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Railway Travel
Railway Travel
05.12.11

We can’t say enough about the pleasures of seeing the world by rail. It’s a fantastic way to relax and enjoy the countryside without the hassles of navigating, traffic and parking. For those who haven’t taken a train tour before, here are a few things you may not have considered and a few nuances that may need some introduction.

Day Trips

You don’t need to book a weeklong rail journey to experience the joy of train travel. Many countries in Europe and northeast Asia offer rail service between cities and towns. Take a day trip from a major metropolis to see the outlying countryside, towns and tourist sites without worrying about driving. While you’re enjoying the scenery, you might even have a chance to chat with locals about the area.

Avoid Parking Fees

If you’re visiting countries and cities with interconnected rail service, take a train downtown to avoid the hassles and costs of driving and parking. Major rail stations are usually located in central areas and served by cabs and bus lines. In addition, many rail systems are connected to subway systems, making it easy to get into town. This gives you more options for lodging—allowing you to stay in an affordable outlying area that might even offer free parking.

Rail Passes

Look for cost-saving rail passes if you plan on traveling by train. Eurail passes allow you to ride the rails in one or more countries in much of Europe. Choose from various increments of time or type of travel (such as rail only or rail and drive) to create a custom trip. Keep in mind that supplemental tickets and advance reservations may be required for certain trains. The Eurostar Chunnel train between London and Paris requires its own ticket, but certain Eurail passes provide you with a discount on this 23 1/2-mile underwater journey.

Swiss Saver Pass

Switzerland offers the most spectacular rail routes in the world, so it’s a shame to take just one. Get a Swiss Saver Pass and ride such scenic routes as the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, William Tell, Mont-Blanc Express, GoldenPass, Centovalli Express and even the Chocolate Train. In addition to public train access, these passes also offer admission to more than 400 Swiss museums and include certain private mountain trains, cable cars and buses.

Rail Cars

Long-distance trains include rail cars (carriages) designated for different purposes. The most common are:

  • Sleeper Car: Filled with sleeping cabins and small water closets (bathrooms without showers, also known as WCs)
  • Dining Car: Designed for sit-down meals; multiple seating times available for each meal
  • Bar/Lounge Car: The place to relax and enjoy drinks, and possibly a musical performance
  • Observation Car: Features large, panoramic windows, ceiling windows or outdoor access for the best views of the scenery

Reservations Extra

High-speed, international and overnight trains—as well as popular scenic trains—often require advance reservations in addition to a ticket. Even if you have a rail pass for such routes, you’ll need to reserve a seat and pay an extra reservation fee. You can do this directly at the rail station or on the website of the rail system you plan to use.

Moveable Hotels

Overnight trains in Europe whisk passengers between cities and across borders while they sleep. These trains usually offer two types of carriages (cars):

  • Sleeper Car: Carriage with suites that offer one, two, three or four beds, a sink and sometimes a toilet and shower.
  • Couchette: Compartment with 6 seats by day that become 4 to 6 flip-down bunks by night. Toilet facilities are typically available at the end of the train corridor..

Access for the Disabled

As stations and trains modernize, more amenities have become available for disabled passengers. Special equipment and assistance can often be reserved in advance—always research your options before booking. The Eurostar train offers boarding and transfer assistance, two wheelchair spaces in first class and special fares for reduced mobility passengers. The U.K. promotes a Disabled Persons Railcard and the Assisted Passenger Reservation System.

Trip Insurance

When booking long or exclusive rail tours, consider purchasing travel or cancellation insurance, in case of the unexpected. Eurail offers rail pass insurance in case your pass is stolen in addition to insurance for trip interruption or cancellation. Check the website of the rail system you’re using for details.

Take Only What You Need

Pack light to best navigate steep station steps, large gaps between trains and platforms, and narrow aisles. You might also encounter limited onboard space to stow your bags, so remember: Soft luggage is easier to store in small compartments. If you prefer rolling luggage, choose a narrow model that you can pull down an aisle. If you need to switch trains and platforms quickly, consider bringing a bag with a comfortable shoulder strap. We’ve got a huge assortment to choose from at travelsmith.com

What to Pack for Longer Rail Tours

  • Casual and comfortable shoes and attire for daytime excursions
  • Smart casual and/or semi-formal attire for higher-end trains
  • Reliable watch so you don’t miss your departures or meal seatings
  • Sufficient clean clothing for the length of your journey (laundry facilities are usually not available onboard). To separate laundry en route, take along one of our handy Eagle Creek® Packing Cubes or the Roll Top Sac.

Dining Attire

Although casual dress is the norm for standard rail travel, specific attire may be required for luxury rail tours. Dining cars on these trains often insist on business casual (no jeans, T-shirts, sweats, cutoffs, tank tops or flip-flops) with even more restrictions for dinner attire: jacket and tie or mock sweater for men, and a pantsuit or evening dress for women. Check with your rail system for details. We have plenty of suitable clothing for every need at travelsmith.com.

Food for Thought

Gazing at scenery (even the most breathtaking) can only entertain you for so long. Depending on the type and length of your train journey, you might want to bring along:

Tipping

Policies for gratuities vary, depending on the type of train you take. Although tipping is always discretionary, here are some suggestions and common practices:

  • High-speed trains in Europe and Asia: Much like airlines, particular routes may offer meal service at your seat. No tipping is expected.
  • Long-distance, luxury rail tours in Europe and abroad: Passengers usually tip at journey’s end, rather than for each individual service. Sleeping-car attendants and butlers should be tipped according to the quality of service provided. Check guidelines on the company website or contact customer service for details.
  • Amtrak: Tip dining-car servers like you would a waiter at a regular restaurant (15–20% of meal price). Snack-bar attendants typically receive 10%. Most passengers tip sleeping-car attendants at journey’s end ($5-$20 average), depending on the quality of service and length of journey. Tips for porters average $1 per bag.

Secure Your Belongings

Theft on trains is not common since criminals have limited options for escape. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Luxury trains are normally watched while you’re away, with luggage safely secured in your room. If you’re traveling intercity or locally, try to place your bags within sight and use a lock to secure valuables like laptops and camera bags to seat posts, luggage racks or railings. Keep valuable documents and money with you at all times in our Pacsafe® Slashproof Neck Pouch. Find more secure options at travelsmith.com

Water Closets (WCs)

Depending on the type of train you’re taking, onboard water closets (toilets) can range from very simple affairs where plumbing opens directly onto the track, to flushing toilets in your own room. One way or the other, you should expect small quarters, moving parts and intermittent water pressure. It’s always a good idea to carry a small roll of toilet paper, wet wipes or tissues.

Boarding a Train

  • Leave yourself plenty of time to catch your train in case of security checks, ticket issues, potential platform changes and large stations with multiple stairwells and long platforms.
  • Look for your train’s platform and arrival/departure time on overhead boards or screens, usually located in the station lobby.
  • Find your way to the correct platform and be sure you board the correct rail car/carriage. Non-touring trains may disengage certain carriages mid-journey and reattach them to other locomotives going in other directions. Look for placards indicating destination or route number on the outside of each car.
  • Long-distance, high-speed trains in major cities often require extra security checks before passengers are permitted onto the platform. Have your tickets, boarding pass and passport ready. Use our Nylon Pre-Board Organizer.

Conductors & Tickets

Always keep your ticket handy when traveling on trains where you have a reserved seat (local, intercity, long-distance or high-speed). The train’s conductor usually passes through after each stop to check that passengers have the proper tickets or rail passes. Conductors usually have excellent recall when it comes to the position and destination of each passenger.

Crossing Borders

If your train crosses an international border, have your passport and documents ready to show immigration or customs officials, who may board the train. Although regular scheduled passport controls no longer exist between Schengen nations (25 European member countries with no internal border controls and only a single visa requirement), you may be subject to a random check. Conductors on overnight trains with sleeper cars will usually collect passports in advance so they don’t need to disturb passengers who are asleep.

What’s Going On?

It is easy to fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of the rails. If you wake up and discover the train has stopped or is lurching, don’t be alarmed. Locomotives are often changed at border crossings and need to be disengaged and reattached to the carriages in tow. During the daytime, passengers may be able to disembark to stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air during this process.

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