Please sign in to post.

A rule for riding the rails

Last year, 2015, my wife and I decided to celebrate Christmas in Budapest. Our plan was to fly into Amsterdam, spend two nights, take the train to Prague, spend a few nights and then take the train to Budapest. We would fly home from Budapest via Amsterdam. The plan for taking the train to Prague was to take the train from Amsterdam (Schiphol) to Cologne where we would we pick up the night sleeper train to Prague. The main reason for taking the sleeper train was for the “adventure”. The train trip from Schiphol to Cologne takes about four hours. If we left Schiphol in the morning, we would arrive in Cologne in the early afternoon with plenty of time to visit the Christmas Market and the Cathedral before boarding the night train late in the evening. So, that was what we did.

About thirty minutes after departure we had to change trains in Utrecht. This is not a big deal. Utrecht does not have a big railway station. Platforms are well marked and the arriving trains well labeled. We had our tickets. We knew which car and the seats that we were assigned. The train pulls in on time. Everyone heads for the cars. We starting looking for our assigned car. The car numbers are not obvious and not sequential. After some scurrying around looking we realize that the train is leaving without us! “Oh Sh*t!”

Fortunately, this is a railway station, not an airport. Another train will be along fairly “quickly”. I told my wife to find a comfortable seat and went looking for the ticket office. I found two desk, one manned by a young guy and one by an “older” lady (older than the young guy, younger than me). She was busy, he wasn’t. So, I told him my sad tale of woe. I was very apologetic and played the clueless tourist card. He said (this is the Netherlands and everyone speaks very good English) he wasn’t sure what could be done, but I would have to explain the problem to the other lady. I recount my tale of woe. She looks at me like I am an idiot and says “You know, you can get on any car!” The light clicks on in my mind and I mentally go “Duh!” She then helps to sort out my problem and gets us on another train a few hours later.

But the rule to remember is “You can get on the train at any car!”

Posted by
4637 posts

Yeah, it happened to me several times that I couldn't quickly find my assigned car. Fortunately train never left without me because at the last moment I did what the lady advised you. In many stations they have posters with the order of the cars so you know ahead where your car will be. Sometimes you can find it on the screen when you enter the number of your train.

Posted by
2722 posts

When in doubt, just get on the train. If there is an assigned car and seat, you can always walk through the cars until you reach your seat. If a conductor questions you, he or she will normally give you guidance but won't make you get off the train. Especially if it's moving.

Posted by
5697 posts

Good advice!! I almost got left behind in a small Austrian town when I didn't understand what the conductor was shouting to me. Trains don't wait!!

Posted by
31471 posts

Yes, you can board any coach on the train you'll be using, but if the train has compulsory seat reservations you'll have to sit in the appointed place. I prefer to board as close as possible to my assigned coach as roaming through the narrow aisles with luggage is somewhat cumbersome. The aisles are often crowded for a few minutes after the train departs, as people get their luggage stored and find their seats.

Posted by
7616 posts

We faced this last summer in Euston station. Although we were there early waiting for the announcement of the platform for our train, when they announced it, it was such a mad dash, and my elderly parents (my mother in particular) simply could not walk fast enough for us to get to our car, which was soooooo far down the track-- we almost missed our train despite being there and ready long before it ever took off!!

In that case, yes we could have gotten on the train and walked the length of it inside, but my parents couldn't manage their suitcases on their own, and I had to manhandle all three of them -- which I wouldn't have been able to do for the length of the train. I would inevitably have had to leave one or two behind while taking one or two and then come back for the remaining one(s). The problem there is that then you have unattended baggage on the train and it probably raises a security alert!!!

I know now I should have asked for mobility assistance in advance but here's another case where packing light would have helped. If each of my parents could have managed their own case, for example, on their backs, we could have made our way down the train slow and steady. What a stressful situation.

Posted by
7205 posts

This all sounds like a bunch of Americans who are only used to flying and the rules associated with flying. We've been so closed in by airlines as our only mode of travel in the USA - that we can't think out of the box on our own. Yes, of course just get on the train SOMEWHERE before it leaves. No Flight Attendant is going to come and scold you or threaten to call security for being in the wrong carriage :-)

Unattended baggage on a train for a few minutes raise no security alert as it might in an airport or airplane. More likely is that your unattended train baggage might be picked up and take by someone else (thieves, pickpockets, etc).

I've been through the Italian Train scenario where our reserved 1st class seats were in a carriage which was somehow never attached to the train. So after frustration we hopped on a 1st class car and plopped ourselves down in the seats available (all 20 of us). The conductor came through saw our problem and told us we had to move to the VERY last carriage on the train. We looked at him and laughed and said no thanks, we're happy right here. He shrugged and moved on. Lesson learned - don't panic because situations seem much more flexible and manageable when you're not flying an American Airline.

Posted by
5786 posts

Yes, get on the train, but get on the correct train. Be alert to the possibility that more than one train may be on the same track and they are not connected to each other.

Several years ago we traveled from Oslo (Norway) to Otta with a one hour connection in Lillihammer. Arriving in Lillihammer we walked around a bit waiting for the the train to Otta. We boarded the train with time to spare before its scheduled departure to Otta. Sitting on the train my wife noticed a piece of trash on the car floor that she remembered littering the Oslo to Lillihammer train.

Apparently with a single track station, the northbound Lillihammer north train just backs up to the train from Oslo that later returns southbound. We needed to walk up the same platform to the Otta train and we did.

Lesson learned is that more than one train (to different destinations) can be waiting on the same track at the same platform at the same time. If in doubt, ask a local.

Posted by
12040 posts

Also, don't get confused when the train occassionally rolls into the station in the opposite orientation pictured on the station cards...

Posted by
12898 posts

@ Tim/Knoxville....Good points made on train travel vs taking the airlines.

Taking the train is easy, just listen to the loudspeaker announcements, read the electronic messages. The only time where I thought I was seriously going to miss my stop since I did not know if that station was the correct one at which to get off was in Poland in 2005. We were using French and German to communicate. Finally it worked.

Posted by
2258 posts

Wow, Edgar. I had no idea. And I've been riding trains in Europe for years. Thanks for the heads up!

Posted by
8889 posts

A tip for not missing where to get off if you are unfamilar with a route. Most of the rail planning websites will display all the stops for a train with times. Click on '+', or the train No., or something. You then get a list like:

Amsterdam Centraal 10:37
Utrecht Centraal 11:00
Arnhem Centraal 11:35
Oberhausen Hbf 12:24
Duisburg Hbf 12:32
Düsseldorf Hbf 12:46
Köln Hbf 13:15
Frankfurt(M) Flughafen Fernbf 14:16
Frankfurt(Main)Hbf 14:30

You can print this out and bring it with you. You can then tick off each stop (mentally or with a real pen) as you stop. You then know if you are running on time, or late, and when to expect your stop.

Posted by
4535 posts

The problem there is that then you have unattended baggage on the train and it probably raises a security alert!!!

Bags are left on trains unattended all the time. Most people store their luggage in bins at each end of the car and then forget about them until it's time to get off. Others will put smaller bags on overhead racks, then might leave to got to the potty or snack car. Other than not leaving valuables unattended, there is no risk or concern about these practices.

So it is no problem to board any car, leave your bags there in the bin while you find your seats and get settled, and then return later to move them closer to where you are sitting.

Posted by
12898 posts

The train schedule listed by Chris is the the one I took a few years back when doing a day trip from Frankfurt to Amsterdam.

On leaving your luggage unattended on the train: I wonder how many do just that, ie, leave them on the rack above your seat presumably and then take off to the Bordrestaurant or Bistro. I've done it.

Posted by
18313 posts

Not only do multiple trains sometimes share the same platform, but several trains might use the same platform over a period on an hour, so make sure you don't get on an earlier train, going somewhere different, on the same platform. Look at the lighted sign above the platform to make sure this is really your train.

Also, if you get on the train on a different coach, make sure you get to your coach. The coach you get on might not be going to the same destination as your coach. The train might split, and that car go to a different destination.

Posted by
11613 posts

To add to Chris F's advice: most train stations have big posters that list all the scheduled stops. I sometimes take a photo of the schedule so I can see where to get ready to exit the train (the stop before the one I want is where I usually start to get my stuff together).

A note about trains not waiting: In Germany, several times when I or other passengers asked about tight connection times, and if our train was running a few minutes late, the conductor called or texted the next station and the train did wait a few minutes for connecting passengers. Emphasis on "few".

Posted by
12040 posts

No one with any sense is going to be dragging their suitcase with them to grab a coffee in the buffet car. I've actually seen people do this on Deutsche Bahn. And yes, they spoke English with North American accents...

Posted by
5697 posts

Or ask an honest-looking fellow passenger to keep an eye on your stuff -- better if you make sure they're not getting off at the next stop!

Posted by
11613 posts

I haven't seen anyone lugging their stuff to the buffet car, I have noticed people traveling together go to the buffet car separately and/or come back with food/drinks to consume at their seats. I only take my messenger bag with me when I leave my seat. Toward the end of my trips, if someone wants to steal my luggage full of dirty clothes, they would be doing me a favor.

Posted by
1976 posts

Also note that when your train first arrives, the digital sign by the track may announce only the final destination at first. I took the train from Amsterdam to Hamburg in 2015, with a change at Osnabrueck. When my train arrived at Centraal Station, the sign said "Amsterdam to Berlin Hbf." I thought, Oh my God, where's my train? But a minute later the sign listed all the stops that the train would make. Osnabrueck was one of them. Whew!

Posted by
11613 posts

Sarah brings up a good point. Always double-check your train number, in case your stop is not the train's last stop.

Posted by
7616 posts

"Who's going to steal it from a moving train?"

Probably no one. But when that train stops and people get off, it can go with one of them. It's happened to a (French) friend of mine on a train back to Paris from Frankfurt . . .

Posted by
7616 posts

"Who's going to steal it from a moving train?"

Probably no one. But when that train stops and people get off, it can go with one of them. It's happened to a (French) friend of mine on a train back to Paris from Frankfurt . . .

Posted by
1 posts

I would like to reply to the remark about how no one is going to steal baggage from a moving train. While we have never had our luggage taken in Holland, our Dutch friends warned us that when taking the train from Haarlem, where the live, to Schipol, or on any express train, lately there have been numerous instances of luggage theft from tourists. They told us to keep to keep an eye on our bags and not to leave them far from our seat.

Posted by
184 posts

Our train experience was a little different. We are inexperience train users, so we had a steep learning curve. First experience
We were traveling from Budapest to Bratislava. An easy trip, but due to the refugee crisis at the time (October 2016) travel security was heightened. We were told that we could by a ticket the day of travel, but luck would have it the day before we were near the train station and went in. We were fortunate we did as there was about a one hour delay to get a ticket. So buying the day ahead really meant we were able to get the train we wanted.

Experience 2 Our next leg was from Bratislava to Prague. Getting on the train was challenging. There is no queuing to load, people simply push ahead. I finally resorted to blocking access so my wife could get on the train. Being polite meant being pushed to the side. It was difficult to behave, in what I consider a rude manner, but the locals stopped and we could get on the train.

Experience 3 On this train, some seats were reserved. However the seat was only reserved for a portion of the trip beyond our destination. So we used a car that was empty and had our own quite trip. I suspect many people stayed out of the compartment because there was a reserved sign. So take time to read the signs.

The train was an efficient way to get between the cities. We normally rent a car, but for the cities we were visiting the a car was an impediment.