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What to Expect When Traveling by Train

What to Expect When Traveling by Train
Riding the rails is easy, stylish and fun

If you're planning a trip to Europe and wonder what's the best way to get around, why not try exploring by train. You may be uncertain about exploring Europe by train, simply because you don't know what to expect and don't understand how train travel works. You may worry about how to get around rail stations, what to do with luggage, how to read timetables and, most importantly, how to find the right seat on the right train. You'll soon see that rail travel is the convenient, affordable, amazing experience that it is. Let's start at the beginning.

Airport Connections
A good idea is to fly into a European airport that has direct links to the center of your first city of travel. Train stations are located within many European airports. This includes Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona Prat, Berlin Schoenfeld, Birmingham, Brussels Nationaal, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Genève Cointrin, London (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted), Malaga, Manchester, Munchen Strauss, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Rome Leonardo da Vinci, Stockholm, Stuttgard Echterdingen, Wein Schwechat and Zurich Kloten.

The Train Station
The adventure begins in the European train stations. In most cases, these create the first impressions visitors have of each city on their itinerary. Each station is unique, often picturesque, with its own distinct personality. Most are centrally located and have a full range of convenient services and facilities to make transit passengers feel at ease. Remember: When you can't find your train or need help in a European train station, you should look for the "i", the universal symbol for "Information." In most major stations, you will find:

information desks access to metro/subway stations
reservation offices taxi stands
restrooms postal services
gift shops restaurants
luggage carts lockers
bookstores (great for purchasing maps and city tour guides) currency exchange
ATMs telephone


The best rule of thumb is to pack lightly and don't travel with more bags than you can handle yourself. And the lighter your bags are, the happier you'll be. Most train stations provide baggage carts, but you still need to load your bags on them, or you may have to go up and down a staircase. On the trains you are allowed to bring as many carry-on bags as you can place underneath your seat or in the baggage rack above you. Some trains have special racks for baggage, but unless they were checked, you are always responsible for them. All excess baggage must be checked.

Most train stations have lockers or luggage checkrooms where you can store your bags. Many stations no longer have porters, but if they do, you'll easily recognize them by their uniform or official badge.

Timetables and Finding Your Train
In most stations poster timetables show departure, arrival and platform numbers. They can be recognized easily by the background color. As a rule, departure timetables are printed on a yellow background. Arrival tables are on a white background. Major rail stations provide this information on computerized boards. All trains are listed chronologically from 0 to 24 hours. Fast trains are shown in red rather than black ink. Next to the time you'll see the name and number of the important intermediate stops, as well as track and platform number at which the train departs and arrives.

Finding the Right Car
Once you have found the right track, the next step is to locate the right car. Some trains will split at certain junctions, one part going one way and the other heading in a different direction or stopping altogether, so, it is necessary to find the right car. Also, if a passenger has a reservation, he/she must match the number shown on his/her ticket with the correct car and seat number. If passengers are planning to get off a train at a small town not noted on the side panel, they need to ask the conductor which car they should be on before, or slightly after, boarding.

To further assist passengers, many train stations will have diagrams located on the platforms that illustrate the location of each car on the train. These diagrams enable travelers to situate themselves on the platform very close to where their seat will be. Each train car has an identification panel on its side, indicating:

on top: the name of the city where it originated.
on the bottom: the name of the final destination.
in between: the names of the most important stops en route.
beside the door: a digital panel will indicate the car number.

Each car is also marked first-class or second-class by a number "1" or "2" displayed on its side. There may also be a yellow stripe under the roof for first-class, green for second-class.


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