Category Archives for "Western Europe"

Italian train tickets
Jul 20

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

By Edward | Western Europe

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.

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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

Westbahn Salzburg
May 28

Westbahn – Austria’s Wifi-on-Trains Trailblazer

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets , Western Europe

Ooops.

"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.

What is Westbahn

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.

Westbahn lines

Westbahn WestBlue WestGreen

The two Westbahn lines

Originally the Westbahn ran an hourly service between Vienna Westbahnhof (Western Station) and Salzburg. The journey takes about 2 1/2 hours.

However, recently, Westbahn upped this to a half-hourly service. You can download their timetable here.

The WESTgreen service runs from Salzburg to Vienna Westbahnhof and back. Meanwhile, the WESTblue service goes from Salzburg to Vienna Praterstern via Vienna Hauptbahnhof (Central Station). And back.

From Salzburg to Vienna, it doesn't really matter which line you use.

I prefer to arrive at Westbahnhof, because I'm set in my ways. So I usually use the green line.  But if you are changing onto onward trains, it is much better to arrive at Vienna Hauptbahnhof.

What the Westbahn trains are like

Westbahn trains are electric multiple units formed of six (or four) double deck coaches. They are made by Stadler in Switzerland and called KISS. 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. 

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:

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.

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

My trips on the Westbahn

I've been on the Westbahn several times. When travelling between Munich and Vienna 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.

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, or online, or from tobacconists.

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

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

Vienna-Salzburg at this rate is €33.50.

Westbahn ticket prices

The price matrix for WESTstandard tickets

Concessions

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

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

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

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Westbahn Vienna Salzburg

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

Children on the Westbahn

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

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

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

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

Vienna - Salzburg with a WESTaktiv ticket costs €19.99.

WESTspartage - off-peak semi-flexible 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 at any time. Green days at any time before 12 pm and grey days any time after 12 pm. Simple. So you have a certain amount of wriggle-room on the day you travel. 

Vienna-Salzburg at the current spring 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 all day and part of the day

The WESTspartage are a seasonal thing. Right now we are in the spring season. All WESTspartage tickets purchased have to be used up by the 30th of June 2019, or they expire.

After June, the WESTspartage summer promotion is sure to come with similar deals.

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 specific train ticket

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. 

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 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

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.

This cooperation is intensifying this year. 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 - €77
  • three people - €99
  • four people - €121
  • five people - €143
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.
Westbahn at Vienna West

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 €66.60. Or €53.60 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

Westbahn directly to Munich

Last year Westbahn announced that they would be introducing direct services from Vienna to Munich. Three times per day, they plan to code-share with Bavarian local train operator Meridian and let their KISS trains run in Meridian's subsidised local train slots.

The start of this service has now been postponed twice. First it was meant to begin in April 2019, then June 2019 and now it is planned for the autumn of 2019. 

We'll see what the autumn brings. I personally don't think it is going to happen.

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.

Tabak Trafik sign

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 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 proper 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, as well as beyond the two cities.

I heartily recommend giving Westbahn a try. I loved every single journey.

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
Mar 16

Nightjet: 17 Lines of Night Train Awesomeness

By Edward | Reviews , Western Europe

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

Night Train 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.

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.

Nightjet review Euronight

The Nightjet network as of 2019. The thin grey lines are other companies' night services.

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.

...and how much Nightjet tickets cost

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. Either do it at a ticket office, or over the phone under +43 5 1717-3. You can’t get Pass holder reservations online. Here is what you have to pay for these supplements:

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!

Free water on the Nightjet

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 on Nightjet

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 on Nightjet couchette

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.

Until the 11th of April 2019 you can book a private compartment for up to three people for €99. After that, the price starts at €174
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).

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

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

Another Nightjet sleeper bed

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

They are awesome.

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

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:

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.

Nightjet Euronight Night Train

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 Euronight Night Train Europe

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.
Nightjet Euronight Night Train Europe

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.

Nightjet Euronight Night Train Europe

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.

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