Train Travel

Train Travel
Individual Travel Assistance

A domain of particular expertise for Blue Marble.
Our logistics manager of 20 years has worked for 6 different railroads, Blue Marble is a charter member of the French Railways’ Consultative Committee on Intermodality (in the vernacular:   “bikes on trains”), and our core activity is closely intertwined with European train travel.

The following topics are discussed on this page.
You many find the discussion helpful even if you are making your own travel arrangements.  You’re welcome.

Editorial (you can skip this)
The quaint, behind-the-times Eurpeans still travel by train.  Electric speedsters move 1,400 people at 200 mph (320 kph) with a crew of three, generating the greenhouse gasses of 11 automobiles or a 10th of a small airplane.  New York to Boston would take 90 minutes and cost as little as $30 US on the French TGV.  Delightfully old fashioned, n’est-ce pas? Thank goodness such nonsense is confined to Europe!

If you think a train is just a long bus, with more room for screaming children, it’s time to reassess.  European trains are fast, reliable and comfortable (many have on-board dining or café facilities).  They offer city-center convenience, and are more spacious than cars or planes.  Plus, you’re not strapped in, so you can flee the screaming children.

The contrast with flying is especially sharp.  It takes longer to travel from downtown Paris to Paris’s Beauvais Airport than it does to get to Belgium by train (and longer to price and purchase a plane ticket than to do either).  Add in the flight check-in time, and the train would already have you in central London.  If you count the time spent boarding the plane and taxiing, you can train from Paris to 5 foreign countries before your plane would even take off!  On other plains (har — get it?):

  • In the last year for which we have figures, the three major European low-cost carriers combined for a flight cancellation rate approaching 12% (while at the same time vaunting their “on-time” statistics — turns out a cancelled flight is not considered “late”).
  • Since autumn of ‘04 (when we started counting), 23 carriers have gone bankrupt and ceased operation, often abruptly.  Seventeen stranded their passengers totally, without refunding tickets, while the rest were able to refund tickets, but offered no alternate travel arrangements (not much consolation when you paid 30€ for the ticket, and must now buy a replacement on a full-service carrier for 400€...).  One sacrificed all ticket holders to a volcano.

When it comes to planes, “Old Europe” looks a lot like the old west.

Factoring in city-to-airport trips, daylight trains are time-competitive for trips of up to 5 hours when compared with a “full service” airline, 7 or so when compared with a “low cost.”  And they let you enjoy the scenery en route.  Night trains waste even less of your time (and are time-competitive for even longer trips):  you sleep the trip away in a bed, buying an extra vacation day that would have been lost to travel, and saving the cost of a hotel night (though the more comfortable sleeping car cabins are just as expensive).  And, if you buy the tickets through us (we make it simple), you save another few hours there....

Regardless, why go to an exotic place you don’t know and then spin around up in the air?  Clouds look the same as the ones at home.  Villages and vineyards don’t.

Bottom line?   You are well-advised to take the train when you can afford it.  Be sure to use the “whole cost” of the trip to make your comparison.  IF the sum of the air ticket + taxes (included in train tickets) + “issuing fees” (there are none on the railway) + “credit card usage charges” (there are none on the railway) + luggage costs (there are none on the railway) + ground costs (the train brings you to the city you are actually trying to go to)... is significantly less than the cost of the train ticket, OR the trip time is significantly different (Athens to Amsterdam)...  AND you aren’t attached to your luggage, AND your global footprint is indifferent to you... head for the airport.  But it is best to be well-compensated before you put yourself through it.


General Discussion of Train Travel Costs

More Editorial (you can skip this, too)
Now for the bad news.  Emulating worst industry practice, the European railways have made it almost as complex to purchase rail tickets as it is to buy air tickets.  No two seats on the train are sold at the same price, and each comes with a mosaic of restrictions concerning changes and refunds.

Information provision is awful.  Web sites are full of gross errors.  The French site is probably the worst:  the info software was originally designed by a division of American Airlines.  It would be charitable to say that they understood zero of the world of train travel.  We actually suspect sabatoge.  Routings and fares can approach science-fiction for complex trips.

But the Spanish site gives the French a run for their money.  It is incapable of showing many journeys which require a change of train, and malfunctions in different ways with virtually every common browser.  The Portuguese site sometimes requires that you know the brand name of the train you wish to ride to find its schedule!

Station agents seem to have never set foot on the trains going by outside their windows.  And printed timetables are a thing of the past for all but the most professional operators....

One other conceptual point gives trouble:  train tickets (which can be used on a variety of different trains), and reservations for space aboard a given train, are often sold separately.  A railpass is a type of ticket, and does not include reservations to ride specific trains.  The good news is that reservation costs are reasonable and predictable.  They are outlined in the next section.

With all of this, shopping for the lowest fares is a tedious job, and you have no way of knowing when you have completed it.  And the potential savings are minor on what are already relatively low-cost tickets.

So... instead of spending the five hours it takes to figure out what discount ticket to buy, you would rationally get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter, work for three hours, and resign.  Then use your pay check to buy the first ticket you find.  You’d be financially ahead.  As with plane tickets, people often spend longer on the purchase process than they do on the trip.  But human nature is what it is, and you naturally resent spending more than the guy next to you for exactly the same seat.

We don’t have a silver bullet, but we can cut through some of this for you....

First, it may help you to accept your fate if you realize that even full-fare tickets are not terribly expensive for most European train travel, and so the time you spend looking for bargains should be limited.  Or you should enjoy the search as you would a hobby, like stamp collecting.

Second, we have a simple formula for issuing discount tickets.  It will not always produce the lowest price on the train, but it will always get close.  It ensures that you do not pay much more than the lowest fare, and avoids administrative hurdles like having to set up a European residence, or proving that you have a siamese twin.  See the section on Single Tickets for Long Journeys, below.



Reservations:  What Are They, When Do I Need One, How Much Does It Cost?

  • What Are They?
    Tickets / railpasses do not guarantee seats, beds, or cycle spaces on board trains.  Reservations do.

    A train ticket (or a railpass) buys travel from A to B.  But not on any particular train:  tickets are “open.”  Seats, beds, or cycle spaces on particular trains are secured by reservations, bought separately.

    Reservations guarantee you a preassigned seat, bed, or cycle space.  You may select a window or aisle (all Western European railways are non-smoking).  If you are reserving a sleeping berth in a multi-person cabin, you may select an upper or lower.

  • “When do I Need One?”
    On most long-distance trains, you must make a reservation in order to board.  Reservations may be made until minutes before departure if space is available.  These are:
    - Most high-speed (220 kph or faster) trains:  French TGVs, “Eurostars” to and from London, “Thalys” trains between Paris, Belgium, & Holland or Germany, X 2000 trains in Sweden.
    - All Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Norwegian express trains, and most express trains in France.
    - All overnight trains.

    On other trains (in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Benelux countries, Denmark...), they are optional.  They provide the luxury of a guaranteed seat (as opposed to sitting in the aisle on your suitcase if the train is full), but you are not required to have one to board the train.

    Like planes, even all-reserved-seat daylight trains overbook.  But, unlike planes, you will never get bumped off, and can always make your trip.  If you are among the last to reserve a seat on a train which requires seat reservations, you will receive a boarding pass without a seat assignment, and will occupy a “no-show” seat once the train pulls out of the station.  If no seats are available, you sit in the café, or on a fold-out seat at the end of the car.  Sub-optimal, but at least you get where you are going on your first-choice schedule.

    If you are travelling with a bicycle on any sort of fast train, it is necessary to reserve a space for your bicycle, even when reserving a passenger seat is optional.

  • “If I Don’t Need a Reservation, Should I Make One Anyway?”
    Perhaps.  We would suggest it for long trips, for scenic trips where a window is important to your enjoyment of the ride, or for any trip on a Friday or a Sunday afternoon (unless you don’t mind sitting on your suitcase).

    More generally, if you aren't too close to the funds, seat reservations can avoid unpleasant surprises (a train is packed-and-standing with people heading to some convention, or because an airport is closed, or whatever).

    Reservations on trains which do not require them can be made until the day before the train’s departure, but not generally on the departure date.  So, once you see the 2,000 boy scounts on the platform, it is too late to run back to the ticket office and block a seat.

  • How Much Do Seat / Bicycle Reservations Cost?
    If you choose (or are obligated) to make a reservation for a particular train before you arrive in Europe, the railroad charges 10 - 50€ per person per train, irrespective of class of service or distance.  Cycle reservations are at the low end of this range, but are not generally available outside of Europe.  Our fees are additional, if you make the reservations through us.

    If you must take several trains to reach your destination, each seat reservation is charged separately, though there is sometimes a volume discount:  reservations on connecting trains cost less than the initial reservation on the first train.

    Reservations cost a few € less at any given price if made locally in Europe, at a railway station.  But when you have stood on line for 2 hours in the swealtering heat of an Italian summer to book a seat on a train that departed while you waited, you may wish you had spent the extra 5€.

    The higher reservation charges correspond to all trains in Spain, to first class on fast trains in Italy (“Freccia” services), and to trains operating between Paris and Belgium, Holland, Germany, or Switzerland.  Reservation costs on these range from 25€ to 40€ (the high end of the range is for trains which offer a “free” onboard meal).
    Alternate services, slower and less comfortable, but with lower or no reservation charges, are available in all cases outside of Spain.  Spain is just expensive for railpass holders, no matter how you slice it.  And we aren’t big fans of the “railpass + Thalys” combination, either.  Thalys is the name of the company that operates from Paris to Belgium, Holland and northern Germany.  Their “reservation” charge is essentially a fraud whereby you pay for the same ticket twice.  Thalys even tries to charge 25€ for a seat reservation in 2nd class, where you are lucky if they cleaned the car after its last trip!

    In addition, unless you make your reservation directly with the railroad, there will be an agency charge, or a (higher) “shipping / handling” charge if you book through Rail Europe.

    Bicycle reservations (on trains which carry cycles) generally cost 10€ - 15€.  Space for cycles is very limited, and often sells out, especially in the summer and on weekends.  Cycle reservations can only be made in Europe (or through us — our fees are below).


On Night Trains, What Sleeping Accommodation is Available, and How Much Does it Cost?

The basic offering is the couchette (some night trains, but not all, offer even cheaper reclining seats, as on an overnight plane).  Couchettes are berths in spartan and somewhat claustrophobic cabins, generally mixed-sex, though female-only cabins are offered on some routes.  Regular couchettes are 6 to a cabin, “Comfort” couchettes are 4 to a cabin.

Sleeping cars are offered on some routes, and are more luxurious.  They offer more spacious single-sex cabins (any gender mix can occupy a cabin, provided the group buys all the berths in the cabin), for 1 - 4 people, with incorporated wash stands, beds with mattresses, and sometimes room service.  “Deluxe” single and double cabins, available on some routes, include ensuite showers.

Editorial:  we are big fans of sleeping cars.  They offer the comfort needed for a night’s rest, and thus supply a hotel night and an additional vacation day, combined.  You actually spend fewer waking hours on travel than if you fly, and can even save money if you factor in the saved hotel night and city-to-airport transfers.  While couchettes have the substantial merit of economy, sleeping cars are better compared to the costs of flying:  they are fun, comfortable, effectively faster, at roughly equivalent cost.

Berth costs (which must be paid in addition to the cost of the train ticket needed for the trip) vary by route, but not by distance travelled.  Approximate prices for berths purchased outside of Europe are:

  • 25€ for a regular couchette.
  • 40€ for a “Comfort Couchette”
  • 50€ for a more comfortable bed in a more spacious single-sex, 3- or 4-person cabin (the entire cabin can be reserved by a group of 3 or 4, regardless of gender)
  • 65€ for a berth in a double cabin
  • 90€ to 150€ for the range of private cabin.
  • “Deluxe” cabins (w/ private shower), cost around 50€ additional for a double cabin, 40€ additional for a single.

To convert these to your currency, you can use this tool : http://www.bluemarble.org/CurrencyConv.html

Bed charges are lower on most domestic services (trains operating within one European country), and, curiously, in Germany and Scandinavia.  A first class ticket or railpass is required to occupy all private single cabins.

In addition, unless you book your sleeping accommodation directly with the railroad, there may be an agency charge (which it may be in your interest to pay:  understanding the offerings of any given night train is well beyond the ability of railroad ticket agents not working with their home networks, and they are not explained on railroad web sites, where it is assumed that you understand what a “T-2” means).



“What Type of Ticket(s) Should I Use for My Pre- / Post-Trip Travel?”

  • If you are making only one or two trips OR if all of your trips are less than 200 miles / 300 kilometers, you should probably buy individual tickets:  separate, point-to-point tickets for each journey made.

    The only advantage of a railpass in these cases is ease of use, and only on routes where reservations are not required (no waiting on ticket lines, just climb on the train and ride).  This is especially helpful in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Benelux countries, where ticket costs are high, and few trains require reservations

  • If you are planning to make several trips, including at least one of 200 miles / 300 kilometers or more, a railpass may offer substantial savings in 1st class, and smaller savings in 2nd, while preserving the flexibity to change your plans, and offering security in the event of a missed train (a more common occurance in a place where you don’t know your way around).

    Railpasses are good for the number of days of travel you choose (you pay per travel day, not per trip), irrespective of distance or destination.  The price of each travel day is digressive, with the first day costing by far the most.  So at least one long trip is generally necessary to get that first day to pay for itself.  The more trains you take, and the longer the distances involved, the greater the savings.

    They are rarely the cheapest way to travel:   non-flexible / non-refundable tickets purchased months in advance will be the cheapest way to travel.  But railpasses buy flexibility at a modest premium.  You may change your travel plans, or even cancel them enitrely before you start your trip, and recover a substantial portion of your costs.  And, if you are setting up your trip a short time before travel, a railpass may be the only way to travel at a substantial discount on full fare.

  • You may also want or need a seat (or bed) reservation for some trips.  For details, see Reservations, above.


Railpasses

We issue Railpasses fee-free, and support “our” travellers in a variety of ways that often turn out to be crucial.

Background:   What is a Railpass?
A railpass is an open ticket valid on trains anywhere in the country(ies) for which it is purchased.  Note:   reservations must be additionally secured for trains which require them.

Passes are good for a pre-selected number of not-necessarily-consecutive days’ travel (from 3 to 15) in a period of 2 months.  The more days you buy, the less the per-day cost of the pass.

Passes can be purchased for travel in 1 country, or in 2 or more adjoining countries (23 participate in the program).  Cost rises slightly per country added to the pass.   The Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg), are offered as one country, and some of the Balkans group themselves in the same manner (Slovenia with Croatia, Serbia with Bulgaria and Montenegro).

Discounts are available to 2 or more people travelling together at all times in 1st class, and also to passengers under 26 years old on their first day of travel in 2nd class.

If you need general railway information, concerning travel times, service frequencies, or ticket prices, we suggest Rail Europe’s website.  While Rail Europe is not generally the best place to purchase your travel (we are), their English language fare and schedule function can give you order-of-magnitude information easily and quickly.
http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm.

Why Should You Buy Your Pass Through Us?
We save you money (at the very least, our shipping charges are lower and our shipping is faster).
We also help you with your travel in a variety of ways.

  • We quickly analyze your travel plans to tell you which pass is best suited to them, if indeed any is.
  • We warn of routes on which reservations are required for travel.
  • Once your plans are set, we can also help you to make those reservations.
    We can even reserve trains not in the Rail Europe data base (which contains fewer than half of Europe’s main line services).  Indeed, reservations made through us with sufficient advance notice are modifiable in Europe, unlike those booked through other non-European outlets, including Rail Europe.
  • If you are travelling with a bicycle, we can reserve bicycle spaces on trains which carry cycles — such reservations are not otherwise available outside of Europe.
  • We are experts at getting our passengers on board “sold out” trains.
    This is a complex service that we only offer to holders of railpasses we have issued.  Which leads to a degree of resentment on the part of people who bought their passes elsewhere, or on line, and who are routinely told that there are no trains to their destinations for three days running.
  • We offer a 25% discount on our Paris luggage storage.
    You will find this helpful when that souvenir pottery you picked up at the start of your trip in Portugal, starts to weigh on your shoulder.
  • More generally, you become “our client.”   This has a set of intangible benefits which become glaringly apparent when, for instance, you lose your passport (we have helped to replace 14 since we started counting in 2008).

If you are travelling on one of our cycle trips, we may additionally be able to offer pass options not available to the general public, or discounted prices.  Further, passes purchased through us may reduce the cost of your “Access Packages,” provide free 1st class upgrades, or both.

Finally, buying your pass through us is a way of thanking us for all these helpful hints.  If no one pays for the “shareware,” it disappears.  :-)



Single Tickets for Long Journeys (typically 300 kilometers / 180 miles or more), Sleeping Car Reservations

If you are willing to accept tickets (or sleeping car reservations) which are not refundable or exchangeable, we may be able to get you a lower fare by buying your tickets through brokers, or from other resellers in Europe.  We also have other “discount tricks” involving subscription fares.  And we ourselves are a ticket broker, which sometimes gives us access to yet other “gray market” fares.

The farther in advance you book, the greater the discounts potentially available.

If we find a fare that is cheaper than that available outside of Europe, we split the difference with you.  For example, if Rail Europe’s announced fare is $100 US, and we find a local market restricted ticket for the € equivalent of $50 US, we charge you $75 US.  If we do not produce a savings to you of at least 10% over a ticket bought outside of Europe, we ask you what you wish to do before issuing a restricted ticket.  Typical savings are 20%, but they can be more, especially if you are travelling in 1st class, or are under 26 years of age.

Some of our discount rates are the fruit of special negotiations between Blue Marble and European railway companies.  Some may only be available to participants in our cycle tours.  Some may be the result of the unorthodox (though legitimate) use of a railpass or a volume discount pass which we hold as a company.  Or we may simply capture an “internet special” fare because we are set up to receive alerts from about a bizillion sources and in as many languages, and actually read them for you.  We have lots of tricks, as you may have started to suspect by now.

If no advantageous local market ticket (or sleeping car reservation) is available, but the ticket available in Europe is no more expensive than the ticket bought elsewhere (including all taxes, shipping costs, agency fees...) we may nonetheless issue it in Europe. 
This is to your advantage.  You get a ticket which can be modified in Europe, not generally the case for tickets issued outside of Europe.

See below for our standard agency fees, which are applied above and beyond the cost of your travel.

Warning:  modification or refund charges apply even to full fare train tickets in Europe.  They are generally substantial or total on train-specific discount tickets, which are neither refundable nor changeable (one of the advantages of travelling on a railpass).  Bottom line:  despite the advance-purchase advantages, you should order discount tickets only once your travel plans are reasonably certain.



Tickets for Shorter Journeys

If you are only making short trips, we offer unrestricted tickets (changeable, and refundable prior to travel date less 20% of ticket cost).  Prices can be consulted at http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm.

Discounts:  if you book at least 21 days in advance of your date of travel (2 weeks if you are willing to pick up your tickets in our Paris office), and tell us at the time of booking that you are willing to accept tickets which are not refundable or exchangeable, we may be able to get you a lower fare by buying your tickets through local sources in Europe.  The farther in advance you book, the more likely this is to be true, and the greater the discounts potentially available.

In this case, we split the difference with you:  if the outside-of-Europe published fare is the equivalent of 50€, and we find a local market restricted ticket for 24€, we get it for you and charge you 37€.  If we do not produce a savings to you of at least 10€ (or the rough equivalent in your currency) over an unrestricted ticket bought outside of Europe, we issue an unrestricted ticket, unless you have previously told us to do otherwise.  This is because the miniscule savings are not worth the risk of a change in plans or a missed train.


We can also reserve seats for you if you so wish - see “Reservations,” above.



Pricing Your Trip:  Tickets or a Railpass?

If you need a price quote on a given trip or trips in order to make your plans, or in order to decide whether or not you are better off with a railpass, start by ascertaining the “regular” fare for the trip you are contemplating, available at the European railways’ web site:

http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm.

Once you have a quote on a given itinerary, we may be able to offer you a cheaper railpass option (to preserve flexibility), or restricted tickets at lower fares.



For Passengers on our Cycle Trips:  Upgrades, to 1st Class or Sleeping Car

Consider upgrading your class of travel for “Access Package” train journeys, and for train rides included in our long trips.  Our (often steep) discounts allow luxurious travel at reasonable prices.  Upgrades provide different things on day and overnight trains.

Upgrading on Daylight Trains
What You Get:  our trips and “Access Packages” include 2nd class rail tickets.  Upgrading puts you in 1st class instead:  comfortable, spacious (±40% more room per passenger), and vinyl-free.  It smells better, and seats may be available on trains sold out in 2nd class.  The added comfort is welcome after a night flight, or on cramped high-speed trains.

1st class does not generally include meals:  food is sold separately on most continental European trains.  Exceptions are “Eurostar” trains between London and Paris or Brussels; Spanish express trains under their plethoric and incomprehensible brand names (“AVE,” “Euromed,” “Altara,” “Alvia,” “Alaris,” etc.); and trains between Paris and Belgium, Holland, Germany and Switzerland.  On all these services, at-seat meals are provided as part of the ticket cost in 1st class, though they can tend more to “snack” depending on the time of day.

The cost of upgrading to 1st class varies by distance, but is always far lower than comparable upgrades on planes.
You can usually travel in 1st class on a train for less than the cost of travelling in the overhead bin on a plane.  This despite the fact that you benefit from your comfort for a longer trip (plane upgrades do not help you on the journey to or from the airport, which can take longer than the flight itself).

Upgrading on Overnight Trains
What You Get:  the overnight trains included on our trips include at least a “Comfort Couchette” (a summary berth in a mixed-sex, 4-berth cabin).  A more basic offering (6 berths per cabin) costs less...  but it is a pretty tight fit.  Upgrading moves you to a sleeping car.  Real sleeping cars offer more spacious single-sex cabins, for 1 - 4 people, with incorporated wash stands, beds with mattresses, and sometimes room service.   “Deluxe” single and double cabins, available on some routes, include ensuite shower and WC.

The cost of upgrading varies with accommodation chosen, the route, the underlying fare code used to upgrade your ticket.  So these €uro prices are approximate.  They correspond to the additional amount that you must pay to upgrade from the tickets already included in our “Access Packages” or our cycle trips.  They are not the whole cost prices of the respective berths, which are estimated above.

  • 3- or 4-Person “Tourist” Sleeping Car Cabin.  ±20€ per berth.  Mixed-gender couples cannot take berths in the same cabin, but a mixed-gender group occupying all beds can reserve an entire “family” cabin.
  • 2-Person Cabin.  ±40€ per berth.
    Single berths cannot generally be purchased in double cabins (you must be 2 people travelling together to occupy a double), though there are exceptions (mostly trains serving Paris).
  • Private Single Cabin.  65 - 90€.  These prices include the required upgrade of the underlying ticket to 1st class.
  • “Deluxe” Cabins, where available.  40€ over the cost of a regular single, 28€ per berth over the cost of a regular double.
    On international trains serving Spain, deluxe cabins on many routes include rather elaborate multi-course meals in the train’s fine restaurant car, and can thus be slightly more expensive.

We are big fans of “real” sleeping cars.  They offer the comfort needed for a night’s rest, and thus supply a hotel night and an additional vacation day, combined.  You actually spend fewer waking hours on travel than if you fly, and savings can be substantial if you factor in the saved hotel night and city-to-airport transfers.  While couchettes have the substantial merit of economy, sleeping cars are more rationally compared to flying:  at a roughly equivalent price, they are fun, comfortable, and effectively faster.



Getting Bicycles on Trains

This is a domain of particular expertise for Blue Marble.  We offer to either “consult” (tell you how to do it, either route by route or country by country, and let you do it yourself), or to reserve cycle spaces for you along with your rail tickets.

For further information, consult our bicycle home page, and in particular the section concerning getting bikes on trains.  If you know what you want, including routes and precise trains, and just need our help booking it, see reservations, above, and / or fees, below.



Obtaining Further Information

Upon request, and on a fee basis, we provide detailed quotes, travel itineraries, comparative studies of different routes or fare options.  See our fee schedule, below.  To get rough ideas of $ costs for individual tickets without charge, you may instead consult the Rail Europe web site:  http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm

For those who have already purchased their tickets or railpasses through us, or who have registered for one of our escorted trips, we offer the provision of general train information (frequency, travel time, but not specific schedules), at no charge.  We also offer discount luggage storage in our Paris office, and luggage shipment, should you wish to forward some of your baggage to a point further along in your itinerary.

The dispensing of information is time-consuming and thus costly.   And it is hard to charge for.  This is especially true for the type of expertise we offer (cabin types on night trains, arcane stuff about border points and train routings, tricks to get spaces on “sold out” trains, luggage movement, the relative quality of train catering...).  Our apologies to passengers who did not purchase their tickets or railpasses through us, and are just looking for information:  please address “free” questions to the agency through which you purchase your ticket or pass, or to the railroad directly if the pass was bought from Rail Europe (good luck with that).  You may not get accurate answers, but until we can get the European railways to put us on retainer, we can only answer questions in exchange for our itinerary preparation charge (see our fee schedule, below).

If desired, we offer a travel consulting service which can help you with itinerary creation, charging for the service on an hourly basis.  But it is an expensive service for rather intangible benefits, and most of our clients for it are travel agencies, group organizers, or tour operators, who can amortize the cost across many travellers....



Car Rental / Hire

We offer discount auto rentals in association with long-distance rail travel (in other words, pick up the car at a regional train station, use it for local exploration, and drop it off at that station or another within the same country).  Our service makes local touring by car economical, and allows you to travel the long distances by rail (at least two long-distance rail trips are required).  We select rental car companies with pick-up and drop off local to the station.

We offer a voucher system for car rental:  2 or more car vouchers, good for 24 hours each.  They can be used together, or separately, in one country, or several.  Voucher price varies with car size and features, also with country, but is always less on a per-diem basis than typical less-than-one-week rental costs.  And drop-off at an alternate rail station within the same country is available without extra cost.  Travellers make their own reservations, directly with the rental car company (almost always Avis or Hertz), or through us for a 10€ charge.  Reservations can be modified without penalty.

We do not arrange one-way international rentals, which are fantastically expensive.  Nor do we offer stand-alone car rental.



Our Fees

These are agency fees, designed to pay us for our work.  They are in addition to charges levied by the railroad.  They can be paid on line, here.

  • We issue railpasses in our U.S. office fee-free.  If you are already in Europe, the passes can be delivered through our Paris office.
  • We offer detailed English-language route study, including time and price options, schedule preparation showing departure and arrival times of the train or trains necessary to complete the trip, connection points and times, accommodation and catering services available on board.  20€ per itinerary for travellers purchasing tickets or railpasses through us, 36€ / itinerary otherwise.
    We provide approximate price quotes (actual fare guaranteed to be no more than 10% higher on the day of the quotation) for no charge if you have purchased a railpass thru us.
    You may obtain your own approximate prices and schedules through Rail Europe’s web site, http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/point_to_point/triprequest.htm
    Some city pairs are not loaded to this data base, requiring you to enter an A-to-B-to-C route to get your fare.  But it can give you a price within a couple of percentage points.  Our suggestion for those for whom minor fare savings are important:  get your best quote elsewhere, and send it to us, telling us where you got it.  We will use that as the upper limit for your fare.  We will get the ticket for less, or will tell you to buy it where you found it if that is the best solution for you.

  • We issue single-trip tickets (not a railpass), or make seat / bed reservations for holders of railpasses purchased through us, for a 14€ dossier (agency) fee per journey, plus 4€ for additional seats or beds on the same train.  Connecting trains, if required, cost 4€ for the first seat, 2€ / additional seat on the same train.  The railroad’s charges for the tickets / reservations themselves are additional.
    - If you already hold a railpass or a ticket purchased elsewhere, the per journey agency charge is 24€ for the first seat, 4€ per additional seat on the same train, and connecting trains can be reserved for 10€ / 1st seat, 2€ / additional seat.
    - To use this service without paying additionally for our “route study” service, tell us which train(s) you wish booked (precisely, looking them up on the Rail Europe web site or elsewhere), or a time band during which you wish to travel.  Provided your train exists, we then book it without reverting to you for confirmation, at the best price available.  We do not, however, look for an alternate departing 2 hours later at half the price.  That is what the “route study” service is for.
    - These are the charges which apply provided all passengers are using the same fare.  If we can apply a more steeply discounted fare to some passengers than to others, a “first passenger” dossier fee will apply for each fare used.  Obviously, if the savings from the discount fare do not equal the additional dossier fee, we will use the combination of fares and fees that produces the lowest cost to you.
    - Our dossier fee may be higher for particularly complex journeys involving multiple connections, or trains operated by different companies which require separate ticketing.  If your trip requires a higher agency fee, we will tell you prior to making your arrangements, and give you a chance to refuse our services.
    -
    The dossier fee applies per invoice.  So, two families travelling together but paying separately are subject to two fees.
    - “Connecting trains” are trains arriving in and departing from the same station, within an hour of each other.

  • Bicycle reservations cost 26€ for the first bicycle space, 6€ for additional spaces, up to 4.  For groups of over 4 on the same train, the full 26€ fee applies to all passengers, since reservations for groups larger than 4 must be specially negotiated, and are difficult to obtain. 
    - The railroad’s charge for cycle tickets is additional.  It varies slightly, but is generally 10€ per cycle.
    - In France, cycle spaces include an accompanying seat reservation.
  • Shipping charges:
    - To the US:  $12 for traceable USPS Priority Mail, $24 for 2nd-business-day delivery, $38 for overnight.
    - To Canada:  $16 C for traceable mail, $42 C for guaranteed delivery services.
    - To Australia or New Zealand:  16€ for traceable mail, 38€ for guaranteed delivery services.
    - To France:  12€ for a lettre recommandée, 28€ for overnight Chronoposte.
    - To other European countries:  14€ for a registered letter, 38€ for 2nd day air courrier (DHL or similar)
    Other international charges are higher, and vary with the nature and speed of the shipment.
    We issue the railroad version of e.tickets (called “print-at-home” tickets) when we can, which saves shipping charges.  But not all fares are available as e.tickets, and when they are not, we must post actual paper tickets to you.  Even e.tickets are sent as pdf’s which must be printed from your home computer.  In sum, you must always present a piece of paper to the conductor / guard aboard any train.
    We regret that we cannot guarantee the services of organizations like the Post Office, Fedex, or UPS.  If tickets sent punctually are delivered late or misdelivered, you must take the issue up directly with the carrier.
  • Refund charges are 20€ per order, in addition to any assessed by the railroad.  Paper tickets issued in Europe (printed in other than English) must be returned to our Paris office, paper tickets issued in North America (printed in English) must be returned to our US office.  The date on which we receive the tickets determines their date of refund.  Tickets issued as .pdf files, when refundable, can be refunded on your simple instruction.  It is not necessary to return them to us.
  • See also the previous topic, “Obtaining Further Information.”

Payment

Rail passes and tickets issued in North America (and priced in $US) can be paid for by credit card (Visa, MC, and also Amex).  Send us this authorization form as a scanned pdf document, or by fax.  If you prefer, you may transmit your card details by phone or by e.mail.  In the last case, we suggest that you send the card info in two successive e.mails:  the first should contain the first 12 numbers of the card, and the second should contain the final numbers, expiration date, and the zip or postal code of your billing address (this foils computer programs that scan random internet transmissions for recognizable credit card numbers).

If your tickets are best issued in Europe, you may make a secure online payment by credit card, here.  Use of a credit card in this manner incurs an additional 2% charge (we pass on to you the credit card “discount rate” — bank fee — as we would otherwise lose 2% on every sale). 

If you prefer, you may supply us in advance with your card information, using this authorization form.  We then issue the tickets using your card directly. 
If you prefer, you may transmit your card details by phone or by e.mail.  In the last case, we suggest that you send the card info in two successive e.mails:  the first should contain the first 12 numbers of the card, and the second should contain the final numbers, expiration date, and the zip or postal code of your billing address (this foils computer programs that scan random internet transmissions for recognizable credit card numbers).