All Posts by Edward

About the Author

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

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

    I respect your privacy. No spam, ever. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    Powered By ConvertKit
    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.

    Click to Tweet
    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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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).

    Click to Tweet

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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. 

    Get my Flixtrain Inside Tips free, PLUS


    • the password to my free e-guide library
    • sporadic updates when I publish something

      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.

      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.

      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.

      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

      Get my Flixtrain inside tips

      Subscribe to my blog

        I respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

        Powered By ConvertKit

        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. 

        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.

        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. 

        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.

        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.

        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

        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. 

        Now, how's about subscribing to my blog and downloading my Flixtrain Insider Tips?

        Get my Flixtrain inside tips

        Subscribe to my blog

          I respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

          Powered By ConvertKit


          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.

          Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club.

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

            I respect your privacy. No spam, ever. Unsubscribe at anytime.

            Powered By ConvertKit

            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.

            Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club.

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

              I respect your privacy. No spam, ever. Unsubscribe at anytime.

              Powered By ConvertKit
              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.

              Join my free Rail Guide Europe Club.

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

                I respect your privacy. No spam, ever. Unsubscribe at anytime.

                Powered By ConvertKit


                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

                  I respect your privacy. No spam, ever. Unsubscribe at anytime.

                  Powered By ConvertKit
                  Train to Prague
                  Sep 30

                  Můj vlak: Use this Sublime App for Cheapest Tickets

                  By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

                  Můj vlak: Czech Rail’s Amazing Train App


                  Czechia may be a small country. But it has a great railway. Perhaps even greater than the Swiss railway. Apart from superb and cheap day trains, České Drahy have night trains and proper dining cars. Little ČD rail buses ply the forests and hills and reach even the tiniest hamlets of this romantic Central European country. If you are headed for Prague by train, have a look at Můj vlak.


                  Můj vlak is the mobile app made by České Drahy. It runs on iPhones and Android phones. 


                  Můj vlak can be used in Czechia for buying České Drahy tickets and seat reservations. It can also sell you tickets beyond the Czech border - deep into Slovakia, Hungary and Germany.

                  Czech train in the Snow

                  Czechia is one of the few countries where you get to travel like this. © Martin Pavlík


                  How to set it up

                  • Download Můj vlak from Google Play or the Apple App store. Out of the box, you can use it for timetable, train and station enquiries.
                  • If you want to use it to buy tickets and seat reservations, you are going to need an account (click here to set one up now). This is possible both in the app or in an internet browser.
                  • That's it. Můj vlak comes in Czech, English and German. You may have to adjust the language.


                  Main features

                  The main menu has four categories. Each category has a search mask of its own. ​​

                  Home screen in Můj vlak

                  Connections (Timetables)

                  The Connections section looks up connections across Europe. With an internet connection it is powerful. Můj vlak finds connections even in Russia (I hit it with Blagoveshchensk-Birobidzhan). It only gives up when you ask it something insane - “Tashkent Pass-Brest (*F)”

                  Muj Vlak Connections Mask

                  Connections search mask in Můj vlak


                  There is an extra menu in which you can specify your particular whims and fancies, such as “No ICE trains” or “via Orsha” or “Special and historic trains”. This is very detailed and immensely helpful if you want to zero in on a particular route.

                  Train

                  This is a beautiful function I haven’t seen anywhere else. You can enter the number or name of a particular train ("442", say, or "Poľana" - my favourite eastern escape train), upon which it shows that service, including its timetable, amenities and operator.

                  The closer to Czechia, the more detail, but it gets good results even in the near abroad.

                  Edit your caption text here

                  Station

                  This function is Czechia only. Enter a Czech station name and it shows you a map, a list of what there is at the station and how long it is open. Also which public transport lines stop at the station.

                  Czech Railcar Domazlice

                  Czech diesel railcar at Domazlice station. © Martin Pavlík


                  If travelling Czechia by rail this is a must have.

                  Tickets

                  For domestic Czech services this is home turf for Můj vlak. However, Můj vlak can furnish you with lots of tickets into or out of the country. You can get all the way from Prague to Brussels or vice versa with Můj vlak. 

                  In fact, Můj vlak makes it possible to reach some German destinations at a super promotional price. I have written a report about using Můj vlak and Czech Rail for genius ticket-splitting. Subscribe to my blog and I'll send you the report. 

                  Join the Rail Guide Europe Club

                  Subscribe so I can send you the report.

                  You also get the password to my E-Guide Library, and updates if there is anything new on the blog. Unsubscribe anytime.

                    I won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

                    Powered By ConvertKit



                    Můj vlak also gets you seat reservations - even for some trains outside Czechia. For instance, you can get seat reservations for any German train in Můj vlak… for €3 (79 CZK) instead of €4.50

                    What I was up to last January



                    Other nice functions


                    • The Share function. A brilliant feature I have seen only in Můj vlak. You take a train’s timetable - or an itinerary consisting of several trains - and share it. Be it by text message, DM, email... whatever. I use it often for giving air support to friends in need. Here is what that looks like: 
                    • EC 213 Mimara
                      27.09.2019
                      Villach Hbf [*A] > Zagreb Glavni Kolod. [*HR]
                      Villach Hbf [*A]: 16:53
                      Faak am See [*A]: 17:06, 17:07
                      Jesenice(SL) [*SLO]: 17:33, 17:39
                      Lesce Bled [*SLO]: 17:50, 17:51
                      Kranj [*SLO]: 18:11, 18:12
                      Ljubljana [*SLO]: 18:33, 18:36
                      Zidani Most [*SLO]: 19:27, 19:29
                      Sevnica [*SLO]: 19:44, 19:45
                      Dobova [*SLO]: 20:07, 20:21
                      Zagreb Glavni Kolod. [*HR]: 20:51
                      Generated by the Můj vlak mobile application, http://www.cd.cz

                    • The offline timetables. Offline Timetables! Můj vlak allows you to download timetables for particular European countries and regions. This means Můj vlak can do connection searches even when you have no internet connection. It insists you download the package for Czechia, but after that, it is up to you what you save for offline use. This is a brilliant function. The only other app with this is the InterRail/Eurail Rail Planner. Only Můj vlak updates its timetables every few days, not every six months.
                    • Real time information. Works best in Czechia, but is quite good even beyond CZ. If you have a ticket in Můj vlak and need to change somewhere, a few minutes before your station it notifies you with...
                    • The puffing of a steam engine! The notification noise is the puffing of a steam engine! Isn’t that amazing?

                    ..

                    Czech local train

                    Typical Czech fast train. © Martin Pavlík

                    Its use for the Eurail/Interrail Tourist

                    In Czechia:

                    If you are in Czechia this app is a godsend for accurate, up-to-date timetable information and making seat reservations. The station function is also extremely useful.

                    Beyond Czechia

                    The use of Můj vlak for the European Rail tourist is threefold:

                    1. In Central Europe it provides great access to cheap tickets and reservations in an easy to use app
                    2. It has a powerful search function and can find you connections almost all over Europe. 
                    3. It allows you to download timetables and have them offline. If you were on an Interrail tour, I’d sooner recommend you downloaded Můj vlak than InterRail’s own Rail Planner. InterRail’s Rail planner is a stock HAFAS app branded with InterRail. Old versions of DB Navigator and PKP’s Bilkom app are suspiciously similar.
                    Romantic Czech Rail Bus

                    One of those rail buses plying forests and hills. © Martin Pavlík

                    Můj vlak in a Nutshell 

                    Here are the main things Můj vlak has going for it. See below also for Můj vlak's peccadilloes.

                    Pros

                    • Clean, uncluttered interface in which you find everything quickly
                    • Decent connection search
                    • Immensely useful train search function by name or number
                    • Library of timetables you can choose to have offline.
                    • Access to certain insanely cheap deals beyond Czechia.

                    Cons

                    • Connections function not quite as strong as DB Navigator 
                    • Some small bits are in Czech even when the app is set to English
                    • On lines where there are other operators (Bohumín-Praha hl.n., for instance), Můj vlak neglects to mention the services run by RegioJet and LeoExpress. Understandable, but still disappointing.

                    Conclusion

                    Můj vlak is a supremely powerful and useful app. In Czechia it will be your special friend, in Germany it will be your dirty secret. Both are great to have.


                    If you are on an extended European tour by train, Můj vlak is the app I particularly recommend, due to its up-to-date offline timetables and powerful connection search function.


                    Subscribe to my blog for my report about Můj Vlak's added uses in Germany. Speaking of Germany, check out my post with two hacks that can slash your German rail fare.

                    Join the Rail Guide Europe Club

                    Subscribe so I can send you the report.

                    You also get the password to my E-Guide Library, and updates if there is anything new on the blog. Unsubscribe anytime.

                      I won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

                      Powered By ConvertKit
                      Italian train tickets
                      Jul 20

                      Avoid Long Queues and Pickpockets: Get Italian Local Train Tickets at the Bar

                      By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

                      Where to get Italian local train tickets?

                      So there you are at Roma Termini (Rome's main station). You need an Italian local train ticket to Orte. The queue at the ticket office is huge. Hey - why not use one of these ticket machines that are all over the place?

                      You find yourself a nice machine (one without sputum all over the touchscreen) and press the flag for English. It springs to life and blares:

                      "BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS! IN CASE OF NEED, ASK ONLY TRENITALIA STAFF FOR MORE INFORMATION".

                      That was earsplitting. Your ears are still ringing as you look behind you.

                      You're blown sky-high. Assorted station pondlife is now looking at you. Wise to the fact that you are a sitting duck. A helpless victim. Already three men are offering to "help" you with the ticket machine.

                      Run. 

                      Didn't see that coming? Neither did I when tried to get Italian local train tickets from a ticket machine.

                      It doesn't have to be like this.

                      Italian ticket machines

                      Trenitalia ticket machines at Milano Centrale

                      A hidden way to get Italian local train tickets

                      For spontaneous tickets for local trains, three options spring to mind:

                      • go to the ticket office, 
                      • go to a ticket machine,
                      • or buy online

                      Ticket office means queueing. Ticket machines: getting to grips with unknown software. Online: yet another account or app, yet another password, credit card numbers, CVCs, TANs, pick-up codes (so you still have to use a machine)... waaaaah!!!

                      However.

                      In Italy, there is a fourth option. Much easier, much more convenient. One that we tourists don't know about.

                      Buy Italian local train tickets with Sisal Pay 

                      I first noticed Sisal Pay while on holiday at Otranto. Passing a bookmaker's with a little girl over my shoulder (my little girl, obviously. As featured in my Nightjet post), this is what I saw:

                      Sisal Pay Trenitalia

                      What it says on this advertisement: "Enter a SisalPay point and you are already at the station. If your train is regional, your ticket office is all over Italy with SisalPay". I really admire this Italian pragmatism.

                      Sisal is a bookmaker. It was founded in 1946. People have been putting money on the horses and the football with Sisal for 70-odd years.

                      In 1995 Sisal started selling local train tickets and in 2002 they took up processing all sorts of payments with Sisal Pay. Now Italians pay for their gas and electricity with it, and use it to pay cash for things bought on Amazon. It is a useful service.

                      €10 on Napoli to score first, and a single to Domodossola please

                      Sisal Pay terminals are all over the place. In addition to the bookmakers, any bar, tobacconist or newsagent can attach itself to the Sisal Pay network by getting a Sisal terminal.

                      Any place that has a @SisalPay terminal can furnish you with local train tickets. There are 40,000 of them throughout Italy. And definitely one near you.

                      Click to Tweet

                      Great! So how do I get my tickets?

                      Sisal Pay

                      Look out for this logo

                      Keep your eyes peeled for the above logo. Any bookmaker and countless bars and tobacconists should have a sticker or a sign somewhere, indicating that they do Sisal Pay. 

                      At a newsagent's or tobacconist's, just queue up (it won't be a long queue). At a bar, make for the cashier and queue up there - in Italian bars you usually pay for what you want at the till, then take your receipt to the actual bar and order your drink. 

                      Sisal Pay Italian train tickets

                      This is what you might see at the entrance to a bar or newsagents

                      A packet of Marlboro Touch, a Grazia and a ticket to Civitavecchia

                      This only works for local trains. I've read the terms and conditions for you. Here is what you can get using Sisal Pay:

                      • Tickets for regional trains (treni regionali) operated by Trenitalia, Trenord and Ferrovie del Sud Est for distances up to 600 km and across more than one region. 
                      • season tickets up to 250 km of distance
                      Sisal Pay cannot get you tickets for mainline trains - Freccias, Intercity or night trains. Only the local trains in your region. This keeps things simple. But often, this is all you need. 

                      In practice you will only be using Sisal Pay for short trips on which you don't want to blow a Eurail/Interrail pass travel day.

                      There are some tiny local operators (Ferrovie Udine Cividale, say, and Circumvesuviana) that don't sell through Sisal Pay. But these companies still distribute tickets through newsagents and tobacconists.
                      local train Italy

                      More idyllic local train porn

                      Do I have to speak Italian?

                      Well, a little bit of ticket-Italian would help you a lot. Even Grazie (GRAH-tsee-ay - thank you) alone is a small courtesy that won't go unnoticed.

                      Proper ticket sellers are used to dealing with even the most incomprehensible foreigners. In bars and newsagents, they might be a little less experienced.

                      At the same time, English and Italian are similar enough that if you speak English and wave your arms for a while, you'll get what you need in the end.

                      Italian local trains

                      Tiny station on the line from Otranto to Maglie

                      Introducing the Italian Ticket Template

                      However, to save you the effort, I've designed an Italian ticket template in which you simply fill in the blanks.

                      Either download it and print it, or save it onto your tablet or phone and write on it with a photo editor.

                      The first half is for simple tickets, but I've also put in options for more advanced operations involving reservations and night trains.  In most cases, this will see you through - but if not, it will definitely get you started.

                      You can find the Italian ticket template in the e-guide library. It is free. Subscribe to my blog (that is, join the free Rail Guide Europe club) for the password. I've put a button below so you can do that now ❤️

                      Want free access to my e-guides?

                      Subscribe to my blog and get the password to my library. Be the first to know when I've managed to write a new thing. Unsubscribe anytime.

                      The easiest way to get local train tickets

                      While in Italy I tried this out several times. Once at a bookie, twice at my local bar.

                      Both times it was easy. I didn't have to wait at all and I had my tickets immediately. No commission was charged

                      Italian tickets from the bar

                      Though these stickers don't explicitly mention tickets, I did manage to get mine from this bar. All that matters is the Sisal Pay logo.

                      Is there a catch? Well, one tiny one: the ticket is only valid for the day you specify. If your plans change, you can exchange your ticket at a Sisal Pay point up until 23:59 before the day of travel. You just have to pay a €0.50 surcharge. 

                      The ticket is issued on Sisal's thermal paper - the same used for bets and lotteries. Keep it away from heat and try not to scrunch it up.

                      Sisal Pay Train Ticket

                      Local train ticket issued through Sisal Pay at a bar. Notice the arrows indicating where to validate your ticket

                      Now I'm sure some of you would prefer a real railway ticket from a proper Biglietteria etc. etc. But for the whatever-works gals out there, this is absolutely brilliant and saves much time and misery.

                      Buon viaggio and alla salute

                      So next time you are in Italy and need tickets for a local train, just look out for a bar with the Sisal logo.

                      • Order yourself a lovely Cynar Spritz and your ticket.
                      • Take a sip.
                      • Say a little prayer for the poor people queueing at the station and doing battle at the ticket machine.

                      And for God's sake REMEMBER TO STAMP YOUR TICKET BEFORE YOU GET ONTO THE TRAIN!

                      Trenitalia Ticket Stamper

                      Remember to stamp your ticket or you will pay horribly

                      Kraków Główny secret entrance
                      Apr 11

                      Kraków Główny Station Guide – Your Escape Plan

                      By Edward | Stations

                      Kraków Główny Station Escape Plan - or How not to Get Trapped in Cracow’s Main Station.


                      I see you. Yeah, you. I see you. Standing in front of those luggage lockers at Kraków Główny station. Yes, they DO only take Polish money. Coins, ffs.

                      Of course you haven't got any Polish money on you, much less 12 zloties in coins.

                      Kraków Główny Luggage lockers

                      The luggage lockers at Kraków Głównyonly take Coins. Polish coins.

                      That was me in September 2014, the first time I ended up at Cracow's new station, so I know the feeling. What happened then I don't want to describe. Let's just say when I returned in November 2014, I was prepared.

                      As you will be after reading this post and downloading my free e-guide.

                      Escape plan for Kraków Główny Station?

                      You heard me.

                      When you arrive at a strange station, in a strange country, it can all be a bit much. It takes you time to find your bearings, time in which you get lost and waste money.

                      Kraków Główny train station

                      Kraków Główny? Almost. This is the shopping centre you have to pass through to reach the trains.

                      This guide is to help you find your feet before you arrive at Kraków Główny Station. When you have read this guide you will know:

                      Everything you need to know when arriving at Kraków Główny Station

                      • where to get money (and where you mustn't!),
                      • where you can have a cup of tea and a think,
                      • how the luggage lockers work,
                      • how to find your way out,
                      • what tram ticket to buy. If indeed you need one.

                      I've also got your back if you are leaving Kraków Główny Station

                      • How to find your way in,
                      • where to buy provisions,
                      • where you can get souvenirs,
                      • where to get tickets, if you haven’t got them yet,

                      History - Built by the Austrians

                      Kraków Główny railway station is in the centre of Kraków on the edge of the old town. It is ten minutes walk from the Rynek, or market square.

                      Kraków had a nice, classic station building, built by the Austrians in the 19th century. A station building, in front of it the platforms, a tunnel connecting them. Simple.

                      Kraków Główny old station

                      Kraków Główny's old station building, as used up until 2014. It now stands empty.

                      Layout - the biggest station you can’t see

                      This closed in 2014, and Kraków’s new station came online. All the station stuff - the halls, waiting rooms, ticket offices - is now underground. Underneath the platforms, which have remained above ground.

                      Immediately underneath the platforms is a wide underpass with shops and cafés. This underpass is open on one side and lets you into the cavernous station hall with all the necessities: ticket offices, luggage lockers, loos etc. The whole complex is 100 metres left of the old station.

                      On the west (Old Town) side Kraków Główny station is flanked by the Galeria Krakowska shopping centre. On the east side you’ve got Kraków coach station. Coaches go from here in all directions across Europe.

                      Welcome to Poland

                      First things first: do you want to jettison your luggage? OK. Have you got cash?

                      You can pay for everything with a card at Kraków Główny station. Except the the luggage lockers and the loos. 

                      There is also a left luggage office, but this also only takes cash. Means: if you want to leave your luggage, you need Polish money.

                      Bureau de Change at Kraków Główny

                      The only bureau de change at Kraków Główny. Next to it is the privately run left luggage office. 


                      Changing money at Kraków Główny station

                      One way to get Polish cash is to exchange a small amount at the Kantor near the main Galeria Krakowska exit. Don’t look any further, it is the only bureau de change in that area.

                      The exchange rate is bad, which is why you should only change enough for your immediate needs. Don’t change with someone hanging around in front of the Kantor offering a better rate. The rate may be better, but that is useless if they exchange your hard cash for old Belarusian roubles.

                      Kraków Główny station: the best ATMs 

                      AVOID the Euronet ATMs that infest Kraków Główny. These are not bank machines, they are unsuspecting-tourist-self-scamming machines. You might as well go out into the street and give your cash to one of the fake money changers.

                      Kraków Główny Euronet ATM

                      Unsuspecting Tourist Self-Scamming Machine

                      Here is a great video about the Euronet ATMs in Prague.


                      You need a bank machine from a real bank. The closest real ATM is at the threshold between the Galeria Krakowska and the station. It belongs to mBank. Or walk straight on, keeping left, and you’ll find an ING bank.

                      Both will give you money at a normal exchange rate. I usually take out 150-200 zlotys to get started.

                      The machine will ask you if you want your account debited in PLN (Zlotys) or your home currency - EUR, GBP, USD. Always ask for PLN.
                      Krakow station ATM

                      ING bank is in the Galeria Krakowska shopping centre.

                      That way, you get the open-market exchange rate. This is better than the “fixed” exchange rate which they will use to debit your account in euros or dollars. The ATM will go: “are you sure? Most people take the fixed rate”.

                      This is because most people don’t understand the difference. Decline the conversion.

                      Now you can take your money and head back to the station. Time for a treat. Or go straight to the section on How to get the feck out of here.

                      Your next move

                      If you are not in a hurry, you might as well sit down, connect to the FREE WIFI and plan your next move with a guide.

                      The In Your Pocket guide to Kraków is superb. I love and heartily recommend the In Your Pocket guides, as they are well written and brimming with useful knowledge. They are also free.

                      If you want a cup of tea and a think, here are the places I recommend:

                      Krakow Glowny station

                      Grycan is a good Polish ice cream parlour and café.

                      Keep the wolf from the door at Grycan

                      THE Polish ice cream chain (their slogan is “ice cream since generations”). Strong coffee, succulent cakes, luscious ice cream. For something traditional, try the “rurka z bitą smietaną” (say: ROOrkah zBEEtong shmyeTAnnong). This is a waffle filled with fresh whipped cream.

                      Krakow Glowny coffee

                      Rurka z bita smietana. A lovely light Polish snack.

                      Have a square meal at Polskie Smaki

                      Decent Polish food at decent prices. The Polish breakfast will set you up for the day ahead.

                      Pierogi are also nice - dumplings filled with potato and cheese, meat, or strawberries. Or try the sour rye soupurek). On early mornings after drinking the night away with the Australians in your couchette, you'll need Żurek. It is tart and has an egg floating in it. And lots of sausage.

                      Now you've fortified yourself - let's get the feck out of here.

                      Kraków Główny station luggage lockers

                      Now you are armed with zloties you can use the luggage lockers. There are lots of them. You can find the luggage lockers underneath almost every platform, at the lower of the two levels that make up the station hall.

                      Krakow Glowny Luggage Lockers

                      There are lots and lots of these luggage lockers

                      Then there are two left luggage offices with staff.

                      • One is underneath platform five and takes 15zł/piece. It is station- run and staffed with grumpy men reading newspapers.
                      • The other one is next to the Kantor and costs 13zł/piece. It is privately run and staffed with grumpy student girls bent over smartphones.
                      Krakow Glowny Left Luggage

                      Left Luggage Office at Kraków Główny, underneath platform 5. © Martin Pavlík

                      Kraków Główny station: how to get the feck out

                      After the new station opened, people were quick to point out that it is hard to find your way out of the station. And just as hard to find your way in.

                      Kraków Główny exit

                      The easiest way out of Kraków Głowny

                      The biggest western exit leads you straight into the heart of the Galeria Krakowska. The next western exit also gets you into the Galeria. Only one western exit, at the south-western corner of the station comes out into the open.

                      A consumerist labyrinth

                      On the eastern side you come out at the two-deck bus station. The sight is not pretty, and definitely not what you came for.

                      Kraków Bus Station

                      If you need to get to Slovakia fast, don't tell anyone I told you it is quickest by bus. It just is. There are no daily train services from Kraków to Slovakia


                      Lets say you are in the underpass between the platforms.

                      If you want to go into the Old Town, make for the exit “Galeria Krakowska” and “Stare Miasto” and keep left. This will get you to the “secret” exit that saves you having to go through the shopping centre

                      Krakow Glowny exit

                      Kraków Główny underpass, facing the Galeria Krakowska. Bear left for the secret exit.

                      By Public Transport

                      Much depends on where you are staying. All I can do here is tell you which lines go where and what ticket you had best buy.

                      If you are staying in, say, Kazimierz, you wil want to go by tram.

                      Ditto if you are going to my favourite part of Kraków, Nowa Huta.

                      There are 20 minute, 40 minute, 60 minute tickets, two journey tickets and day tickets. For Kazimierz, a 20 minute ticket is fine. The same goes for Nowa Huta.

                      Departing Kraków Główny station - the easiest ways into the station

                      Getting in - through the mall or through the secret entrance

                      The intuitive way into the station is through the shopping centre. Walk into the Galeria Krakowska and follow the signs “Dworzec PKP”.

                      Krakow Glowny Galeria Krakowska

                      Follow the signs into the station section of this huge shopping centre

                      The direct entrance is hard to see unless you know how to look for it. Walk towards the old station building and keep left. Walk along the left wing of the old station building. You will find a colonnade that takes you to a flight of stairs that descend straight into the station.

                      Kraków Główny secret entrance

                      Secret entrance into Kraków Główny

                      Food for your journey and to take home

                      Carrefour

                      If you need provisions for your journey (let’s admit it, provisions are part of the fun) you have two supermarkets:

                      • Firstly, Carrefour, just inside Galeria Krakowska at the exit into the station.
                      • Secondly, Biedronka, which is in the station itself. I prefer Carrefour.
                      Krakow Glowny Galeria Krakowska

                      This Carrefour is just on the Galeria Krakowska side of the main threshold between the Galeria and the actual station

                      For water, if you like it still, go for Żywiec Zdrój. If you like it sparkling, go for Kryniczanka or Muszynianka.

                      Don’t waste time choosing beer. Stick to Żywiec or Tyskie, or try Perła if you want something more bitter. I've tried all the other Polish stuff, nothing is as good.

                      For chocolate, what is delicious is the Wawel Kasztankibar. This also makes a great souvenir.

                      Krakowski Kredens

                      Walk out of Carrefour and head straight ahead through the mall. Within a minute you’ll see a shop called Krakowski Kredens on the right hand side. Krakowski Kredens affects to be traditional and does it quite well.

                      You can get very good sausage and ham here. Also smoked and unsmoked platted Polish cheese strings (“Warkocz” - say VARkotch). These are perfect on a train, as very easy to handle. Krakowski Kredens have lovely bread as well.

                      Krakow Glowny Krakowski Kredens

                      Krakowski Kredens sells traditional Polish food in small packets. Not that cheap, but very good.

                      This shop sells other long lasting, transportable Polish goodies.

                      Organic food? Vegan in Poland?

                      If you want organic food, right next to Krakowski Kredens is an organic shop. I’ve got delicious kabanosy there. Also very nice is the Ciechan organic beer. Unpasteurised and very rich.

                      If you are vegan you will have noticed that the only vegan products in Poland are beer and cigarettes. But here you’ve got a bigger selection of stuff without anything animal in it.

                      The great thing about having a station in a mall

                      Of course it is ludicrous and distasteful planning the city's central station as the afterthought of YET ANOTHER SHOPPING CENTRE, but... you might as well benefit. You've got everything on hand for souvenirs


                      Polish books and music

                      When you enter Galeria Krakowska from the station square and descend the escalator, behind you will be a big shop called Empik. Empik has everything media, including CDs, books, magazines and posters. They also have postcards and pens.

                      Polish Fashion

                      In the 19th and early 20th century, Poland was famous for its fashion. Now it is returning. For lovely women’s fashion, look out for Wólczanka (not an affiliate). I got beautiful blouses for my wife there. For men’s clothing, look into Vistula (again, not an affiliate). I’m wearing my Vistula suit in my Nightjet goodie bag unboxing video.

                      Got your tickets yet?

                      For international tickets, especially for night trains, don't join the normal queue. Go straight to the COK - the centrum obsługi klienta, aka the passenger service centre. This office will also sell you tickets for the EIP pendolino trains, Polish Rail's premium train.

                      Krakow Glowny Pendolino Tickets

                      Go here for international and Express Intercity Premium tickets

                      For standard tickets within Poland, join the main queue. It is served by multiple windows. I've never had to wait long. 

                      Poland has been through a catastrophic railway-deregulation. The state operator PKP has been dismantled and only does intercity trains - PKP Intercity. The local trains have been split up into regional companies that are owned by the various Polish regions. The windows can sell you tickets for most operators, but not all.

                      If at some point in the future the Poles manage to sell you an entire itinerary with multiple operators on one ticket, it will be hailed as a miracle of IT and progress. In fact this was normal until Poland's car-crazy government screwed up the trains.

                      Krakow Glowny Ticket office

                      The main ticket queue for normal tickets within Poland

                      There are also ticket machines. I admit that I have never used one, simply because I've never bothered. These should also be able to give you tickets for most destinations in Poland. Here is a picture of one, as seen at Kraków Główny station.

                      Krakow Glowny Ticket Machine

                      If you can't face the queue (or the Polish ticket window), have a go on one of these machines


                      Understanding the Polish platform numbering system

                      • Kraków Główny has five platforms (“Peron” in Polish)

                      • Each platform has two tracks (“Tor” in Polish”)

                      • Each track is divided into sectors. These are not usually relevant.

                      • Trains are announced “arriving on track x at platform y”.

                      When you read the departure board, you will see which peron your train is leaving from. And always pay attention to what it says on the train before you get on.

                      Download the e-guide with all the maps

                      I've put all this information into a nifty 20-page e-guide with lots of pictures and maps, so you can find your way more easily. You can download it and have it at your disposal always, without having to rely on the internet. If you join my free Rail Guide Europe club, you get the password for my free e-guide library.

                      Free Rail Guide Europe club

                      Join 260 other rail travellers in my free Rail Guide Europe club. You get:


                      1. Money saving emails about how to get the cheapest tickets
                      2. Inside information from someone who works on trains
                      3. The password to my ever-expanding free e-guide library with useful stuff you can download
                      4. Alerts when I publish a new post
                      5. My email address and Telegram handle, so you can ask me anything, anytime
                      Krakow Glowny

                      Train ready to leave Kraków Główny station. © Martin Pavlík

                      >