A couple of years ago I made up my mind after an online carbon footprint-check; no more flying within Europe for me. It just causes to much CO2 emissions and besides that, I hate flying
There are easier ways to get to Ljubljana. The most direct route by train is of course with the Citynightline from Amsterdam to Munich and a direct Eurocity to Slovenia.
But there's also the scenic way with the famous Transalpin Eurocity 163 that traverses the Alps from Zurich to Graz in Austria. This train, along with the other twice hourly Eurocity's, serves as an important link between all the ski areas in Austria as well as connects the various villages along the Arlberg and Tirolian passes. The 163 has the added advantage of carrying a SBB panorama wagon with extra large windows to take in the scenery. Coupled with an ÖBB restaurant wagon, you really don't mind the 6+ hours it takes to cross the mountain.
Every year in January and March the railways meet in Ljubljana to decide the international timetables for all the routes across Europe. In a whole week of cross-border meetings, each railway negotiates paths, border times and other scheduling issues with the neighbouring railway.
One of our board members works for the Dutch Railways and this year he's getting to experience these meetings for the first time.
Of course as true believers in the greatness of international train travel, he's travelling the entire way between Amsterdam and Ljubljana by train (with a few scenic detours along the way).
Keep following our blog to read about his experiences crossing Europe by train and the state of international services in the heart of Europe.
Dutch love to complain, so any train passenger will tell you the Dutch Railways are a mess. This isn’t true. Of course, there’s the occasional delay, and some connections suffer defects more often than others. But the Dutch railway network is actually more like a metro network, and the efficiency and punctuality at which it is runs is astonishing.
And once things are ‘good’, we start to expect ‘excellent’. Hence the complaints. But in practice, I hardly ever plan in extra travel time to allow for delays. So if anything, I was excited rather than worried that my train trip to Bratislava had two tight connections in it: thirteen minutes in Frankfurt Airport, seven in Vienna. I decided to take one local train earlier so as not to miss my first international ICE at Utrecht. Just to be safe (and grab a nice breakfast at the train station).
Whenever I travel in the Netherlands, I simply take the first train departing my local station, connect to a regular intercity service from the nearest main station, perhaps change trains once or twice, and I can get anywhere within a couple of hours. The Dutch Railways have an excellent app that warns you about works or delays and even gives you alternative connections if necessary. A small credit-card sized pass automatically charges me the best possible price. It takes a bit of effort to collect the right deals on your pass, but once you’ve got that down you can use it any day to take any train, tram, bus or metro within the country.
With Train2EU, we're working to make European rail travel just as easy. But we're a long way from that, so I knew things were not going to be that easy to get to Bratislava. I decided to consider it good research for my work and started figuring out ways to get to Bratislava.
The fastest way to get to Bratislava from the Netherlands is to fly to Prague and change planes there. This is also the worst thing you can do from a CO2-perspective. On short flights, as much as 25 percent of the total fuel consumed is used at this time. The most fuel-efficient route length for airlines is 4,300 kilometers, roughly a flight from Europe to the U.S. East Coast. About 45 percent of all flights in the European Union cover less than 500 kilometers, short hops which are relatively the biggest contributors to climate change, air pollution and noise. No way I’m taking off and landing twice on a single journey, just for a meeting with fellow environmentalists.
Travelling by train was my preferred option. But as a business traveller I have to factor in time. And as a father, I do not want to be away from home too long for work. After taking hours to research all options with impossible departure times, night trains (but no sleepers) taking up to 24 hours, I decided to take a 12 hour train trip by day on my way out to Bratislava. And for my return trip, take a train to Vienna and fly back to Amsterdam from there. That soothed my conscience somewhat, made my family happy that I wouldn’t be taking another day to travel back, and made my boss happy that I could work while on the train ride. But still, it's a short hop flight I had hoped to avoid.
You'll notice that after all this, I haven't mentioned anything about actually booking the tickets. That's because booking international train tickets is, frustratingly, a challenge separate from finding your itinerary. To be continued...
This is part 2 of a series
Save the world, take a train (Bratislava part 1)
Vandaag is Train2EU te gast bij Railforum in Den Haag waar we over de toekomst van (internationale) ov gaan hebben. Met ruim 150 gasten, is de animo groot om de reiziger beter te bedienen op grensoverschrijdende verbindingen.
Tevens, is onze bestuurslid Chris op weg met de trein naar Bratislava. Hij gaat zijn bevindingen op onze blog zetten dus hou deze pagina in de gaten!
So I found out how to get to Bratislava by train, and decided to fly back from Vienna (even though it is pretty bad from an environmental perspective). Next I had to find a way to actually book my trip.
It took me five minutes, three clicks and one simple internet payment to book my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam. Cost: less than €60. I checked in using my smartphone, downloaded the boarding pass without a hitch. The free airline app automatically warns me in case anything changes, and phone numbers are included should I need any help. It may be horrible for the planet, but obviously they’ve got this customer service thing nailed.
Again, I knew things weren't going to be that easy for the trains.
The Dutch Railways (NS) sell train tickets across Europe, but primarily to France and Germany. The Austrian railways (ÖBB) and the Germans (DB) go farther. Since Vienna is where I was to change from a DB train to an ÖBB train, and offered me the best itinerary, I tried there. Cost: €260. Hm.
I tried an alternative and rang the excellent folks at Treinreiswinkel, a Dutch booking agent specialised in train travel across the globe. Telling them exactly what trains I wanted for my efficient trip to Bratislava and back to Vienna, I got all my tickets and reservations in the mail. It took 10 minutes, and one phonecall. Cost: €180, payable by bank transfer after I got the invoice via e-mail.
Treinreiswinkel provides a service that is quite unique in the world of trains. And while it's a great step forward compared to what railcompanies offer. But it's quite limited compared to what a passenger may expect in the 21st century. No app, and no real-time notifications of changes in my trip. No customer service phone number, either.
And while my itinerary to Bratislava was included on paper, the schedule from Bratislava back to Vienna airport wasn’t. It took me another hour to find out which train I had to take to catch my flight. In the process, I discovered I should have booked the (much faster and cheaper) coach service instead. Crap. Why wasn’t I told about this alternative? Perhaps partly because I was very exact about what I wanted on the phone with Treinreiswinkel. I'm not sure if they could have offered to book this coach for me.
Because Treinreiswinkel took the hassle of booking away for me, I didn't bother looking for any other organisations offering similar services. If you know any, please leave your experiences with them in the comments below!
This is part 3 of a series:
Even environmentalists compromise (Bratislava, part 2)
Save the world, take a train (Bratislava, part 1)
Last Friday, a group of 30 young professionals from the broadest corners of the rail sector gathered in Utrecht to expand our expertise on a variety of themes as well as to expand the group of active supporters of the Train2EU movement.