        "Khadjibey" is what the clutch of shacks and fortress was called that the Russians nabbed from the Ottomans when they conquered the Black Sea coast. Odessa was founded on the ruins of Khadjibey in 1794,


        7. After a four day wait at Odessa, I went by taxi to Chornomorsk and embarked on the Kaunas Seaways to Batumi. This was a two-night voyage. Left Chornomorsk in the late afternoon, arrived Batumi in the early morning. 

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        About the Odessa-Batumi Ferry


        Here I shall go into some detail about the voyage across the Black Sea. The Ukrferry ships are primarily goods ferries. Ukrferry transports lorries and (freight) railway coaches between Georgia and Ukraine. Most of the passengers are lorry drivers. We foot passengers are a side-hustle. This is why the ferry uses the goods port of Chornomorsk, rather than Odessa.

        Ukrferry Chornomorsk

        Leaving Chornomorsk. The little ferry in the background is the Caledonia, as seen in Andrea Maria Dusl's film "Blue Moon".

        Booking the Odessa-Batumi Ferry

        I booked the ticket online and paid for it on the ground at Ukrferry's head office outside Odessa. The booking process has changed since then, for the better. The whole thing can be done in English and you can pay online. 


        Getting to the port


        The district where the ferry terminal is, is called Burlachya Balka. It is on the southern outskirts of Odessa.


        The № 25 bus gets you there from Odessa's main station. It is seventeen stops and currently costs 24 hryvnas (7o¢). In Odessa you usually pay the driver at the front when you get off the bus.


        The stop you want is called "Burlachya Balka". It is a request stop and there is no bell to ring. You have to know where you are and bellow (bellow!) "Ostanaveetye pozhaluysta" (stop please) or "Na slyeduyushy" (..at the next stop) or "Burlachya Balka!"


        Or go by taxi. I went by taxi. Taxis in Odessa are cheap. Get your hotel to order a taxi for you. Hotels will ring reputable taxi companies that tell you the price before your taxi even arrives. This makes it harder for you to be quoted a fantasy price. 


        Meta comment: I just spent two hours looking at maps, retracing my steps and poring over Ukrainian public transport fora. I staked the district out on Google Streetview. My conclusion is that unless you are familiar with post-Soviet transport and speak some Russian, you had best get a taxi to the ferry terminal.


        The lengths to which I go for you

        I go to great lengths for you, my reader. One of these lengths is to ring up Ukrferry in Odessa and ask what the correct procedure is for 2020. Yes, in Russian. You're welcome.


        • When you have booked, you will receive a booking confirmation. This is not your ticket. You get your tickets at registration.
        • Registration is done at Ukrferry's office in Burlachya Balka, near the harbour at Chornomorsk. It is the highest building in the area and unmissable. 
        • Here it is on Google Maps. And here is the address, so you can give it to a taxi driver: Бизнес Центр "Борей", с. Бурлачья Балка, ул. Северная 41, (Business Centre "Borey", Burlachya Balka, ul. Severnaya 41.
        • Registration of foot passengers takes place before the lorries and railway carriages are processed. This means you have to be at the Ukrferry office quite a while before the ship sails. Exact details ought to come with your booking.
        • A minibus transfers you from the Ukrferry office to the terminal and customs.
        Open window on Ukraine-Georgia ferry

        No dolphins in this picture


        Embarking

        The ship moors with its stern to the pier and foot passengers walk on though the same entrance as the cars, lorries and trucks. The low-point of my honeymoon was watching my wife pick her way across the rails in the floor, in the half-light of the cavernous ship's hold.


        But then there were dolphins.


        sun set on the Black Sea

        Dolphins. Completely invisible in the waves and sunset.

        What is the passage to Georgia like?

        This is a real boat trip. You get to walk about on deck and watch the dolphins and seagulls. You can climb steep metal staircases. And open your cabin window. 


        You are fed three times daily in the ship's canteen. There is no buffet or menu. Everyone eats the same food. It is Slavic canteen fare with meat, sides and always a salad. There is no gluten-free or vegan option. Lactose-intolerance? What do you mean, you can't drink milk?


        An announcement is made on the tannoy in Russian, Georgian and English - "food is served, don't be late". Seriously, don't be late. They chuck you out of the canteen after 45 minutes or so.

        Kaunas Seaways at Batumi

        Kaunas Seaways moored at Batumi harbour

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        Train Travel in Georgia


        Georgia has inherited its railway system from the Russian and Soviet Empires. 



        • Not all parts of Georgia are easy to reach by train. Most major cities are connected to the network, but the trains are not frequent. Even the Tbilisi airport express only runs a few times per day.
        • The eastern wine-growing region of Kakheti has no regular passenger services from Tbilisi. Tracks go as far as the regional capital Telavi, but not trains. I don't know if these will ever be reinstated.

        Arid landscape close to Tbilisi

        • it is Russian broad-gauge (1520mm)
        • Night trains have the Russian three-class system (Luxe, Kupé and Platskart). As of 2020 these run between Tbilisi and Ozurgeti (Georgia's tea capital) and between Tbilisi and Zugdidi.
        • Except for on local services (e.g. Elektrichki) you always have an assigned place. And that is where you bloody well sit, too.

        I used the Georgian Railway to get from Batumi to Tbilisi. In 2016 this was with rather squeaky Chinese trains. Now this line is served by Georgia's flagship trains - double deck Swiss-designed Stadler sets.


        You can only move if the guards let you. My wife was one month pregnant and didn't take to travelling backwards through mountains. I only managed to get us moved by telling the guards that my wife was pregnant.


        If you translate the Georgian "she is pregnant" literally, you get: "she is two-souled". Isn't that a beautiful way to say it?  But I digress.


        Buying Tickets

        You can buy tickets for the Georgian Railways online and up to 40 days in advance.

        The e-ticket system is quite easy to use, and it is in English. Sadly this only works for domestic services, so if you want to go to Armenia or Azerbaijan, it won't help you.


        I shall shortly be adding guides to booking on Georgian and Ukrainian railways to the Insider Rail Guide library.

        My two-souled wife enjoying her Georgian pregnant VIP treatment.

        2.

        On the horizon: Georgia by train with the Ankara-Baku direct sleeper


        It has been postponed several times: The Azerbaijan Railways direct sleeper service from Ankara via Tbilisi to Baku. 


        The new Swiss-made dual-gauge carriages are already in Azerbaijan. The border station at Akhalkalaki and the Tbilisi-Kars railway line are finished. Smiling leaders have cut ribbons, watched by men in sunglasses. But the train has yet to enter service.


        However, when it does, this will be a supremely comfortable way to get to Georgia by train. If you make it through the Balkans.

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        3.

        Bonus: Abkhazia via Russia

        Abkhazia is a breakaway region that belongs to Georgia, but is currently not controlled by the Georgian government in Tbilisi. It has its own government and you need a visa to enter. 


        Abkhazia relies on Russia for protection and is reachable by train through Russia. Indeed, since the 2008 war, Abkhazia is the only part of Georgia with a direct rail link to Russia.


        There are trains from Moscow to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. During the winter, train № 306M runs every two days, during the summer it runs daily. The journey takes 43 hours.


        Bear in mind


        If you enter Abkhazia via Russia, you have to leave via Russia. You will therefore need a multiple visa for Russia.


        Were you to travel onwards into the rest of Georgia you wouldn't get an entry stamp and thus be entering Georgia illegally.


        How I recommend you do it

        Until the Azerbaijani Railways Ankara-Tbilisi-Baku sleeper comes online, the route via Odessa is king. Here is what I recommend you do:


        1. Get yourself to Vienna
        2. From Vienna, get the daily Ukrainian Railways sleeper service to L'viv. Spend or don't spend a couple of days in L'viv. Book this online through ÖBB. Check out this post on booking the Ukraine sleeper on ÖBB's site. It costs €72 in a double sleeper.
        3. From L'viv, get one of several overnight trains to Odessa. Spend or don't spend a couple of days in Odessa. The journey takes between 10 and 12 hours. Book this online through UZ. Expect to pay €25/$28 for kupé (4 berth sleeper) or €90/$95 for luxe (2 berth sleeper). Or - get this - €8.50/$9 if you go in platskart, the 3rd class open plan sleeper.
        4. From Odessa, get the Ukrferry service to Batumi. Book this online with Ukrferry. A berth in a standard double outside cabin costs €165/$180. A single in the suite is €380/$420. Budget roughly €350/$380 for two people sharing an outside cabin. If you bear in mind this includes two nights' accommodation, two days' food, plus the chance to see dolphins, it is a good deal.
        5. From Batumi, go on Georgian Railways to Tbilisi. Book online here. 1st class is about €20/$22, 2nd class €8/$9.


        Most romantic journey ever


        If you pull this off, you are in for one of the most romantic journeys imaginable

        Vienna, L'viv, Odessa - the stops along the way are already oozing with romance and excitement. 


        Add a two night voyage on a real ship from which you may see dolphins. I certainly did.

        Batumi morning

        Batumi, rising shimmering from the night horizon


        Then arrive in a part of the world that God had kept for himself, but in his goodness gave to the Georgians because of their singing and celebrations.


        I can't think of anything better. Please go forth and send me the pictures.


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          Dec 19

          What to get Yourself for Christmas

          By Edward | Uncategorized

          Four Ideas for Christmas or After

          Transparency: none of the links below are affiliate links. 

          This was supposed to be something about rail travel related presents you could get for other people. But then I thought, it is you, the reader, that is interested in rail travel. I assume, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, right? Right?


          And I saw you selflessly getting other people other stuff. To reward yourself, here are a few rail travel ideas. 

          Europe By Rail

          by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

          Good if you are planning something in 2020. Must-have if you aren't leaving your cell in 2020.


          Europe by Rail is written by the women behind hidden europe magazine. There may be the odd CIA veteran who has seen more of Europe, but he isn't allowed to write about it.

          This book combines consummate rail travel knowledge with gripping travel writing.

          Worth reading even if you stay at home.

          Moscow to the End of the Line

          by Venedikt Erofeev

          My favourite book of all time. I read it in German and later in Russian. This is the English edition.


          The Russian holy fool in Soviet reality. Man gets on train and gets drunk. This is what goes on in his head. Riotous and terrifying. A slow train journey beyond the edge of human consciousness.

          My German readers: Look out for Die Reise nach Petuschki translated by Natascha Spitz.

          Orient Express

          by Graham Greene

          Thriller set on the Orient Express. Known as Stamboul Train in the rest of the English speaking world.

          Greene travelled from Oostende to Cologne on the Orient Express to get a feel for the train.

          Orient Express captures the excitement of long European train journeys and the suspense of border checks.

          Alois Nebel (film)

          Based on the graphic novel by Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromir 99. DIrected by Tomáš Luňák.


          Set in Czechoslovakia at the twilight of Communism. A dispatcher at a small Czech station, Bílý Potok, starts having nightmares and flashbacks of what went on at Bílý Potok during and after WW2.

          A black and white cartoon for grown-ups (in Czech!), bleak and eerie, bursting with searing images such as Nazi steam trains in winter landscapes.

          Bonus present: treat yourself to the password to my e-guide library. It's free.

          Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club.

          Get the password to my free e-guide library and irregular updates

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            Astra Transcarpatic Review
            Dec 17

            Astra Trans Carpatic’s Overnight Service

            By Edward | Night Trains

            ​Astra Trans Carpatic: a New Night Train in Europe

            ​I know what you’re thinking, and no:

            I paid for my ticket and travelled as a normal passenger.

            Astra Trans Carpatic didn’t know I was coming, and if they ​did, so what? I’m not a famous blogger or influencer. I’m just a weirdo dragging his wife and baby across Eastern Europe by train, because train bloggers don’t go by plane ever.

            Astra Trans Carpatic at Arad

            Astra Trans Carpatic ready to leave Arad

            Astra Trans Carpatic is a Romanian train operator that belongs to Astra Vagoane, who make trains. In February 2017 they started running an overnight service between Arad on Romania’s western border and Bucharest, using their own carriages.

            In the summer months the ​service is extended from Bucharest to the Black Sea port of ​Constanța, making it possible to traverse the whole of Romania - from the Puszta through the Carpathians to the ​shores of the Black Sea - in thirteen hours.

            The ​tidings of a new overnight service in Europe reached me ​between sobs in the office I had ​washed up in after Deutsche Bahn axed its ​CityNightLines and with them my ​job. After decades of night trains being ​closed down, this was a lovely bit of good news and I have ​wanted to pay Astra Trans Carpatic a visit ever since.

            Astra Trans Carpatic review

            Astra Trans Carpatic ready to leave Arad

            ​Astra Trans Carpatic's Timetable

            As mentioned above, the Astra Trans Carpatic traverses Romania from East to West and West to East over night and over the Carpathians. Here is their eastbound timetable, as of 15th December 2019:

            Astra Trans Carpatic Timetable

            Astra Trans Carpatic 2020 timetable Arad-Bucuresti Nord

            07:05 is a great time to arrive in Bucharest. It is wonderful is to watch the Romanian capital stir and come to life.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            Rays of the morning sun creeping down the facade of Bucharest Gara de Nord

            Here is the westward timetable, as of 15th December 2019:

            Astra Trans Carpatic Timetable

            Astra Trans Carpatic timetable from Bucuresti Nord to Arad

            ​The westbound service has perfect timing in every way.

            What are the carriages like?

            ​The carriages are built to standard European specifications (for the nerds: UIC-Z, essentially Eurofima from the 1970s and 1980s), meaning they can be used almost anywhere on the Continent - good for when Astra Trans Carpatic goes international, or if they give up and sell the coaches.

            They are painted in a wonderfully cheerful yellow-green livery which makes them immediately recognisable.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            The yellow-green livery of Astra Trans Carpatic

            ​Seated coach

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            The seated coach on the Astra Trans Carpatic

            Last time I travelled overnight sitting up (from Košice to Bratislava, about seven years ago) my companions were a group of ​gypsies munching bread and sausage​ in the dark and scowling at me, followed by a friendly drunk who looked like Asterix in a communist polyester suit ​and ended up embracing and kissing me and giving me slivovitz.

            Also, since working on the night trains and regularly seeing what ​goes on in seated cars at night, I've come to avoid ​them. But if I had to, Astra Trans Carpatic's car is one I could imagine travelling in.

            ​Astra’s 2nd class seated car is probably one of the nicest in Romania - it is ​worlds ​better than the 2nd class on the ICE or the Railjet, simply because Astra has taken the trouble to align the seats with the windows. On newer Deutsche Bahn trains you may ask for a window seat and find yourself ​staring at a wall.

            Carpeted floor, 2+2 seating, leather seats, functioning air conditioning, sockets for every seat - Astra has done well. Some seats are arranged in sets of four around a decent-sized table.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            Leather seats, a decent fold-out table, sockets underneath

            ​The Couchettes

            ​Astra only does 4-berth couchettes. This is a good thing. 4-berth is much more civilised than 6-berth, better for air-quality and space to move.

            The bunks have proper mattresses, a big pillow and a real duvet. You make your bed yourself with linen provided. Thus, though sold as a couchette, it is more like a 4-berth sleeper. Each berth has a power outlet next to the night light. There is a shower at the end of the corridor.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review Couchette

            An upper couchette bunk on the Astra Trans Carpatic

            ​One of the nicest couchettes I’ve ever seen, on par with the Russian 4-berth sleeper running on the Moscow-Nice and Moscow-Paris services.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            Astra Trans Carpatic Couchette

            ​The Sleeping Cars

            ​Now for the sleepers. Each sleeper carriage has ten compartments with two berths each - Astra doesn’t do T3 berths. Two is the maximum amount of people in a compartment.

            This is much higher welfare than the CityNightLine and Nightjet Comfortline carriages that squeeze two more compartments with three berths into the same ​26.4 meters of length.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            Astra Trans Carpatic sleeping car

            ​The compartment is carpeted and the walls are clad with faux-walnut. Anything not in faux-walnut is painted a similar ochre colour. The duvets are nice and long, so your feet are covered, and the pillows are a decent size.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            Interior of Astra Transcarpatic sleeper compartment

            ​Three of the compartments have a futuristic en-suite bathroom with a loo, a shower and a sink. Mine was spotless. Here’s one fun Eastern European hack Astra has done: Install an upside-down handdryer as a hairdryer​.

            The shower was fabulous. Both hot and cold water at decent pressure, cool lighting, no funny smells. Obviously the equipment is new, but I hope they manage to ​maintain this standard.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            Astra Trans Carpatic deluxe sleeper compartment with en-suite bathroom door ajar

            What I particularly like is the lighting. There is an array of switches over the door that controls them. Next to your pillow there are also light switches.

            If you turn all the lights off you have true darkness, which is great - in most sleepers you are still left with some sort of LED shining in your face. The Nightjet sleeper has a little white button I feel compelled to cover, and PKP's new and refurbished sleepers have an appalling blue LED blaring all night.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            Clever: the hair dryer in the Astra Trans Carpatic shower

            ​How Astra Trans Carpatic treats you

            ​Having described the train itself, we shall now have a look at the service concept on Astra Trans Carpatic.

            Astra Trans Carpatic review

            Corridor on the Astra Trans Carpatic Sleeper

            ​In the Evening

            ​After the train sets off the attendant knocks and wants to see your ticket. In my case it was a QR code on my smartphone. All the attendant did was look at it cursorily. No scanning, nothing. Of course, if you are in your compartment and no one else lays claim to it, and they have you on their list, there is no reason to go scanning QRs or looking at ID cards.

            One thing I missed on both my trips was complementary water. I think a bottle of water should definitely be included in the price of one's berth.

            ​On both my trips there were no towels ready in the compartment, but when I asked for them (​proSOP, vâ rog)​ the attendant gave me some straight away.​

            Astra Trans Carpatic shower

            The shower in a deluxe compartment on the Astra Trans Carpatic

            ​In the Morning

            ​In the morning ​they wake you with a knock on the door. On my arrival in Bucharest there was no breakfast - maybe because it was impossibly early (05:28 AM) or maybe because the attendant had forgotten.

            On my arrival at Arad, on my return journey, there was ​weapons-grade instant coffee and a plastic-wrapped submarine sandwich with chicken and red pepper in it. I don't know what it tasted like.

            ​I digress

            ​As ​a sleeping car attendant who has made thousands of night train breakfasts and thrown away almost as many, I think breakfasts are a waste of workers' time, the punters' money and precious food. 

            What people need is a hot drink and a small, energising snack to ​keep the wolf from the door as they drag themselves home or to the next bar. ​Wagon Slovakia, who do the night trains in Slovakia, get it right with their cup of coffee and waffle bar. No fuss, you drink your coffee lying down and eat or don't eat your waffle bar, or you take it with you for later.

            ​Sleeping car people can afford not only to go in the sleeping car. They can also afford food allergies and paleo diets. Then there are vegans. There is no lowest common food denominator a rail company can fall back to, so it is better to keep breakfast as low-key as possible. The Russians don't do it at all.

            On my ​CityNightLines ​so much food was wasted. ​And it went everywhere as people ​​​​​​scrabbled about getting their mobile phones, neck cushions and babies' favourite blankets together.​​​

            ​But I digress.

            Breakfast on the Astra Trans Carpatic

            Breakfast on the Astra Trans Carpatic

            The ​Minibar

            ​The train is not long - only four carriages - and so it doesn’t have the length to support a restaurant car, sadly.

            There is a minibar with all the usual stuff on sale - "drinks and light refreshments" is the technical term, I believe. I'd brought my own, so I didn't use it. Once I tried to get water, but couldn't chase down the attendant and lost interest.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Corridor

            My daughter tries to escape

            ​Lost Property

            ​As a blogger in the service of my readers I am prepared to go to extraordinary lengths. One of these lengths is to forget ​a mobile phone, a neck cushion and a baby’s favourite blanket on the train.

            A shunter found me wandering around the sidings of Arad station. I explained in my ​best Romanian that I had lost my phone. He made some phone calls and asked my to wait by the ​casa de bilete.

            Half an hour later an Astra Trans Carpatic worker appeared with all of the things I'd left. ​

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            The sink in the en-suite bathroom on the Astra Trans Carpatic Sleeper

            ​Why use this train?

            ​On the whole, most people on their way to ​Romania will opt for the Euronight 473 ​Ister ​from Budapest to Bucharest, or the Euronight 347 ​Dacia ​from Vienna to Bucharest.​​​​​​

            ​My reasons for going on Astra Trans Carpatic were as follows:

            1. I wanted to ​review it for the blog

            2. Unlike the Euronights, it got me to Bucharest with ample spare time to change onto my onward train to Varna at 12:45 PM. The Dacia arrives too late, and the Ister at 12:05 PM. Only mad dogs and bahn.de think 40 minutes are enough to change onto a once-daily service in the Balkans.

            3. It was easy to book online.

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            The shuttered art nouveau casino on the Constanța sea front

            ​​Pros of using this train

            ​1. It is the only overnight train from the West that gets you to Bucharest with enough time to change onto the southbound 12:45 PM ​​Romania ​service to Bulgaria and Turkey​​​

            2. ​​Astra Trans Carpatic is a new, open-access operator, and like on Italo in Italy and Westbahn in Austria, ​it shows with the staff: they are exceptionally polite and motivated

            3. It has brand-new, luxurious carriages

            4. It is competitively priced

            5. As mentioned above, it gets you all the way from the Puszta to the Black Sea without changing. Get on at Arad at 20:27, arrive Constanța at 10:35 the next morning.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            CFR Steam Engine in front of Arad station

            ​Cons of using this train

            1. You have to get yourself to Arad first. Currently, the latest train that gets you from Budapest to Arad in time for the Astra Trans Carpatic is the IC 75 Transylvania, leaving Budapest at 09:10 and arriving at Arad at 14:39. Any later service gets to Arad too late.

            2. You then spend five hours waiting at Arad. However, I found time passed quickly. Lunch, a walk along the river and a small shop. People who like trams: Arad has second-hand trams from all over Europe plying its huge tram network. It's like a tram zoo out there.

            Also, the time is well spent getting acclimatised to Romania, Romanian and Romania's plastic bank notes. 

            3. You can't use Interrail or Eurail on Astra Trans Carpatic, or indeed any long distance international train tickets.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            Arad is ideal for acclimatising oneself to Romania

            ​How to work the Astra Trans Carpatic into your itinerary​, eastwards and westwards

            ​Eastbound

            ​Going east towards Bucharest, you'll want to join the Astra Trans Carpatic either at Arad, like I did, or at ​​Timișoara, the next station up the line. ​​Timișoara is a bigger town with more ​for ​the tourist to see. There are no more trains from Belgrade to ​​Timișoara, so one must always come from Hungary.

            I have played around with the timetables and always end up with the IC 75 Transsylvania that leaves Budapest at 09:10 and Szolnok at 10:34. It reaches Arad at 14:39, and if you want to wait at Timișoara you change here onto the 14:44 R 2606 for Timișoara. Wherever you decide to wait, it will be five hours.

            When you reach Bucharest the next morning at 07:05, you can get any number of onward trains.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            Outside Arad station is this building belonging to Astra Vagoane with a communist mosaic on it, celebrating Romanian-Soviet friendship - these are rare in Romania, due to ​​Conducător Nicolae Ceau​șescu's fitful relationship with the USSR.

            ​Westbound

            The new 2020 timetable has made the Astra Trans Carpatic more interesting for westward travel. Coming from Bucharest on your way west you:

            • arrive at Arad at 07:04
            • Get the 08:20 IC 78 Körös to Budapest
            • Reach Budapest at lunchtime, Vienna by teatime and Munich by suppertime.
            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            IC 75 "Transsylvania" at the Romanian border station of Curtici, waiting to depart for Arad

            ​Yeah, great, but where do I get my tickets from?

            ​You can only get the tickets from Astra Trans Carpatic. Normal ticket offices run by Deutsche Bahn or ÖBB​ do not sell them (to say nothing of SNCF). In fact, ​Astra Trans Carpatic doesn't even appear on Deutsche Bahn's bahn.de online timetables, though it ​is ​mentioned in the European Rail Timetable.​​​​​​

            At Arad and at Bucharest Gara de Nord Astra Trans Carpatic has its own ticket offices (casa de bilete). You can also just buy your ticket on the train with no surcharge.

            I got my tickets online in advance. Unfortunately the ticket buying section is in Romanian only. Fortunately Romanian is one of the easier languages ​for winging it, especially if you know some French and Italian. Also, if you use the Google Chrome browser, you can have it translate everything quite accurately.

            If you need help getting Astra Trans Carpatic tickets online subscribe to my blog to reach me by email or on Telegram, then I can talk you through it.

            How much do​es it cost?

            Astra Trans Carpatic has a very simple pricing system. Your fare consists of kilometers travelled plus the class of accomodation you want. Tickets always cost the same whenever you buy them. God I love it
            Astra Trans Carpatic Price Matrix

            If you like price matrices, enjoy this one. Here is what you pay for the distance travelled

            Astra Trans Carpatic Supplements

            ...and here is what you pay on top for your seat/berth.

            Pricing is in the Romanian currency, the leu (RON), which at the time of writing (15th December 2019) exchanges at €1 = 4.78 RON, £1 = 5.73 RON and $1 = 4.29 RON.

            Thus Arad-Bucharest in a seat or couchette is 600km second class (97 lei / €20) plus 4.00 lei (80 cents) for a seat or 50 lei (€10) for a couchette - so altogether €19 sitting up or €28 lying down in a couchette, all the way from Arad to Bucharest.

            In a sleeper it is 600 km first class plus the supplement for a double or single sleeper or a double or single sleeper deluxe (with the en-suite bathroom). That is 150 lei (€31) for the distance plus 60 lei (€12) for a double, 90 lei (€19) for a double deluxe, 120 lei (€25) for a single or 180 lei (€38) for a single deluxe.

            In April 2018 I paid €92 for the double deluxe for my wife and me, from Arad to Bucharest. Our baby went free of charge. I think that is a fantastic deal. My wife said it was the best train she had ever been on.

            ​So what's the ride like?

            ​I'm glad you ask.

            ​It was great. The train goes quite slowly, first across the plains to ​Timișoara, then up into the South Carpathian mountains and through Wallachia.

            I didn't see much, to be honest, as it was dark and I slept. But ​at times I awoke and peered out the window ​into nameless ​ravines clanking underneath bridges we were ​crossing, before drifting off again to the clatter of the wheels.

            Astra Trans Carpatic Review

            Some sort of stock night image looking eerie and Carpathian

            The attendant had switched off the air conditioning for the night, so I opened the window and in rushed lush Carpathian air.

            Much of Romania's tracks are still screwed rather than welded together, so you spend ​much of the journey immersed in this hypnoti​c ​haze of metallic rumbling that is great for sleeping.

            ​Conclusion

            ​Astra Trans Carpatic have done something brave in starting up a night train service in this age of budget airlines and ​coaches. The European Union is still very much in love with planes, global warming be damned.

            That is why it is so fantastic that there are people setting out to make money with trains, and indeed overnight trains.

            Astra Trans Carpatic have a service that is very nice, reasonably priced and well thought out. I ​love their higher-welfare couchettes and sleepers with only four and two berths respectively.

            People on their way to Romania from abroad are more likely to use the established Euronights simply because they are more convenient, but those who make the effort to get to Arad are rewarded with a great train service.

            There is talk of extending the service to Budapest or even Vienna and I hope ​Astra Trans Carpatic ​take that plunge.​​​

            Astra Transcarpatic Review

            The Astra Transcarpatic ready to leave Bucharest Gara de Nord

            Westbahn Salzburg
            Dec 16

            The Other Vienna to Salzburg Train: Westbahn

            By Edward | Day Trains

            Vienna to Salzburg by Train. Ooops.

            You are on your way from Salzburg to Vienna by train. As luck would have it, just after buying your ticket, there was a nice new white and blue train setting off for Vienna.

            "Not vellid on dis train", the girl in the blue peaked cap says, without emotion.

            You sweat panic sweat.

            "How can it not be valid? I just bought this ticket!"

            "You heff ÖBB ticket. You take ÖBB train".

            The smell of your panic sweat reaches your nose.

            "Now what?"

            "You pay. Or you get off et Vöcklabruck".

            You get off at Vöcklabruck. 

            Didn't see that coming? Welcome to the world of deregulated European railways. In some EU countries, there is now more than one operator running trains on the same line. They all sell their own tickets, and only their own tickets do they accept

            You had a standard ÖBB ticket from Salzburg to Vienna and got on the first train towards Vienna. Unfortunately the first train towards Vienna was a Westbahn train.

            The Other Train from Vienna to Salzburg

            The Westbahn is a private train company that runs fast trains between Vienna and Salzburg.

            In 2011 it took up an hourly service between Vienna Westbahnhof and Salzburg, using smart double-deck trains. Its tickets were about half the price of what the national rail operator ÖBB charged, and the trains had free WiFi - something unheard of in those days. At least on trains.

            Where does the Westbahn stop?

            Here is a map with the current Westbahn stops. The Westbahn train calls at larger stations on the mainline between Vienna and Salzburg.

            You can download the Westbahn's timetable here.

            Vienna Salzburg Train Westbahn

            The Westbahn line, embedded in the wider network

            What the Vienna to Salzburg Westbahn trains are like

            Westbahn trains are electric multiple units formed of six (or four) double deck coaches. They run at up to 200 km/h (125 mph) between Vienna and Salzburg. Similar trains run in Swiss regional services, but also in Luxembourg, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

            Westbahn train Salzburg

            Westbahn KISS train waiting at Salzburg

            Good trains. I like them. Here is an interactive tour. 

            Coach numbers are 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600. Theoretically, on this train coach 100 is always facing Salzburg and coach 600 always facing Vienna.

            The Westbahn class system

            Westbahn has two classes, but it doesn't call it that. Westbahn say that all their seats are first class.

            Westbahn standard class

            Westbahn Standard Class

            Westbahn standard class

            However, here is what you can expect on the other Vienna-Salzburg train:

            Westbahn standard class has

            • nice leather chairs, 
            • power outlets for every seat 
            • carpeted floors
            • The seats line up with the windows
            • The "WESTsteward"
            • separate loos for ladies and gentlemen
            • Free WiFi that actually works
            Westbahn Standard class

            Seats in Westbahn standard class

            This is much nicer than Economy on the ÖBB Railjet, with its frozen-spinach green seats and drab linoleum flooring. 

            Westbahn Plush

            However, there is also Westbahn Plus, in coach 600. You pay a surcharge to sit here, depending on how far you are going.

            What do you get for it? Everything already mentioned, plus:

            • the seat next to you is also yours, so there is more room. On the second batch of Westbahn trains the Plus seats are wider
            • a free drink 
            • a free newspaper
            • and the "WESTsteward" at your beck and call. If you want something from the bar, they have to drop everything and fetch it for you.

            Currently, the Westbahn Plus upgrade costs between €9.90 for the shortest hop and €22.90 for the full distance from Vienna to Salzburg, in addition to your Westbahn standard class ticket.

            You can buy the Westbahn Plus upgrade in advance, or you can wait until you are on the train, sniff the air and upgrade only if you feel the need. Just sit down in coach 600 and pay the surcharge when the steward rolls up. On a full Vienna to Salzburg train it is definitely worth the extra expense.

            The advantage of buying in advance is that you know you've got your seat.

            My Salzburg-Vienna train trips on the Westbahn

            I've been on the Westbahn several times. When travelling between Salzburg and Vienna by train I have always made an effort to use them.

            My first trip was in 2012. As I still worked for a state railway operator, I first resisted the idea of going on a privately run train. But for scientific research purposes (as the Japanese whalers say) I went on the Westbahn anyway.

            Westbahn Plus class

            Westbahn Plus class

            And I loved it. Getting the ticket was so easy, and in 2012 everything was so new and the staff were all so eager. After that I went out of my way to go on the Westbahn. Between Vienna and Salzburg it is my preferred operator.

            Setting off from Salzburg

            It all starts with a sigh, as the breaks release. Then the train silently glides out of the gorgeously refurbished Salzburg station.

            I digress again: after the 2008 financial crash, Germany subsidised every new car with €2500 and called it an environmental bonus. Talk about doublethink. Meanwhile, Austria started a huge programme in which almost every railway station was completely refurbished. Salzburg Hbf was transformed from a labyrinthine open sewer into a jewel of a station.

            If you are on the top deck, it is quite jerky as the train picks its way over the points on its way out. Then a futuristic electric whirring sets in as the KISS gathers speed. For the first half hour or so you can see the mountains. Then they recede. After Vöcklabruck you are in the plain of the Danube, though you rarely see the river on the upgraded line.

            Westbahn leaving Salzburg

            Westbahn on its way out of Salzburg

            Even at the top deck there are no more jerks as you whizz towards Vienna at 200 km/h. 

            If you are on the top deck, you can see over the sound-barriers installed along vast swathes of the Salzburg-Vienna line.

            The "WESTstewards"

            As a trained railway worker I was doubtful about the Westbahn. 

            The driver does all the safety stuff, like reading the signals and closing the doors, while the Westbahn stewards only do tickets and service. Like on a plane.

            I thought the role of the WESTsteward had the hallmarks of a McJob. I thought you need properly trained guards looking after passengers, not clueless students who can't read signals. Their jeans and casual uniform didn't inspire confidence.

            But honestly? I think it is great that the threshold for working on trains has been lowered and more people can do these great jobs. I've asked around, and the Westbahn stewards make decent wages. What's more, they have full Austrian railway emergency training, so you are in capable hands.

            On every single trip I've had the stewards have been wonderful. Cheerful, polite and helpful. They do a great job.

            The West Café

            Every Westbahn train has a section with a coffee machine, a cold drinks machine and a snack machine. There are also some bar tables. It is a nice, cosy section where you can meet other travellers or reflect on things in silence. 

            Westnbahn café

            The café area on the Westbahn. There are no dedicated staff. You use the machines.

            I'm going to come out with it. On a 2017 trip that took me from Munich all the way to Eastern Poland, the worst coffee I had was the Westbahn cappuccino. It was sour, watery and scalding hot. 

            However the espresso was fine. Less can go wrong with it. 

            Both at Salzburg and at Vienna the snack machine is refilled with freshly made sandwiches.

            Westbahn café

            Coffee machines on the Westbahn. Notice that they use creamer or milk powder. Avoid anything with milk in it.

            For the 2 1/2 hour journey between Vienna and Salzburg, this is adequate. It's not much, and I love real dining cars, but it is much better than nothing at all.

            10% off your coffee

            Your Westbahn bank (see below for what that is) gets you money off your coffee. If you want to use your Westbahn bank to buy coffee or food, you have to get hold of one of the West stewards. They dock the money from your Westbahn bank by scanning it, then they override the money slot on the machine to retrieve your desired drink or light refreshment.

            What are "light refreshments anyway"? Why do you only get them on trains and planes? I see myself eating a lemon-flavoured wet wipe.

            No rubbish bins?!?

            What surprised me was that there are no rubbish bins. At all.

            At the mid-level sections between the upper and lower decks there are dispensers with small plastic rubbish bags. These you take with you for your waste.

             When you want it taken away, either give it to a steward, or go to where the dispensers are and hang your bag of waste on a hook that is there specially. 

            Westbahn Plus class

            Westbahn Plus class. Note elastic bands on the aisle seats indicating that they are reserved.

            Westbahn tickets

            To begin with, the Westbahn ticket system was wonderfully easy. Refreshingly simple it was. God, I loved it. No train you HAD to be on. None of this new-fangled airline-pricing yield-management shit. Just honest-to-God from here to there costs this and this much. 

            As the realities of running trains at a profit have bitten, Westbahn have refined their ticketing system and it has become more complex. The good news is, there are much more special deals. You just have to know about them. 

            Here we go.

            WESTstandard - Normal Tickets

            The simplest tickets are Westbahn's normal tickets. They go at the walk-up ticket price. You can simply buy them on the train (for €1 extra), or online, or from tobacconists.

            A WESTstandard ticket is good for any Westbahn train for one year from the day of purchase.

            Even if your ticket says "WIEN-SALZBURG" or "WIEN-LINZ" you can use it in either direction.

            Vienna-Salzburg at this rate is €33.50.

            Westbahn ticket prices

            The price matrix for WESTstandard tickets

            Concessions

            There are all sorts of boring and irrelevant Austrian membership and loyalty schemes that get you some money off the standard Westbahn ticket. I can't go into them here. I don't know what most of them are. I don't even want to know. Some sound scary.

            What is interesting is that Westbahn give you a significant reduction if you have any European railway discount card. Thus Vienna-Salzburg is €25.50 as opposed to €33.50.

            You can use your British Railcard to get money off your Westbahn ticket in Austria. Now that is cool.

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            Westbahn Vienna Salzburg

            Stairwell on a Westbahn train. All Westbahn trains are double deckers.

            Children on the Westbahn

            • Babies and children from 0-5 go free on the Westbahn. From age six they need a ticket. 
            • Children from 6-14 years old pay €1 if travelling with a family member (usually a parent or grandparent) who has a proper Westbahn ticket. When buying your ticket, be sure to include your children in the details.
            • Unaccompanied children pay a reduced rate. Vienna-Salzburg is €16.80.
            • From age 15 children are considered adults as far is tickets are concerned, but they are entitled to schoolchild and student concessions.

            WESTaktiv tickets - don't read this if you are under 60

            Westbahn have a special off-peak offer for people over 60. You don't have to be a pensioner. Just over 60. A WESTaktiv ticket is valid for one year from the date you bought it.

            You can use it on any Westbahn train from Monday to Thursday.

            Vienna - Salzburg with a WESTaktiv ticket costs €19.99.

            WESTspartage - off-peak semi-flexible Vienna to Salzburg train tickets

            An interesting hybrid between open and obligatory train tickets. WESTspartage are tickets that are valid on certain off-peak days or parts of a day. When you buy, you have to say which day,

            Westbahn Bank

            On old WESTspartage ticket of mine. The price has since risen.

            Look at the calendars below. Blue days you can use a WESTspartage ticket between 9 am and 3 pm. Green days at any time before 12 pm and grey days any time after 12 pm. Simple. So you do have some wriggle-room on the day you travel. 

            Vienna-Salzburg at the current WESTspartage rate is €25.99.

            Sadly, you can't combine the promotional rate with a railcard.

            Westbahn WestSparTage

            Calendar showing the days on which WESTspartage tickets are valid when

            If you use a WESTspartage ticket on a different day than specified, you have to pay the difference between the promo ticket and the standard fare.

            WESTsuperpreise - the cheapest Vienna to Salzburg train tickets

            Eventually Westbahn succumbed to the new-fangled airline-pricing yield-management shit. If you travel at 5 AM of a Tuesday morning, your ticket is cheaper than if you go on Friday afternoon.

            About yield management: It makes sense to spread people across as many trains as possible, so let's not grudge them. Some people have more time, some people have more money. Yield-management provides transport for both. It prevents empty trains and discourages full ones. This is good.

            WESTsuperpreis tickets are valid for a particular train on a particular day. They come on sale 30 days in advance and are available up to one minute before departure.

            However, the nice thing about them is this: if you change your plans, you can return your ticket. You get all your money back in the form of a Westbahn bank (see below) and can use it to buy other Westbahn tickets. These are MUCH better terms than offered for any other promo tickets by any other company.

            Furthermore, the tickets are not personalised, so anyone can use them.

            If you use a different train on the same day, you simply have to pay the difference between your cheap deal and the standard price.

            Westbahn doesn't punish you for using a different train or day. They simply charge you the difference. I think that is fair.

            Westbahn Bank - save yet more money

            The Westbahn bank is a great thing. I love it. When I last had one I would get it out from time to time and look at it and think of my next trip to Vienna. 

            Westbahn Bank

            My last Westbahn Bank - in 2016 the small Westbahn Bank was €90 for €100 credit.

            Westbahn banks are pay-as-you go credit. You pay Westbahn €135 and get €150 of credit that you can blow on tickets, upgrades or food and drink. Pay €400 and you get €450 of credit.

            Effectively that is 10-12% off anything you buy from Westbahn.

            Your Westbahn Bank is issued as an A4 PDF with a barcode. You can print it out or just keep it on your phone or tablet. You can use it online or on the train to pay for anything you buy. 

            Westbahn banks are valid for 30 years. I love that optimism.

            If you are a passing visitor, I don't see what you would do with the big Westbahn Bank, but the little one is worth getting as soon as there are two of you going from Vienna to Salzburg, or even Munich.

            Munich? You heard me. Read on...

            Westbahn tickets beyond the Westbahn network

            Westbahn quickly learned that the only way for it to survive long term is to cooperate with anything that moves. Anything that moves people, at least. Thus they have all sorts of deals going. 

            I'm sticking to the partnerships involving trains now. That means Meridian in Bavaria and RegioJet in Czechia.

            Westbahn Vienna Salzburg train

            Stairwell on Westbahn train

            Towards Munich with Meridian

            Westbahn and Meridian have been cooperating for quite some time. Their trains usually arrive at Salzburg on the same platform so you can change easily. Their timetables are also adapted to each other so that you don't have to wait too long.

            Westbahn and Meridian have two tickets on offer that get you from Vienna to Munich or vice versa.

            The Guten Tag Ticket WEST

            This combines Meridian's Guten Tag Ticket with a Westbahn ticket. The Guten Tag Ticket gets you onto all of Meridian's trains, plus the Bayerische Oberland-Bahn and Bayerische Regio-Bahn in the whole of Bavaria.

            • For one person it is €55, which is underwhelming. 
            • two people - €78
            • three people - €101
            • four people - €124
            • five people - €147
            Good things about the Guten Tag Ticket WEST
            • You can buy it immediately before travelling
            • The more people travelling, the cheaper it gets
            • You could do an entire round-trip on one of these
            • It doesn't sell out
            • It's a nice, easy ticket with little worries.
            Drawbacks of the Guten Tag Ticket WEST
            • Mon-Fri it is valid only from 9 AM - this is severely hampering
            • It locks you OUT of Westbahn's edgier promo tickets
            • It locks you IN to Meridian's underwhelming Guten Tag Ticket.
            • It locks you out of any other concessions to which you may be entitled
            • Exchange terms are bad. Even if you give it back before your travel date, you lose 25% of your money.
            Vienna to Salzburg Westbahn train at Vienna

            Westbahn at Vienna Westbahnhof awaiting passengers

            WESTstandard ticket to Munich

            This just in. Westbahn now offer a standard ticket for the whole distance between Munich and Vienna. It hasn't got one of their wizzy WESTnames yet, but I'm sure they'll come up with something. 

            In the fullness of time, it may be integrated into their promo deals as well. As it stands,

            Vienna-Munich costs €67.40. Or €54.30 with any European railcard.  Anytime.

            For a fully flexible ticket that cannot sell out, this is a great price.
            Benefits of this ticket:
            • It can't sell out
            • it is valid at any time of day
            • it is exchangeable
            • A Westbahn Plus upgrade gets you into the 1st class on the Meridian train to Munich

            Towards Czechia with RegioJet

            Czech operator RegioJet have started running trains from Prague via Brno to Vienna. It is now possible to buy combined tickets for Westbahn and RegioJet from RegioJet. This is seriously cool cooperation. I love it. It is the only way forward.

            You can get yourself a ticket from Salzburg to Prague or Brno via Vienna. RegioJet is a beast of its own which I am going to have to review soon. 

            RegioJet Westbahn Bratislava

            RegioJet train at Bratislava hl. st. Courtesy of Martin Pavlík

            What I can say here is that RegioJet have nice refurbished Austrian and Swiss coaches, plus some new ones built by Astra Vagoane in Romania - much like the seated coaches in my review of Astra Trans Carpatic. Though nominally first and second class coaches, RegioJet operate a four-class system, from basic to business. But even in basic you get free water.

            Click here to investigate these combined tickets.

            Where to buy

            I usually buy my Westbahn tickets directly online

            The website is brilliant and intuitive. I remember the first time I used it how relieving it was after navigating the big websites of DB and ÖBB. To be fair, it is simple because Westbahn is a small train company that sells tickets only for itself.

            However, you can also get any Westbahn ticket from a tobacconist (look out for the ubiquitous sign saying "Tabak Trafik"). In addition, Westbahn have their own WESTshops at major stations they serve. Here you can pay in cash and remain nameless, if anonymity matters to you.

            Get Vienna to Salzburg Train tickets here

            Tabak Trafik sign in Austria. A user-friendly offline way to get Westbahn tickets and pay for them in cash.

            Westbahn in the scheme of things

            Westbahn started in 2011 and have been at it for 8 years now. After much growing pains, they have broken even, and I hope they shall be with us for a long time yet.

            It was Westbahn who first ran trains in Austria with WiFi. Until then, the Austrian Railway state operator ÖBB had been banging on about how difficult it was to install WiFi and they couldn't do it, etc. etc. 

            As soon as Westbahn rolled up with WiFi, ÖBB suddenly discovered that they could have WiFi after all. ÖBB also offered more special deals and even more frequent trains between Salzburg and Vienna.

            Thus even people who never used Westbahn benefitted from Westbahn's entry on the Salzburg-Vienna line.

            Westbahn vs ÖBB Railjet

            Westbahn's greatest advantage is that they give you flexible travel at a reasonable price. For spontaneous train trips between Salzburg and Vienna, you're most likely to get a better deal on Westbahn. 

            If you have a pram or a wheelchair with you, the wide doors and low entrances are also more convenient than the high floor on, say, ÖBB's Railjet. The Railjet is the most hostile train I can think of for people with prams due to its high floors and restricted pram space. Want to go first class on the Railjet with your pram? You're out of luck. Pram space is at the other end of the train, deep inside the second class. 

            The second class on the Westbahn is much nicer than the second class on the Railjet. On the Westbahn you get leather seats and carpeted floors, on the Railjet you have drab linoleum and depressing frozen-spinach green seats.

            So the Westbahn is best for:

            1. Prams and wheelchairs
            2. short-notice trips
            3. comfortable and stylish second class ambience
            4. easy tickets

            However, the Railjet is better for:

            1. Longer journeys (say, Munich-Budapest)
            2. Long distance promo deals (I got first class Budapest-Munich for €45 from the Hungarian Railways)
            3. People who value a dining car
            4. the Business Class. The business class on the Railjet is fabulous.

            Surviving deregulated rail

            The Westbahn in Austria is an example of competition making rail services better - better meaning more trains, better service, lower prices.

            The downside is that we, the customers, have to do more thinking, researching and deciding. We also have to get onto the right train. No more sleepwalking.

            I spent six months in Belarus, where there was only one state operator for everything except mobiles, where there were two. I loved how my life was devoid of irrelevant, meaningless decisions I had to make. I could turn my beautiful mind towards things that mattered.

            However, we don't live in the red star's white dwarf. And if we don't know about the special deals out there from competing companies, we end up paying too much for bad service. And perhaps paying too much and ending up on the wrong train.

            With this post, I hope I have helped you understand your options between Salzburg and Vienna by train, as well as beyond the two cities.

            I heartily recommend giving Westbahn a try. I loved every single journey. Between Vienna and Salzburg it is my preferred train.

            All the pictures were taken by my brother Hector, who is studying Art at the Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna. You are most welcome. Check out his Instagram profile: @ettoreschofield
            Nightjet; Night Train; EuroNight
            Dec 14

            Nightjet: 17 Lines of Night Train Awesomeness

            By Edward | Night Trains

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              Have you heard of the Nightjet? 

              The Nightjet is an overnight train service.

              Night trains differ all over the world. This post is about a particular brand of night trains in Europe, the Nightjet. What they are like, where they go and how to get tickets.

              I hesitated for a long time about putting you through my take on the Nightjet.

              Why? Because I’m too involved in night trains. I worked on them for six years. Night trains are my thang. I know so much that it is insanely hard to keep it short.

              And the temptation is huge to descend into endless tales of my adventures.

              Endless tales of my adventures

              • The time in Venice I drank two litres of Tocai on the hotel roof and the alarm clock fairy set my alarm for me.
              • My Milan-Munich couchette with 50 Albanians from the same village.
              • The time the Austrian police arrested a refugee family off my couchette. They wouldn't let the little boy keep his balloon.
              • The time at Stuttgart at 2 AM the police brought me a man and his 5 year old daughter. The man was so drunk he couldn't get onto the train. The girl had her little orange bucket and pink spade from that day's Bodensee outing.
              • Meeting my wife on platform 3 at Roma Termini.
              • Taking her to Milan with me in the guard’s van, just because I could.

              But I digress.

              Nightjet Euronight Night Train

              Nightjet Sleeping Car

              Nightjet Basics

              First, some absolute basics.

              Night trains are not just trains that run at night. Any train can run at night. Night trains are trains that cover vast distances over night, with beds and bunks in which you can sleep.  

              There is also an attendant who ensures your safety.

              Most continental European night trains have three types of carriage

              • seated cars, like on day trains. These are the cheapest, least comfortable option for a long journey over night. Fine if you have a compartment to yourself. Not fine if it is you and five other smelly people.
              • couchettes (say: cooSHET). From the French "to lie down". Carriages with four or six bunks per compartment in which you can take your trip lying down. Think hostel on wheels. Cheap, but you do get to sleep.
              • sleeping cars. Your hotel on wheels. One, two or three proper beds stacked over each other in one compartment. The compartment has a wash basin or even an en-suite bathroom.
              Nightjet; Night Train; EuroNight

              Nightjet Couchette Car

              Enter the Nightjets

              The Nightjets are trains like this. Here is a link to their website with 360° views of all types of carriage. The Nightjet is a network of overnight train services run by the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB - Österreichische Bundesbahnen) in Central Europe.

              It has its hub in Austria. The Nightjets go to the most glamourous cities in Europe: Vienna, Berlin, and Hamburg as well as Rome, Venice and Milan. They also serve Zürich, Düsseldorf and Cologne.

              In 2019 Brussels was added, and in 2020 the Nightjet is expected to reach Amsterdam.

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              What is the difference between Nightjets and EuroNights?

              Very little. EuroNights are international night express trains that have a high service level. Great comfort, few stops, high(-ish) speed. EuroNight isn’t a brand, it is a service standard. “Make your train like this, then you can call it a EuroNight”. They used to run all over continental Europe, but there are fewer of them these days.

              The Nightjet is a better EuroNight. 

              In some countries it crosses, the departure boards display it as a EuroNight. The difference is that the Austrian Railways have branded “their” EuroNights. They have special livery, extensive marketing and a higher service level.  All coaches are air-conditioned and the attendants have Sound-of-Music uniforms.

              Nightjet Destinations

              Here is a map of all the Nightjet services. As you can see, its hub is in Austria.

              The Nightjet network as of 15th December 2019.

              Nightjet: How to get the best tickets

              These are the easiest ways to get Nightjet tickets:

              • You can buy Nightjet tickets online. I favour nightjet.com and oebb.at. They are the same booking engine, run by ÖBB directly. I’ve always got the best deal from them.
              • Or download the ÖBB app. You can buy your ticket within the app. Then you can show your attendant a QR code.
              • The 1890s way to get tickets. Buy them at a ticket office or a licensed agent. However, not all of them can get you special promo deals. Thus you may end up paying more than necessary. Of course, nothing beats a real paper ticket to treasure as a memento.
              • Here is the full breakdown of everywhere you can get tickets.

              You can get your ticket up to six months in advance. The earlier you buy them, the cheaper they'll be.

              Nightjet Ticket Prices

              The Nightjet has a dynamic pricing system. Below you will find the cheapest rates for all categories. I can't book six months in advance because I don't plan my journeys that far ahead. But if you do, you can get your berth for one of these prices.

              The cheapest prices on the Nightjet

              The cheapest Nightjet prices

              I booked my last sleeper about two weeks in advance and paid €204 for a single deluxe sleeper. 

              As you can see, going by Nightjet is more expensive than going on a day train. But it is more work to run a night train. I gladly paid €204 so as not to use up a precious day of leave trapped in an overfilled, late ICE train with a toddler.

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              Nightjet with a Eurail or Interrail pass

              The Eurail and Interrail pass is accepted on the Nightjet.

              However:

              You need to reserve a berth on the Nightjet. It is now possible to do this online: check out my extra post aboutNightjets and Rail Passes.

              Or do it at a ticket office, or over the phone under +43 5 1717-3.

              Nightjet Eurail Interrail

              What you pay on the Nightjet if you have a Eurail or Interrail pass

              Newrest Wagons-Lits: Inventors of the Orient Express

              Now about the staff in the Sound-of-Music uniforms:

              The people working on the service are not Austrian Railways' staff. They work for the subcontractor the Austrians have retained to run these trains.

              I haven't got a single decent picture of the Sound-of-Music uniform. You'll have to see for yourself.

              So far, so sleazy, right?

              No!

              bottle of water

              The free water you get on the Nightjet couchette and sleeper

              In fact Newrest Wagons-Lits is the original night train company. In 1872 their founder, the Belgian Georges Nagelmackers, introduced the first sleeping car in Europe. He founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) and went on to invent the Orient Express.

              Wash room Night Train

              A wash room at the end of the corridor on a Nightjet couchette

              In its heyday CIWL owned sleeping- and dining cars that travelled from Lisbon to Saint Petersburg and from London to Constantinople.

              This is how famous they are.

              After World War II the company declined and was bought and sold several times, losing its own carriages along the way.

              Power outlet

              Socket in Nightjet couchette

              Although Newrest Wagons-Lits may only be a white dwarf after the star that was CIWL, they still trace their lineage back to the very zenith of the Grand European Expresses. They are the real thing.

              I think it is fantastic that the Nightjets hark back to such a glorious past.

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                Sitting up or lying down?

                The Nightjet has three main types of carriage. There is only one type of seating car I know of, two types of couchette, and two models of sleeper carriage. Here come descriptions of the coaches used on most lines.

                A happy and cheap way to travel

                In Europe, compartments in seated carriages are disappearing. It's saloon everywhere. However, not so on the Nightjet. On the Nightjet the compartment rules.

                When I was little an air trip was something so rare you got dressed up for it. The norm was to go by train and boat.

                Seated Car on European Night Train

                Nightjet Seated Car Interior

                So when I was four my mother and I went to England by train to Oostende and jet-foil to Ramsgate.

                I remember the orange seats on the train and that we pulled them out a long way. This gave us a huge surface to lie on. That was how we spent the night.

                A huge communal mattress

                And this is a great thing. The Nightjet seated carriages still have these seats you can pull out. And this gets you a mattress that takes up the entire compartment.

                Seated Car on European Night train

                The communal mattress in action

                This is most comfortable if there are two or three of you. And less so if you are six, as you have to lie like sardines with your feet in each other's faces. Perhaps your Interrail-feet.

                ÖBB allow you to book an entire seated compartment for yourself, even if it is just two or three of you. This is a fantastic idea. Your compartment is marked with a big notice "private compartment" in German, English and Italian.

                Seat Car on European Night Train

                More communal mattress. Notice the sockets above the rubbish bin

                In Italy, the Nightjets to Rome and Milan are part of Trenitalia's Intercity network - that means that commuters and other internal passengers get into the seated cars. 

                If you haven't booked a private compartment, expect to find your seat occupied. Be ready to insist on the occupant moving. This is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Just say: Scusi, è il mio posto. (SCOOzy, eh il MEEo POsto).
                European Night Train Seated Car

                The seated car from the outside

                There is no breakfast included in the seated car, so bring something with you or buy something from the staff.

                Good couchettes and bad couchettes

                Couchettes are a good thing. A couchette is the minimum level of comfort you should go for. They are cheap, and you get to sleep.

                NIghtjet EuroNight Night Train Europe

                Lower bunk in Nightjet couchette

                But.

                It is possible that the younger you are, the better you will sleep in them. 

                NIghtjet EuroNight Night Train Europe

                Upper berth on a Nightjet couchette

                On my recent couchette trips on the Nightjet, I found the bunk very hard. I also hated the way it sloped towards the wall.

                Fortunately, they are going to be phased out, starting 2021. ÖBB are working on new couchettes. They  allow more privacy and comfort. Here is what these are going to look like.

                Nightjet couchette

                Nightjet six-couchette setup

                The Nightjet also has some old German couchettes with blue bunks. ÖBB snaffled these after DB took down its night network. These are softer and flatter. They usually run on the Vienna-Zurich and Zurich-Berlin lines. I've always slept well on those.

                What I can say is this: on every one of my trips, the couchettes were pristine. Everything clean and fragrant and working.​​​​

                Nightjet Euronight Night Train Europe

                Freshly wiped floors in a Nightjet couchette

                And believe me, it is hard work keeping trains clean and working.

                Again, ÖBB allow you to book yourself a whole compartment for a flat fee. Even in Italy this will definitely be yours all the way. I have done this before and it is a great idea.

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                The feeling is wonderful to look forward to your trip and know that you won't have a stinker or a snorer in your compartment.

                On Nightjet couchettes breakfast is included. Coffee or tea, two rolls, butter (NOT margarine!) and jam. Most definitely the best couchette breakfast there is.

                Sleeper

                I know the Nightjet sleepers because I worked on this equipment for six years.

                Nightjet Euronight Night Train Europe

                Freshly made bed in Nightjet sleeper

                Before they ran for the Nightjet, the carriages belonged to Deutsche Bahn. As a Deutsche Bahn night train manager, I got to know them well. In 2016, Deutsche Bahn closed down its night trains and sold the cars to ÖBB.

                Nightjet Euronight Night Train Europe

                Freshly made bed on Nightjet sleeper

                Every time I worked as an attendant in a sleeping car, I drew a little line in a secret place - so that I would know how often I had had this car. Now these carriages roam Europe without me, but my marks are still there.

                Nightjet Euronight Night Train Europe

                Yet another freshly made Nightjet sleeper bed

                The Nightjet sleeping cars are only about 15 years old - new by rail standards.

                Each carriage has twelve compartments with three beds. Nine compartments are standard, with a wash basin. Three compartments are "deluxe" with an en-suite loo and shower.

                As I wrote in my viral tweet:

                When booking the Nightjet sleeper, always book Deluxe (berths 32-36, 42-46, 52-56) if possible. If not, ask for 31-35, 41-45 or 51-55. These compartments have more space. Avoid 11-15 (next to loo) and 62-66 (next to kitchen - keys jangling, attendants cursing).

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                It only costs a tiny bit more for the deluxe option: between €10 and €20 per berth, but it is SO worth it. Because: 

                • You have more space. 
                • If you wake up at 3:37 AM and sort of feel you might need a pee, you just go to your en-suite loo. 
                • No obsessing about whether to get dressed and go to the loo at the end of the corridor or trying to sleep against your bladder.
                • Showers are also a good thing
                Bed on Nightjet sleeping car

                Another Nightjet sleeper bed

                The carriages have pneumatic suspension (the car body lies on air cushions, rather than springs), and this makes for a smooth and silent ride. 

                They are awesome.

                An extensive breakfast is included, which I shall elaborate below.

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                Want to use the Nightjet in your wheelchair?

                Nearly all Nightjets have a compartment for people in wheelchairs, with walking frames or who have other special needs, such as sleep apnoea.

                Wheelchair Nightjet PRM

                The Nightjet wheelchair compartment

                This is a lovely, spacious compartment with two beds in it - one for you and one for whoever is accompanying you. The wheelchair-accessible loo is next door. 

                Wheelchair accessible compartment

                The two beds in the wheelchair-accessible compartment

                There is only one of these per trainset, so it is best to book it as far in advance as possible, but at least 48 hrs beforehand. By the following means:

                Nightjet: A trip worth every cent of €204

                I go to great lengths for you, my reader. One of these lengths is to book myself a single deluxe sleeper and travel in it. For added difficulty, I took my baby daughter with me. With a buggy.

                Toddler sitting on bed

                Oh this again 


                All so I could report back to you what it is like to go on the Nightjet, and what the service is like. After all, I have worked on trains like this, so I should know, right? Well, maybe.

                Getting on

                We managed to get on. Somehow. In spite of all my experience, I managed to fluff getting onto the train with a buggy. Buggies and prams cause absolute mayhem on trains. I hate them. This isn't ÖBB's fault.

                Sidetrack: since going to Bulgaria and back by train with a pram, I've come to love low-entry, wide-door trains. From Bucharest to Ruse I had one of those and it was such a relief not having to dismantle the pram. 

                Prams shouldn't be anywhere near trains. As a train manager, one of my worst Flixtrain nightmares is the Eurocopter/SUV-style pram stuck in the corridor, with a throng of people trapped behind it.

                Going to bed

                The attendant had everything ready, including a small bottle of Prosecco.

                I found a goodie bag which I liked so much I took it home untouched (apart from the prosecco. I guzzled that immediately). I took it home untouched and decided to do an unboxing video for you. Here it is. Don't laugh, and please don't cry, either.

                Nightjet Goodie Bag Unboxing Video


                There are all sorts of lovely little things in the goodie bag that make you feel pampered.

                • Slippers
                • a nice Nightjet towel
                • ear plugs
                • a refreshing wipe
                • little pretzels to go with your drink
                • a squeezy fruit thing

                The breakfast interrogation

                When I worked on sleepers, asking 30 people what they wanted for breakfast was tedious and took ages. 

                After getting on to the sleeper, I found the following questionnaire, which I duly filled out. A very clever idea.

                Nightjet Breakfast Menu

                This leaflet is in German, English and Italian. Tick whatever you want. Brilliant.

                I ticked all the stuff I liked and that I thought a toddler can eat and handed the form to the attendant. Then we were left to ourselves.

                By now we were whooshing through the Rhine valley. By day, the Rhine valley railway is a wonderful trip. At night it is even more beautiful. The moon and the lights from the opposite embankment reflecting on the waves, the dark hills drifting under the stars.
                Toddler on Nightjet bed

                She loved the night light. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On.

                I needed all of the space of the deluxe compartment. It isn't huge. Furthermore, baby stuff spreads out so quickly. I jammed the collapsed buggy and luggage into the nook behind the en-suite bathroom.

                In the sleepers, luggage can go underneath the bottom bed, or in the baggage racks. These are high up. Try and have as little luggage with you as possible. In the smaller of the standard compartments (11-15, 12-16, 21-25, 22-26, 61-65 and 62-66) a big suitcase won't fit anywhere. It ends up blocking the floor.

                Toddler asleep on Nightjet

                She slept all night in this bed

                Getting up and out

                As always when I am on a night train, we were bang on time. I was woken up with a knock 45 minutes before we arrived.

                The Nightjets have lots of extra time in their timetables. Firstly, so that you don't arrive at 4 AM, and secondly so that if the train is delayed it can catch up again. For this reason, the Nightjet stands about in sidings in the middle of the night quite a bit. If you notice you're not moving, don't worry. Everything is probably fine.

                My breakfast pictures didn't turn out. However, my good friend from Twitter, @_DiningCar, helped me out and sent me this lovely picture:

                Breakfast on the Nightjet

                Breakfast on the Nightjet, photographed by my friend @_DiningCar. Check out his wonderful channel on Twitter

                What I think of breakfast in sleepers

                I've already written this in my post on Astra Trans Carpatic: I think breakfast is a waste of time, money and food. I've seen so much thrown away. I favour the Slovak model of weapons-grade instant coffee and Tatranký waffle bar.

                However: The Nightjet breakfast is nice. The selection is staggering, and all the food is above-average quality. Even fussy people can find something on the breakfast menu. I think Newrest Wagons-Lits (the people working on the Nightjets, in case you skipped the Newrest chapter) have made a huge effort. It has paid off and they deserve credit for it.

                The breakfast I served on the CityNightLine (Deutsche Bahn's moribund night train network) was not nearly as nice. Lucky passengers.

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                What I think of the Nightjets

                For two decades since the 1990s, the night trains in Europe have taken one beating after another. Railway company after railway company abandoned them. The Swiss, everybody's darling when it comes to rail travel, were among the first. Then in 2016 Deutsche Bahn finally axed its own CityNightLine network, after sabotaging it for years.

                The Austrian Railways picked up the pieces of the CityNightLine and put it together with their own EuroNight network.

                But not just that: they did much more. They devised a vibrant new brand, a fuck-off marketing strategy and lots of new ideas to accommodate 21st century tastes (e.g. the private compartments). In its very first year, the Nightjet network made money for ÖBB. 

                Nightjet Advert on Tram

                Fuck-off marketing strategy: Nightjet advert on entire tram car in Bratislava - well within Vienna Hbf's catchment area. Courtesy of my friend Martin Pavlík

                The Austrians have proven that it is possible to run exciting, modern night trains as a sustainable, profitable business. 

                Excitement and Indulgence

                The Nightjet gives you that feeling of excitement and indulgence so lacking on most modern trains. From the moment you buy your ticket to the end of your journey you feel the tingle of European overnight adventure, even if it is from one boring German city to another.

                This is why it is worth going on the Nightjet at every possible opportunity.

                Have another look at Nightjet.com and see when it next fits your plans.

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                  Flixtrain
                  Nov 30

                  Flixtrain: No Frills, Max Thrills

                  By Edward | Day Trains

                  TRANSPARENCY DISCLAIMER: I work for BahnTouristikExpress, the company that runs the Flixtrain between Hamburg and Cologne and Cologne and Berlin. More than half of the trains I work are Flixtrains. I love them very much and may be biased. This post is to help you understand the Flixtrain and use it. It also gives you inside knowledge so you can have a nice trip. 

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                    Introducing the Flixtrain

                    You may have heard about the Flixtrain. The Flixtrain is a train service that is marketed by Flixbus, in competition with Deutsche Bahn.

                    ​Maybe you've been wondering how to use them. ​It isn't straightforward, as the Flixtrains operate totally outside the normal rail ticketing systems.

                    This post is to clear all this up. When you have finished you will know everything you need to know about how to use Germany's Flixtrains (and buses).

                    Flixtrain engine

                    Flixtrain "Vectron" engine at Cologne depot

                    Who are Flixbus, anyway?

                    In 2013 the German government, clutching at straws to support Germany's bloated and obsolete motor industry, deregulated long-distance coach travel by scrapping a law from 1935 (a Nazi law) that had made it very difficult to run long-distance coach services. This law was in place to protect the national rail operator.

                    It worked: coach companies mushroomed and there was a surge in orders for coaches.

                    How to Use Flixtrain

                    The Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain at Hamburg-Altona railway station

                    Fast forward five years and the fastest and most furious start-up in the barrel has eaten up the competition and escaped: Flixbus. Now it is on a rampage across Europe and North America.

                    Flixbus see themselves as the Google of mass transit and only actually own one bus. They need it to call themselves a bus company. Flixbus work with subcontractors. Imagine Uber with buses. And now trains.

                    Enter the Flixtrain

                    Before the Flixtrains, some people had tried to start fast mainline services in competition with Deutsche Bahn: the Leipzig-Rostock Interconnex ended up under the buses in 2013, the Hamburg-Köln Express (HKX) withered and the Stuttgart-Berlin Locomore went bankrupt after five months. All failed at bums on seats.

                    Now if there is one thing Flixbus do really well, it's bums on seats. They have become the go-to address for super-cheap travel. It is where the thrifty turn first.

                    Flixtrain review

                    Flixtrain couchette compartment in day mode. Notice the sockets underneath the rubbish bin

                    So Flixbus have breathed life into the HKX and Locomore timetable slots and the HKX and the Locomore have returned undead. They make the trains run, Flix make the people come. For the first time in Germany, there is significant competition in long-distance rail travel.

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                    Where do the Flixtrains go?

                    Currently there are four Flixtrain lines.

                    Flixtrain map

                    The Flixtrain network as of December 2019. Not shown is the occasional Flixnight service from Hamburg-Altona to Lörrach

                    • FLX 10, Stuttgart-Berlin: Run by Czech operator Leo Express. Top speed is 200 km/h (125 mph). Mostly refurbished carriages. The train has a kiosk with quite an extensive menu that includes toasted panini and organic fruit juices.
                    • FLX 20, Hamburg-Cologne: using the HKX slots, run by BahnTouristikExpress (BTE) using their own carriages. Top speed is 160 km/h (100 mph). Old East and West German carriages. Has a minibar with a basic selection of drinks and snacks.
                    • FLX 30, Aachen-Cologne-Berlin-Leipzig: since May 2019. Run by Rail Development Corporation Germany (shareholder in BTE) with its own carriages. Top speed is 200 km/h (125 mph). Mostly ex-DB couchettes in day mode. Has a minibar with a basic selection of drinks and snacks. 
                    • Hamburg-Lörrach Flixnight with one couchette, attached to BTE's Motorail service from Hamburg-Altona to Lörrach, on the German outskirts of Basel. Food and drink available from the BTE staff.
                    Flixtrain review

                    Flixtrain seat compartment

                    Onbord services offered by Flixtrain

                    Though the trains differ depending on who operates them, Flix does demand and provide a certain standard.

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                    Wireless Internet

                    Wireless internet is a Flixbus non-negotiable. When their buses started to run they were famous for it, and it is arguably Flixbus that forced Deutsche Bahn to get off its complacent arse and make free WiFi available on all ICE trains, even in second class - long after it was standard in such advanced places as Slovakia.

                    On a side note, something similar happened in Austria when the Westbahn went into service in 2011 - WiFi was their thang. Just a few months later, ÖBB discovered they could make WiFi work on their Railjets after all.

                    Flixtrain Review

                    Somewhere behind this Cold War era switchboard a 21st century WiFi router is humming away. When it was first used in East Germany, this carriage was pulled and heated by a steam engine

                    Well, Flixtrain have made WiFi work in Cold War carriages. They just did it. Truth be told, onbord WiFi is only as good as the surrounding 4G signal. Between Osnabrück and Hamburg it isn't up to much. In fact, these days Germany is infamous for its pisspoor mobile coverage.

                    Power for your devices

                    Another Flix-Must is sockets for charging your phone and laptop. Though the carriages are old, more and more are being equipped with 220V and USB power outlets.

                    Flixtrain Power Outlet

                    Newly installed power outlet on a Flixtrain

                    Until all coaches have their sockets, Flixtrain has high-performance power banks available for passengers to borrow.  You leave your identity card or passport with the kiosk-staff and they return it to you when you give back the power bank.

                    Flixtrain Power outlet

                    Newly installed power outlet in a Flixtrain couchette

                    Food and drink

                    All Flixtrains have some form of catering. On the Hamburg-Cologne line it is a minibar in one of the carriages. The Stuttgart-Berlin line, on the other hand, has a proper kiosk and an impressive selection of drinks and cold and hot snacks.

                    On the Flixnight service you can get a small selection of snacks from the BahnTouristikExpress staff.

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                    Unexpected luxury

                    The company running the FLX 20 (Hamburg-Cologne) and FLX 30 (Berlin-Cologne) recently bought four half-bistro/first class carriages that used to run in the Berlin-Warszawa express.

                    There are always at least two plying the routes somewhere. The kiosk has moved in here and everyone is very pleased about this unexpected luxury.

                    Flixtrain Bistro car

                    The nicest seats on the Berlin-Cologne Flixtrain

                    Seat reservations

                    Though seating is generally a free-for-all on the Flixtrains, Flixtrain do offer seat reservations on all their day trains. Two carriages have reserved seating, while in the remaining cars it remains open season. 

                    I think this is brilliant. It is much more user-friendly than Deutsche Bahn's reservation system, in which wherever you are sitting someone can come along and say you are in their seat.

                    Flixtrain review

                    Flixtrain's seat numbering system

                    Under the Flixtrain reservation system, as long as you are not in one of the reserved carriages, you can rest assured that your seat is yours.

                    Seat reservations are €3.49, or €3.99 if you want a window - the "panorama option".

                    Flixtrain's seat numbering system reflects their coach mentality. It organises the seats into rows with numbers and seats A, B and C, disregarding the seat numbers the carriages already have, and also the compartment layout.

                    I didn't like it at first, but now I'm, like, whatever works.

                    Note that beyond the seat numbers there is no indication that any particular seat is reserved. There is no electronic display or paper slip showing if a seat is actually reserved
                    How to Use Flixtrains

                    ​Couchette in day mode, as used on the Hamburg-Lörrach Flixnight and the Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain

                    What are the Flixtrains like?

                    I go to great lengths for you, my readers. One of these lengths is to work on the Flixtrain.

                    Since June 2018 I have been working for BahnTouristikExpress, a small train company specialised in special and charter trains. BTE run the Flixtrains between Cologne and Hamburg and Cologne and Berlin. Therefore I spend a lot of time on Flixtrains.

                    Flixtrain Dog

                    Your correspondent looking after a lady's dog while she looks for something

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                      The Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain

                      The Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain is usually formed of ten coaches. Reserved seats are in coaches 1 and 2. In all other carriages it is a free for all.

                      Some of these are seated carriages, some are couchettes in day mode. Nearly all of them are with ten or eleven compartments that seat up to six people, though there are some combined compartment/saloon style carriages as well. There is a bicycle section and space for wheelchairs.

                      Flixtrain review

                      The corridor in a seated carriage on the Flixtrain

                       

                      There is a fun disconnect about the Flixtrain: on the one hand compartments, windows you can open and carriages that could still be heated with steam from a steam engine.

                      On the other hand: WiFi, power outlets and Flix's paperless QR-code tickets. Here I stand with my Flixbus driver app and Bluetooth printer where once a Deutsche Reichsbahn guard meticulously issued hand-written paper tickets.

                      FLX 20 Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain timetable

                      The trains usually leave Hamburg Hbf once, twice or thrice a day. They call at Hamburg-Harburg, Osnabrück, Münster, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and reach Cologne a good four hours later. And vice versa.
                      How to Use Flixtrain

                      Picture taken out of the open window of the Flixtrain, just after leaving Hamburg-Altona

                      Starting December 2019, there are also some express Flixtrains that go non-stop between Essen and Hamburg. These are half an hour faster.

                      There is now at least one Flixtrain per day between Cologne and Hamburg, around the weekend there can be even three.

                      Here is the timetable in full.

                      The Berlin-Stuttgart Flixtrain

                      As mentioned above, the Berlin-Stuttgart Flixtrain uses the coaches and the staff that ran in the short-lived Locomore service. Locomore went bankrupt and were bought up by Czech operator Leo Express. Leo Express run this train, Flixbus market it as a Flixtrain and sell the tickets.

                      New Flixtrain Carriage

                      Refurbished Flixtrain carriage

                      Usually formed of ten coaches. On this train, carriages 7 and 8 are with reservations, while all the others are free seating. 

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                      The original Locomore coaches are partly compartment and partly saloon type, which Locomore had lovingly refitted and augmented with WiFi and sockets. The Locomore colours are still present on the inside. On the outside most of them are now covered with green Flixtrain foil.

                      How to Use Flixtrain

                      Seat in a compartment on the Stuttgart-Berlin Flixtrain, as refurbished by Locomore.

                      To cope with the increased demand, and the extra train now running on the Berlin-Stuttgart line, additional carriages have been martialled from various places. These are mostly combined compartment/saloon carriages with late 1980s interiors. 

                      More and more of these have sockets now. If you end up in one of the carriages without sockets, just fetch yourself a power bank from the minibar.

                      FLX 10 Berlin-Frankfurt-Stuttgart timetable

                      There is at least one Flixtrain from Berlin to Stuttgart every day. On some days there are two. Here is a direct link to their timetable.

                      Flixtrain Berlin Stuttgart Interregio

                      1980s interior of an unrefurbished Flixtrain carriage. Most of these now have USB and 220V. sockets.

                      As of 15th December 2019, the daily Berlin-Stuttgart Flixtrain departs Berlin Hbf at 14:56 and calls at Berlin Südkreuz, Halle, Erfurt, Gotha, Eisenach, Fulda, Frankfurt South, Darmstadt, Weinheim, Heidelberg and Stuttgart. At the weekends there is an additional service that leaves Berlin Hbf. at 06:53. 
                      In the other direction, the daily train leaves Stuttgart early in the morning at 7:04. At the weekends there is an additional service leaving Stuttgart at 14:12.

                      Refurbished Flixtrain carriage

                      New: Berlin-Cologne Flixtrain now extended to Aachen and Leipzig

                      On 23rd May 2019 another Flixtrain line started up. I was the train manager on the inaugural trip from Cologne to Berlin.

                      This Flixtrain consists mainly of ex-City-Night-Line couchettes in day mode and reaches a top speed of 200 km/h at some stages of its journey.

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                      I digress: realistic timetables

                      What is great about this Flixtrain is that it has been realistically timetabled. The timetable assumes a top speed of 155 km/h, and little pockets of extra time abound.

                      If the train is late, it can go faster. It can also leave out the secret stops in the middle of nowhere.

                      Thus it is usually on time. In fact, several times I have reached Berlin Central ahead of schedule. 

                      Flixtrain 200km/h

                      Flixtrain on the high speed line from Berlin to Wolfsburg

                      By contrast, Deutsche Bahn times its ICE with no breathing space. Furthermore, it can't give up its ludicrous fantasy that nothing will go wrong. Of course, things constantly go wrong. The pervasive glitches and failures tear into punctuality, and so Deutsche Bahn's ICEs and ICs are so unreliable. But I digress.

                      On my last trip I left Cologne half an hour late and still got to Berlin 15 minutes early.

                      Leipzig-Berlin-Cologne-Aachen FLX 30 timetables

                      As of 15th December 2019 there is at least one Flixtrain between Leipzig, Berlin, Cologne and Aachen on most days. On some there are two. 

                      The FLX 30 leaves Leipzig and calls at Wittenberg, Berlin Südkreuz, Berlin Hbf, Hanover, Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Aachen. And vice versa. Around the weekend almost all services run the full course, while some terminate at Berlin and Cologne respectively.
                      Flixtrain Berlin

                      Flixtrain waiting at Berlin Südkreuz

                      The Hamburg-Lörrach Flixnight

                      This is something I never saw coming: Flixbus doing night trains.

                      It isn't, not really, not yet. The Flixnight is one couchette car that is sometimes attached to BahnTouristikExpress's AutoReiseZug (motorail) service that runs on summer and holiday   weekends between Hamburg-Altona and Lörrach, on the outskirts of Basel on the German side of the border. 

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                      How to Use Flixtrain

                      Bunk in the Flixnight 5-berth couchette in night mode

                      This is a train consisting of two sleeping cars, four to five couchettes and several car-carriages. The last of the couchettes is dedicated to Flixtrain foot passengers. Each compartment has five berths. No berth numbers are assigned, anyone can go anywhere within the Flixnight carriage.

                      Flixtrain Review

                      Flixnight carriage, in BTE livery, waiting to depart from Hamburg-Altona

                      ​Hamburg-Lörrach Flixnight departure times

                      ​This is the hardest one. I can't find a timetable that spells out on which dates the ​Flixnight runs and on which it doesn't.

                      How to Use Flixtrains

                      Toilet on a Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain

                      On all summer weekends there is at least one service in both directions. During the holidays it runs almost every night. The season ends in October, then there is a flurry of services around Christmas.

                      I can only recommend looking at the Flixtrain website, which automatically points you to when the service is running.

                      In both directions it calls at Hamburg Hbf, Hanover, Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Lörrach Autozug.

                      ​Southbound, the service leaves Hamburg-Altona at 19:50, arriving Freiburg at 06:55 and Lörrach at 08:30.
                      Northbound, it departs Lörrach Autozug at 19:30 and Freiburg at 22:06, arriving Hamburg-Altona at 07:11.

                      Coming in the spring 2020: FLX 15

                      In spring 2020 another line is expected to start up. Flixtrain and a partner called SVG (not my company) are poised to launch a new Flixtrain service between Hamburg and Stuttgart. 

                      As soon as the train is running, I shall have it here too.

                      Great! So how can I get Flixtrain tickets?

                      How to use Flixtrains

                      1st step: enter your destination and travel date here

                      Flixtrain tickets are not sold by the usual railway ticket offices. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the Flixtrains operate completely outside the pan-European ticketing system. No DB tickets are valid on Flixtrains, no Schönes-Wochenende or Quer-Durchs-Land tickets, no Eurail or Interrail passes.

                      The Flixtrain appears in DB Navigator and bahn.de searches. DB will even sell you tickets for itineraries that include the Flixtrain. BUT: No DB ticket is ever valid for the Flixtrain. Ever.

                      Buying Flixtrain tickets online

                      Flixtrain tickets are easiest bought online. 

                      How to Use Flixtrains

                      2nd step: select the service you want to travel on

                      Flixbus's ticketing system is wonderfully easy to use. You can buy tickets online on their website, or download the Flixtrain app from the Apple or Google Play store. You don't have to set up an account (though that does make future bookings easier) and Flix accepts all kinds of electronic payment.

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                      How to Use Flixtrains

                      3rd step: get your credit card out...

                      You are issued with a QR code, either within the app, or as a ticket you can either print out or simply show on your mobile device. Having been on the inspecting end of this system, I have to hand it to Flixbus: it is a wonderful system, so easy to use. It is brilliant.

                      How to use Flixtrains

                      Enter all your details. You can take it from here, can't you? Reserve yourself a seat if you like.

                      What I particularly like is that Flixbus has gone to the trouble of having its system in 35 European languages, including Macedonian and Catalan. You can even pay in Ukrainian Hryvnyas if you so choose.

                      Right. Any way of getting Flixtrain tickets offline?

                      I'm glad you ask. You can get Flixtrain tickets at most major coach-stations (bear with me). 

                      However, there is an increasing number of kiosks, newsagents and tobacconists that sell Flixbus and Flixtrain tickets. Look out for the Flixbus sign.

                      Another offline sales point is at Penny Markt. Penny is a German supermarket chain with a dense network of shops. It is more convenient to go to Penny than to the coach station.

                      Penny Markt Flixtrain

                      At any Penny Markt, go to the service terminal. 1. Enter your travel data. 2. Retrieve voucher. 3. Take voucher to cash desk, pay for your ticket. It is issued on thermal paper AND by email.

                      ​So how much do tickets cost?

                      It depends. Flixtrain adhere strictly to the dynamic pricing system. 

                      Tickets start at €9.99 but rise quickly to €29.99 or €39.99. If you pay on the train, Hamburg-Cologne will set you back €65. Cologne-Berlin - €90.

                      I have seen people on the Flixtrain with tickets that cost €2.19 from Cologne to Hamburg - less than a single bus ticket in most cities in Germany.

                      Tickets for the Flixnight start at €19.99 and rise. A week beforehand in summer you can pay €59.99.

                      Flixtrain review

                      Seated compartment on the Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain.

                      Is it really competition?

                      ​This is what I think of Flixtrains:

                      ​Carriages

                      ​I ​love ​the carriages. Nearly all of them have windows you can open and compartments rather than saloons, which I prefer. However, people who ​like open-plan seating do have somewhere to go as well.

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                      For the last twenty years Deutsche Bahn has been running a sustained assault on everything that people love to remember about trains, namely, windows you can open and wave out of, perhaps with a white handkerchief, compartments that get you into conversations with strangers and, yes, night trains.

                      Flixtrain Greenpeace

                      Flixtrains run on 100% renewable power

                      I'm not sure Flixtrain is big on romance. They just want to get as many people as possible from A to B at the lowest cost. It just so happens that the only trains they can get their agile little mitts on are these indestructible retro sets. While it lasts, Flixtrain is offering you a train ride like it was in the good old days, but with WiFi.

                      How to Use Flixtrains

                      Flixtrain at the Hamburg depot, awaiting next service

                      Why it is viable

                      Flixbus's concept offers something that no other privately-run train operator has been able to muster: a train service that is part of a greater network. 

                      Deutsche Bahn's ICEs and ICs are fed by regional trains and S-Bahns, and Deutsche Bahn can sell you a reasonably priced ticket for the whole journey. They can even rent a car out to you at ​your destination.

                      Flixtrains are fed by, and feed, Flixbuses. Together they form a network. Flixbus can sell you a ticket that begins on a bus, goes on to a train, then back onto another bus. Though Flixtrains run isolated from the other trains, they are closely knit into the Flixbus network. And this generates the critical mass of passengers needed to sustain a train service.

                      Flixtrain 200 RIC

                      Side panel of Flixtrain carriage. Note the marking "200", denoting the its maximum permissible speed. All European trains have these

                      The return of third class travel 

                      Deutsche Bahn's newest trains have soft LED-lighting that adjusts to the time of day even in the second class, fair trade coffee and organic salads. In doing so, they have left a huge market behind. 

                      Flixtrain is bringing back basic train travel, at a time when it is desperately needed. There is nothing wrong with that. In France, SNCF are doing the same with their OUIGO trains.

                      Lots of people welcome this - students, pensioners, even business travellers.

                      Flixtrain Sunrise

                      Flixtrain going forth towards the rising sun

                      Flixtrain gets its people from one place to another reasonably comfortably, at a reasonable speed and at a reasonable price.

                      For this reason, it is hard to see Flixtrain as competition for Deutsche Bahn because a sizeable amount of the Flixtrain customers never used Deutsche Bahn's trains in the first place. 

                      Flixtrain is opening train travel to people who never went by train, and that is fantastic

                      Click to Tweet

                      And I love the passengers. They are polite, they don't complain, they are happy to be going somewhere. When we arrive they get off and tell me what a nice trip it has been. 

                      Flixtrain review

                      Couchette compartment in day mode, with an open window

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                      Future Flixtrains in Sweden, Belgium and France

                      Flixtrain has advanced plans for starting train services in Sweden, France and Belgium.

                      What do I mean by advanced plans? 

                      • Flixtrain have already applied for track access paths in these countries. There is talk of trains between Gothenburg and Stockholm, between Paris and Brussels and between Paris and Nice - overnight!
                      • I understand some 140 RIC (internationally usable) carriages are  being refitted for Flixtrain services
                      • I recently had a Flixtrain route planner on one of my trains. We had a lovely chat. He was brimming with optimism and seemed ready to take over Europe with green trains. 

                      It remains to be seen what will come to fruition and how soon. 

                      Watch this space. As soon as a service starts running, I shall write about it here. In the meantime...

                      ​Give it a try

                      Now we've reached the end of this post. I hope you have enjoyed it.

                      Flixtrain is one of the most exciting developments so far on the European fast-train market. In some countries like Austria, Italy and Czechia there is competition on the railways. I reviewed new Romanian operator Astra Trans Carpatic in another.

                      In Germany, so far, competition has failed. Germany, with its huge motor lobby, is a hostile environment for anyone wanting to run trains. Now Flixbus, of all people, have entered the train market with a singular focus on low prices, and combined with their extensive bus network it looks as if the Flixtrains have come to stay. At least for the next few years.

                      Flixtrain Nightjet

                      Flixtrain waiting at Cologne depot

                      In spite of their ambition and their mighty backers, Flixbus could pull out of the train business very quickly if they decide it's not working. So while they dabble in the train market, have a go on the Flixtrains. They are great fun. 

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                        Oct 31

                        The Future of Night Trains: at the Back on Track EU Conference in Hamburg

                        By Edward | Night Trains

                        This lovely image with the Polish night train at Kraków station is courtesy and © of my friend Martin Pavlík.

                        Sup, Night Trains?

                        The Future of Night Trains was the main topic at the recent Back-On-Track EU conference in Hamburg. Back-On-Track.EU hosted it together with a group called Prellbock Altona, who are running a successful campaign to prevent Hamburg-Altona station from being demolished and relocated into the sticks at Hamburg-Diebsteich.

                        I've known Joachim Holstein, the organiser, since our nights at CityNightLine, Deutsche Bahn's night train service..

                        Neither of us have come to terms with our CityNightLine trains being closed down. I started this blog, Joachim started his NGO, Back-On-Track.EU for propagating night trains. Joachim fought like a lion to stop DB closing down CityNightLine. 

                        • He dragged the managers in front of parliament multiple times
                        • He uncovered the fudged statistics DB was using to make the CityNightLine look like a basket case
                        • all to no avail.
                        Altona old station

                        This building was Altona's first main station in the 19th century. What better place to have a conference about trains?

                        Me as spontaneous interpreter

                        Joachim asked me if I'd like to tag along and perhaps do the odd translation. I ended up interpreting the three hour panel discussion in English and German from start to finish.

                        This year's Back-On-Track.EU conference featured a cool panel with

                        • Patrik Nylander from the Swedish Ministry of Transport, 
                        • Karima Delli, French Green MEP and president of the Commission on Transport and Tourism at the European Parliament (whose train from Paris was a staggering four. hours. late.)
                        • Nick Brooks, Secretary General of ALLRAIL, the alliance of Rail New Entrants
                        • Bernhard Knierim, representing the German grassroots organisation Bahn für Alle (Rail for all)
                        • Carl Süß from #FridaysForFuture
                        • Sven Pöllauer, ÖBB official, representing the biggest night train operator in Europe
                        The panellists were there to discuss from their various viewpoints what is to be done about night trains and how to get them back on track. 

                        All in all it is 14 videos. I include here Joachim's introduction in English. The panel discussion is in the first six videos.


                        And here, for shameless self-promotion purposes, is the part where I come in.


                        Sorry, Ed, I can't watch three hours of videos!?!

                        Of course you can't.

                        Here's the gist of the panel discussion:

                        • Patrik Nylander, the Swedish civil servant, spoke about the Swedish government's efforts to promote the future of night trains from Sweden to the continent. There are studies and commissions working on the most feasible model

                          • should the Swedish government simply buy trains and pay someone to run them?
                          • should they tender?
                          • There are many regulatory and technical hurdles that complicate the running of international night trains. Example: Swedish trains are bigger and wider than continental European or indeed British trains.
                          • How should modern night trains even be configured to accommodate today's tastes?
                        • Sven Pöllauer, the Austrian Railways representative, thanked Back-On-Track for its support and spoke about ÖBB's ongoing commitment to the future of night trains and impending plans

                          • ÖBB is spending €200m on new Nightjet stock with all mod cons
                          • From January 2020, there will be a twice-weekly Nightjet service from Vienna to Brussels and back
                          • From January 2021, there will be a Nightjet from Vienna to Amsterdam
                          • You don't get rich running night trains, but if you do it well, you can run it as a sustainable business. Nightjets are regularly booked out.
                        • Nick Brooks, the Secretary General of ALLRAIL, the new rail entrants' lobbyist spoke about how open access and competition can help revitalise night trains

                          • If governments (like the Swedish) want night trains, they should definitely put them out to tender as the service will be cheaper and better.
                          • There has to be competition among rail companies so that trains per se will become more competitive against planes and cars
                          • Access to rolling stock would make it easier for new operators to start up night train services.
                        • Bernhard Knierim, the Bahn für Alle man, spoke at length about the continued disadvantages trains face vs. planes and cars.

                          • There is still no tax on flight fuel, but trains are taxed for their electricity and diesel
                          • cars and coaches pay no toll on German motorways, yet trains have to pay track access charges
                          • Booking train travel across Europe is not for the faint-of-heart. You need to know what you are doing
                          • It must be possible to book all trains on one neutral platform. 
                        • Carl Süß, the 16 year-old #FridaysForFuture youth, spoke for quite a while and made some valid points about night trains, astounding in their simplicity:

                          • Its got to be easier to book trains. It should be as easy to book a train as it is to book a plane
                          • trains have got to be cheaper
                          • they have got to get better: the loos have to work and they have to run on time.
                        • Karima Delli, the MEP, couldn't say anything about the Future of Night Trains as she was still trapped inside an ICE somewhere between Hanover and Hamburg. A tree had come down on her line. The blame for this can be put squarely at DB's feet for neglecting vegetation. 

                        Every time there is a major storm in Germany the German rail network grinds to a halt because trees along the lines have been ignored for too long and come down on the lines.

                        So, how does the future of night trains look?

                        Here is my understanding of what we can agree on:

                        The political climate is changing

                        Thanks to Greta Thunberg and #flygskam, a new urgency has been injected into trains vs. planes.

                        • Sweden is already taking real steps to foster night trains. 
                        • Everyone knows we are going to have to go more by train and less by plane.
                        • For very long distances, the night train would be perfect.

                        So the next few years are going to be exciting.

                        National hurdles must come down

                        In the European Union, and in Europe beyond the EU, it is insane that every national carrier is working away on its own. Indeed, some of them have spent the last two decades sabotaging each other.

                        • Track access has to come down and be harmonised across the EU
                        • Approval, regulations and standards have to be unified. At the moment any given train has to conform to the regulations of every country it passes through.
                        My thoughts on this: We already had (and indeed still have) unified standards. Any RIC carriage can roam across the RIC railways. Nightjets use RIC carriages and FlixTrain is also concentrating all efforts on RIC carriages. It is just that in the market dominated by SNCF and DB, very-high-speed trains have been the flavour of the month. Locomotive-hauled RIC carriages have been unfashionable, in spite of their top speed of 200km/h.

                        Booking must become easier

                        • There has to be a unified booking engine that can sell you one ticket from one end of Europe to the other, irrespective of which operator's train you are on
                        My thoughts: This also used to exist. In a world with only national carriers it worked. Now there are lots more operators offering super-cheap promo deals. There will never be "the one" booking engine for all operators. The sooner we accept that and move on, the better. There are already quite powerful booking engines (Trainline, Omio, Loco2) that have astounding reach. But they can't access all operators and their edgier promo deals.

                        By the way, this blog is all about travelling Europe by train and getting the best tickets. Consider subscribing. It is absolutely free and will make you a smarter rail traveller.

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                          The Nightjet is expanding

                          Austrian Railways are the most exciting thing in night trains right now:

                          • They've got new night trains in the pipeline
                          • from January 2020 they will be running twice-weekly between Vienna and Brussels
                          • From January 2021 Amsterdam will be attached to the Nightjet network

                          More of my Thoughts: Private vs. Public

                          Flixtrain Nightjet

                          Flixtrain waiting at Cologne depot next to Nightjet

                          I used to be firmly in the national railways camp. Private was the devil.

                          Now I'm much more "whatever works". I want people to have attractive trains, and lots of them.

                          National carriers Deutsche Bahn and SNCF between them have destroyed a once vast night train network. While it is true that deregulated air travel has damaged international rail travel, DB and SNCF went out of their way to take down international night trains.

                          On the other hand Austrian national carrier ÖBB is running night trains at a European level, and doing it well. Russian Railways currently run the only night trains between Paris and Berlin and Berlin and Warsaw.

                          Russian Railways @RuRailways run the only direct train between Paris and Berlin and Warsaw. Makes yer think.

                          Click to Tweet
                          Astra Trans Carpatic Review

                          The yellow-green livery of Astra Trans Carpatic

                          Meanwhile, private companies RegioJet in Czechia and Slovakia, and Astra Trans Carpatic in Romania have launched competitive and exciting night train services in their countries. TransKlassServis has interesting propositions in Russia.

                          I would also watch FlixTrain: They have ambitious plans to roll out FlixTrains across Europe, using tried-and-tested RIC carriages. I believe that FlixTrain is going to make the likes of DB and SNCF look very silly very soon.

                          Now what?

                          For further reading, have a look at my Nightjet and Astra Trans Carpatic posts. Or subscribe to my blog for the password to my e-guide library and my sporadic emails about train travel in Europe.

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                            Oct 16

                            Nightjet + Eurail Pass: How to Book Online

                            By Edward | Night Trains

                            First off: For "Eurail", read "Eurail or Interrail". I can't be bothered to keep naming the two individually. For the purposes of this post, Eurail and Interrail are the same. Both are rail passes. Interrail is issued to people who live in Europe, Eurail is issued to people who don't live in Europe.

                            If you have a Eurail pass, your life just got much easier.

                            Recently Austrian Railways made it possible for Eurail pass holders to book Nightjet supplements (seat reservations, or couchette or sleeper berths) online through their online booking engine. Several Euronight connections are also available.

                            Before then pass holders could only book by phone or on the ground at the ticket office. A terrible hassle it was, especially if you lived in Paraguay.

                            So it is thrilling news that you can at last book Nightjet berths in advance from the veranda of your Estancia as you sip Mate and watch your cows graze.

                            Nightjet + Eurail / Interrail Pass: 3 steps to your berth

                            1.

                            First of all, open up your browser and navigate to ÖBB's ticket website. Start the search with your date and directions. 

                            ÖBB Tickets Online

                            Start by entering your travel date and time. At this stage you have nowhere to declare your rail pass. Don't let this stop you.

                            You will see a selection of prices. Normal prices that is.

                            Nightjet + Eurail Interrail

                            This is what you see. Now comes the time to add your discount.

                            2.

                            Now if you look at “Adult” there will be a little link saying “Change”. Click it.


                            After the first search, notice on the right the new field "Who is Going", which shows "1 x adult" by default. Click "Change"


                            Now you can choose from a range of concessions. “Interrail / Eurail” comes last, when you have already given up hope. Select that concession.

                            Nightjet + Eurail

                            To make things easy for you, ÖBB has hidden "Interrail / Eurail - Globalpass" at the bottom of a pile of irrelevant niche discounts

                            3.

                            Now search again. You will be shown much lower prices.

                            Nightjet + Eurail Interrail

                            And here you see your options after setting the discount to Interrail / Eurail Globalpass

                            After that you go on to select the berth you prefer.

                            Nightjet + Eurail Interrail

                            Add the €14 basic supplement to your basket, then go on to choose your berth

                            Other European Night Trains + Eurail / Interrail Pass

                            You can follow the same procedure for several other Euronight night trains with a shred of Austrian involvement: 


                            • Berlin-Przemyśl 
                            • Vienna-Bucharest
                            • Munich-Zagreb
                            • Zürich-Budapest
                            • Vienna-Kiev (see below)

                            Eurail Travel days and Night Trains: How to get it right

                            While we are at it, let me just mention how to manifest night trains on your Eurail pass.


                            An overnight train starts its journey on the evening of one day and finishes it on the next day. Does that mean that a night train needs two Eurail pass travel days?


                            No, it doesn't.

                            When using a night train with a Eurail pass, you only fill out one travel day: the day of departure. You get the morning after thrown in. Bam. Forget anything anyone ever told you about any 7 pm rule. The 7 pm rule is obsolete.

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                              Ukraine by Eurail / Interrail pass


                              Many night trains leave Vienna every night. One goes to Ukraine - one of Europe’s most interesting countries. There is a daily sleeper train from Vienna via Budapest to L’viv and Kiev. 


                              The bad news is that Ukraine is not a Eurail country.


                              Thanks to the tireless work of dedicated ÖBB managers (see @vorortanleiter on Twitter), it is now possible to book the Vienna-Kiev sleeper online and get your Eurail pass counted up to the Ukrainian border.


                              Combining your Eurail pass with a standard ticket into Ukraine used to be an ordeal. Ticket-wise it was a yoga-position into which only the best ticket sellers could wrench themselves. You needed time and patience to coax your ticket out of them.

                              Lviv Opera house

                              I took this picture of L'viv Opera House on my Un-Interrail trip to Ukraine when I was 20. Oh man. That was 140 years ago. Things were all in sepia then.


                              Not anymore. Now you can book the whole thing online with ÖBB. And can make an elegant incursion into Ukraine to see L’viv or even Kiev.


                              L’viv is a gorgeous central European city with cobbles and trams and coffee houses, while Kiev is the ancient capital of Kievan Rus’, the Mother of Russian cities and now the sizzling centre of independent Ukraine. No Eurotrip should miss this exciting European country.

                              Ukraine with your Eurail Pass: 3 steps to your berth

                              1.

                              Navigate to ÖBBs ticket website. Enter the details for your query.

                              Vienna Lviv Eurail

                              So go and enter Wien - Lviv. Up comes this price.

                              Prices for the Ukrainian train are always the same. They include the berth in a sleeping car. You can choose between T3, Double or Single. See my Nightjet post for what this means.

                              2.

                              Now if you look at “Adult” there will be a little link saying “Change”. Click it.

                              VIenna Lviv Eurail

                              In the bit about "Who is going" click "change".

                              Up pops the mask in which you can choose your relevant discount. Interrail/Eurail Globalpass is at the very bottom of a very long list. Type "Inter" in the search field, then it comes up straight away.

                              Nightjet + Eurail

                              To make things easy for you, ÖBB has hidden "Interrail / Eurail - Globalpass" at the bottom of a pile of irrelevant niche discounts

                              3.

                              The system recalculates the prices. Because you have a Eurail pass, you already have a ticket for the Austro-Hungarian section of your journey. What you still have to pay for is your sleeper berth and the Ukrainian section. 

                              Vienna Lviv Eurail

                              After adding the Interrail / Eurail Globalpass you get a much more humane price. This is for a T3 sleeper

                              Add to your basket, decide if you want T3, Double or Single and proceed to checkout. ÖBB has the brains to show you the following friendly reminder:

                              Vienna Lviv Eurail

                              ÖBB make it clear you have to print out your ticket at a ticket machine or counter IN AUSTRIA

                              This is crucial. It means that if you book, say, L'viv-Vienna, you have to print out your ticket at an ÖBB ticket machine or counter.

                              Why do I need a sleeper?

                              The Vienna-Kiev train is in fact one or two Ukrainian sleeping cars that are attached to a series of trains heading east. This is why you have to book a sleeping car berth. There is no couchette or seated car option. On the up side, it is not expensive and you get a proper bed. 

                              You may have realised I love Ukraine. While my school pals went on an Interrail tour, I spent three weeks on Ukrainian trains between L’viv, the Crimea and Odessa. Check out my fellow blogger Megan Starr for in-depth work on Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries.


                              Further reading


                              If you want to read more about night trains in general, check out my Nightjet post or my Astra Trans Carpatic post. Or join 500 other smart rail travellers and subscribe to my blog to download my free e-guides.

                              Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club.

                              Get the password to my free e-guide library and irregular updates

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