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Choo-Choose Life

Posted by Natalie in Sustainable Travel Journal - 7 March 2011

Cheap and easy rail travel has arrived

Taking a plane is sometimes cheaper and often quicker than any other mode of transport, but it’s a myth that the train is always more expensive.  If you have time (and more than 100ml of fluid) you’re probably better off taking the train.

Convincing people that taking the train is less stressful, more relaxing, more civilised and generally better than flying is not difficult. It is now widely accepted that the arduous airport check-in and illogical security checks are necessary evils that add many hours of stress, boredom and irritation to a journey.  Not to mention the treatment of passengers by staff of ‘no frills’ airlines, who act like politeness and respect are commodities to be rationed along with in-flight meals and inoffensive branding.

People put up with it because it’s cheap. Dirt cheap. But trains can be cheap too. Last summer I paid £16 for a train from London to Edinburgh. It took four hours, so about the same as a flight would, all things considered.  Granted, it wasn’t so easy to get that bargainous price: 12 weeks before your date of travel, the train operator releases the fares. On the first day, the price was £107 for that ticket to Edinburgh, and I assumed that this would be the best price I could get, because they’d release the cheapest fares first and must have sold out. I left it a few days in any case, I had nothing to lose.  About a week later, they had released the advanced-purchase fares of £16. Cheeky. Or incompetent. Either way, it’s minimal extra effort for a massively improved journey at a much better price. All fares can be checked on the National Rail website, which then redirects you to the individual operator to book tickets.

Similarly, in Germany, there are a number of excellent discounts that make rail travel more accessible and appealing. Add to that the fact that Deutche Bahn’s flagship product, the ICE (intercity express) trains are pleasantly fast and luxurious, and it seems a no-brainer.  Fares to any city within Germany start at 29 euros each way, or you can travel to any of 13 European cities for 39 euros. If you travel by train often, a Bahn Card 25 costs 57 euros per year and will give you a further discount of 25 per cent off these prices.  Moreover, there are massive discounts when travelling at weekends, where five people can travel for the price of one ticket.

Overall, though, travelling by train is not made easy for us. Information on fares and timetables is sparse and often confusing.  Google now gives results for flights when you simply search for two destinations, but nothing like this has been available for train travel. Try buying a train ticket from Trenitalia for example; their website is quite intuitive until it comes to actually purchasing the ticket, and then you simply cannot go any further unless you have an Italian bank account and address. Of course, it doesn’t tell you this, you just hit a virtual brick wall and end up wondering what the hell happened.  What they also don’t tell you is that it is often cheaper to buy your tickets at the station just before you travel (an anomaly in the industry).

I’ve just discovered a brilliant new resource that consolidates all this information for you – fares, times, connections , details, potential problems and solutions – presenting it clearly and, importantly, neutrally. Made by passionate rail-travellers (and of course data wizards!), Loco2 has no agenda other than helping you travel  by train in the most efficient and enjoyably way possible.  Their brand new site is something that I have thought about doing many times myself, and I’m excited to see how they get on.



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