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European Train Travel Questions Answered

An Introduction

Therebytrain.com answers your questions about European train travel, tickets, types of train, stations and rail passes; saving you time and money!

What is a rail pass?

A rail pass enables its holder/user to travel by trains and avoid the need to purchase separate tickets for each journey between two destinations.
Used correctly they can provide for an amazing trip of a lifetime and enable their users to make significant savings in comparison to purchasing separate tickets.

The rail pass will have specific terms and conditions that specify how it can be used. Rail passes can be:

  • regional – can only be used within a set geographical area
  • used throughout a single country
  • enable travel for a group of countries that share borders
  • enable travel by train through the majority of countries in Europe.

Terms and conditions also apply to the length of time that a rail pass valid for, some rail passes can be used on any (consecutive) days within a defined period of time; others can be used for defined number of days of train travel within a separate period of time.

The terms and conditions also often apply to trains that users can travel by, for example regional passes often exclude access to the fastest express trains.

Rail pass prices are calculated against the STANDARD COSTS per kilometre of train travel and in theory they enable the user to save significant amounts of money in comparison to purchasing separate tickets per journey (for LONG DISTANCE train travel).
The greater the distance travelled, the greater the amount of money that will be saved in comparison to purchasing separate tickets for each journey.

Rail passes do not include any additional costs of train travel such as:

  • supplements that are applied for travel by many high speed trains
  • compulsory seat reservations that are applicable to certain day trains
  • optional seat reservations
  • the reservation fees for any form of flat bed or reclining seat on overnight trains.

However, on the overwhelming majority of trains in Europe you can still hop on board with your rail pass and travel as far as you wish, without incurring any additional costs or hassle.

What can make a rail pass a less convenient option is that trains that travel the long distances between popular destinations are often those on which additional charges apply or on which making an optional reservation is a good idea.
Also limited numbers of seats are set aside for rail pass users on certain (but not all) popular high speed train routes, so before travelling a long distance on an express trains always check whether your rail pass covers you for the journey PRIOR TO BOARDING.

Pleading ignorance and attempting to pay any additional charges if you’re challenged by the train conductor/guard once on the train is very rarely an option.
Rail pass users who haven’t paid the required supplements or reservation fees prior to boarding are often treated in a similar manner to travellers who have tried to avoid paying for tickets at all. This can seem harsh and it fuels many of the negative comments about using rail passes that can be found online.

ThereByTrain.com will help ensure that you avoid these scenarios and have an amazing rail pass based trip. We’ve striven to tell you:

  • when additional charges apply
  • how to pay for them
  • how to avoid the need to pay them by taking alternative trains or routes
  • how to make the most of additional discounts that are attached to many rail passes.

We appreciate that we’ve provide A LOT of information and much of it isn’t exactly scintillating, but it will help you have that trip of a lifetime while helping you save both time and money!

What does ThereByTrain mean by ‘Type Of Train’?

'Type Of Train - Three words that are used multiple times on virtually every page on ThereByTrain.com and this is why.

In certain countries if you buy a train ticket to a destination, or have a pass that’s valid for a journey by train, you are then free to choose to travel by any train you wish on that route.
In other countries your ticket/pass between two destinations is only valid on trains provided by a specific company.

What often confuses those new to train travel in many countries in Europe is that tickets are often only valid for travel between destinations on a certain type of train – express, slow, high-speed, local etc.
If you’ve never travelled by train before in such a country it can be difficult to apply this logic and work out the different types of train before you buy a ticket or board at the station.

In certain instances different types of train provide alternative services between two destinations, but for other journeys only one type of train will be available.

‘Types of train’ are grouped together for numerous reasons including -  because they are:

  • Faster
  • Travel on high speed lines for all or part of the journey (all high speed trains have a specific train type)
  • Slower
  • Cross borders (all international long distance express day trains have a specific train type)
  • Have specific on board facilities such as restaurant cars
  • Tilt when they travel around bends
  • Overnight trains

Looking at our ‘Trains’ pages will help you to work out which types of train operate on each route. The ‘type of train’ doesn’t refer to a specific departure, it applies to all journeys by that ‘type of train’ that day and every day.

For example all direct trains between Paris And Amsterdam are Thalys trains, while the fastest trains between Milan and Venice are all FB trains while the slower trains are all REG trains.

The ‘type’ of train matters because identifying which type of trains operate between destinations can help you save time by reaching your destination; or money - if your prime criteria is paying the cheapest possible ticket price or avoiding additional charges.
The general rule is that a faster a type of train is, the more expensive its tickets/additional charges will be. Travelling by a slower train can often enable you to save €40 or more!

What is a supplement?

A supplement is a surcharge that has to be paid by all passengers when using many of the prestige DAY trains in Europe including the majority of those that travel on high speed lines and cross borders.

All supplements also includes a seat reservation on the train, reservations are compulsory on all trains on which suplemennts are paybale.
For this reason some travel sites and ticket desks don't use the term supplement and only refer to reservation fees.
If ticket booking office staff don't understand a request, or query about supplements, ask them about the reservation fee instead.

Passengers buying individual tickets for travel on these trains will have the supplement automatically added to their ticket price at the point of purchase.

Supplements and rail pass users

However, holders of rail passes will often need to pay the supplement as an additional cost depending on the terms and conditions of the particular rail passes. The supplement nearly always includes the price of any compulsory seat reservation.

Click this link to see details of Supplements prices for rail pass users and a snapshot of the types of train in Europe on which they have to be paid.
We've also suggested the most convenient alternatives for avoiding the charges.

Supplements should always be paid prior to boarding the trai, as paying on the train is usually not on option, and is best avoided.
In the worst case scenarios, if you haven't paid the supplement, you can be fined, or charged for a separate new ticket at the most expensive rate.

Supplements are paid for travelling on a specific type of train and not for a journey, so have a fixed price.
Therefore they can give good value in both comfort and time saving for long journeys but can seem expensive for shorter trips.
However for shorter journeys, alternative trains for which supplements aren’t necessary, are usually available.

How I can check in advance whether I have to pay a supplement?

Supplements only have to be paid on specific types of train in Europe

They are; Alaris, Alleo, Alvia, Arco, Artesia, Avant, (AVE Spain), Arco, Berlin-Warsaw Express, EC trains to/from Hungary, Italy, Poland and Slovakia only, ELP, all Freccia trains in Italy, IC trains in Croatia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Norway (2nd class pass holders only), Poland and Slovakia and IC trains between Oslo-Stockholm, ICE Sprinter services (no supplement charged on other ICE trains), Pendolino (Finland), Lyria, Super City, Talgo, Talgo 200, Teoz, TGV, TLK and X2000 trains.

Further information on train types is available on the therebytrain.com Trains pages

How can I avoid paying supplements?

Despite the long list above, the overwhelming majority of trains in Europe don't require a supplement. Rail pass holders don't have to pay supplements on any train(s) in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany (except for easily avoided ICE-S trains), The Netherlands (except for easily avoided 'NS high speed trains), Switzerland and Great Britain.

Supplements are not charged on local and comparatively slow services and they are not required on internal express (IC) services in many countries including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and the UK.

Holders of Eurail and Inter-Rail passes do not have to pay supplements when travelling on ICE trains in Germany or when travelling on the majority of international EC trains, but the EC trains to/from Italy are one of the exceptions to this rule!

For some high speed lines there are slower parallel routes on which trains that don’t require supplements operate, examples include; Florence to Rome and Paris to Lyon.

For border crossing routes on which trains that charge supplements operate, it is usually possible to use local trains that run between towns on either side of the frontier, but passengers taking this option will usually have to change trains again to reach their final destination.
Non rail pass users will usually have to purchase separate tickets when changing trains.

Try to consider the costs of a supplement, in comparison to the time and convenience you’ll be saving, before opting for an alternative train service.

Do I have to reserve seats?

Seats Must to be reserved in advance when travelling on certain types of long distance train, particularly in France, Hungary, Italy and Spain You can make reservations in France, Italy and Spain for high speed long distance trains up to a few minutes before boarding using special machines at the station.

Reservations are also compulsory on many International Trains, particularly on routes to/from Italy and Hungary and on other cross border express trains in Eastern Europe.

Reservations are compulsory on the majority of high speed trains (ICE trains are an exception), even for journeys by such trains that aren't on high speed lines.
However, ordinary (non rail pass) tickets for journeys by such trains include the reservation.
The supplements that rail pass users have to pay to travel on trains with a compulsory reservation, includes the seat reservation fee.

Do consider that long distance express trains on which you do NOT have to reserve seats may not have sufficient seats available to all passengers particularly in the summer, in skiing areas during the winter and on international express services.
On therebytrain.com we have striven to recommend when seats should be reserved.

When travelling internally in countries that operate frequent services, seat reservations aren’t necessary and may not in fact be available; this applies to Belgium, The Netherlands and Switzerland (reservations are available but not generally necessary in Switzerland).

When booking individual tickets for trains on which reservations are compulsory at the station or by telephone, the booking clerk will assign specific seats. Make any specific requests such as a wish to face forward in the direction of travel, to the booking clerk.
When booking tickets online or at ticket machines, the purchaser will usually be prompted to book seats according to specific requirements such as facing forward, window or aisle.

Do I need to purchase tickets in advance of the day I want to travel?

Tickets do not HAVE to be purchased before the day on which you wish to travel for any DAY train service in Europe.
The rare occasions on which you may be told that there no more seats available on a particular DAY train are most likely to occur either side of the Christmas/New Year holidays, in France on the first and last Saturdays during August, on summer weekends in Italy on routes with infrequent trains AND on summer Sunday afternoons/evenings - particularly in Spain and the UK.

However, overnight trains are an exception.
They can sell out days in advance, even weeks in advance on the most popular routes, particularly around holidays and in the summer months.
In particular, book as far in advance as possible for night trains to/from Germany and Italy.

Substantial cost savings can be made when purchasing tickets in advance of travel on the majority of long distance DAY trains within Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Limited number of discounted tickets can be available for international trains, particularly to/from Germany, Hungary and Austria, The Netherlands and in Eastern Europe AND on specific types of international train services inclduing Alleo, Eurostar, FYRA, TGVFI, Lyria, Railjet and Thalys services.

Supplements and reservations also don’t have paid for in advance of the day of travel on the majority of European trains, but exceptions apply to Eurail and InterRail pass users.

Limited numbers of supplements are available to Eurail pass users on *TGV trains; and to both Eurail and InterRail passs users on other trains including Alleo (AEO) and Lyria (TGVL) trains, as well as all high speed trains in Spain.
That supplements link has details of all trains on which this restriction applies, as well as alternatives when these supplements aren't available, of if you want to avoid them!

* = Inter Rail users can save money if they purchase TGV supplements in France in advance

How do I buy tickets before I arrive at my first destination?

Check the Tickets pages (above) on ThereByTrain for each country for information on how you can purchase tickets online for both domestic journeys within each country and internationally.
We've included the links to the sites that can sell you a ticket and also explain how to use them.

How much will a ticket cost?

One fine day we hope that you will be able to enter your start and end points for your journey on ThereByTrain and we'll give you an idea of the costs of your journey.
Until then we have a produced a Ticket price GUIDE that gives a snap-shot of typical one way prices for popular journeys.

The majority of European countries have a national railway company, Austria (OBB); Belgium (SNCB); Czech Republic (CD); Denmark (DSB); France (SNCF); Germany (D-Bahn); Hungary (MAV); Norway (NSB); Poland (PKP); Spain (RENFE); Sweden (SJ) and Switzerland (SBB) etc.

These companies operate websites on which tickets can be booked online - you'll find the links to the majority of them on the ThereByTrain 'Tickets' home page.

The sites operated by the state rail operators will give you the prices when you're planning a journey, you don't have to complete a purchase to see the prices.

Pricing longer, multi-country journeys involving more than one train is more complicated, but services such as Loco2 and InternationalRail can help with this.

However, often this ticket price issue can be a simple question with a frustratingly complicated answer.
You'll see that for many journeys on our price guide, there is more than one price listed.
We've also included different types of train for some journeys.

This is because on many routes limited numbers of 'discounted' tickets are available on some/all trains.
On other routes more than one type of train is available and tickets for the faster trains are more expensive.
Virtually all trains that use high speed lines have as supplement/'premium fare' factored into the ticket price.

Why can’t I find/buy tickets online for my journey? 

Journeys that don't have tickets that can be booked online on sites operated by the national rail operators (see above question) often include international journeys that require a change of train such as Frankfurt - Milan or Nice - Genoa or Paris - Rome (by day)  

Tickets for international journeys by direct train such as Berlin - Prague/Praha and Munich/Munchen - Verona can nearly always be found when booking online.

Check the sites of the national rail operators in which you will be starting/finishing your journey.

If you're considering a multi-train international journey there are sites that specialise in such tickets such as Loco2 and InternationalRail.

However, it can be a good idea to try and price the ticket for each individual train on a multi-train journey yourself.
You might be able to find a good deal, or a particularly cheap discounted ticket for one part of the journey, which can make it worthwhile to book separate tickets for each train that you need to take.

However, if you're going to take the path of booking separate tickets for each part of the journey yourself, our advice is to leave plenty of time between connections. It can be less stressful (for multiple reasons) to take a later train than the advertised/suggested best or fastest connections.

Try not to be too fixated in getting from A to B by train in the fastest possible time, particularly if you're on a holiday.
One of the best aspects of European train travel is an opportunity to spend some time in a city where you'll be changing trains.
Unlikely to ever be passing through the likes of Milan, Cologne, Munich, Prague, Vienna again? 

Book the second journey on a later train and see something of the city.

If you're confused Loco2 and International Rail will do their best to help you.

Journeys within the countries that aren’t available on some sites

Other journeys that can't often be booked on these sites, (managed by the national rail companies - RENFE, Trenitalia etc) are on routes on which the trains are managed by other private operators.

Examples include many routes to/from Milan (these are operated by a company called Le Nord) and local/regional trains to/from the biggest cities in Spain.
For this reason tickets many airport services such as the 'Malpensa Express' in Milan/Milano can also only be booked on their dedicated websites.

The Airport Trains section on ThereByTrain has more information including the links to the ticket booking sites for these ‘privately operated' airport trains.

Are high speed trains more expensive? 

The usual answer to this question is yes, but as so often in the labyrinth of European railway tickets, it's sometimes not that simple.
At least some trains on virtually all high speed train routes in Europe will have some discounted tickets made available.

These tickets can be limited in number and they're generally made available online up to three months ahead.
If you can find a particularly good deal, travel by high speed train can be a fantastic bargain.

For example it is theoretically possible to travel from Milan/Milano to Rome/Roma on an amazing Frecciarossa FR high speed train for only €29!

Very occasionally a discounted ticket for a high speed journey may still be available, when discounts have sold out for slower alternative trains

If travel on a budget is a prime consideration, don't dismiss high speed trains from your travel plans, it's always worth having a look online to see what fares are available - you just might have a pleasant surprise!

Something else to consider is that virtually all tickets for a high speed train guarantee a seat on the train, the reservation fee is included in the price.
On non-high speed trains, reservations that guarantee a seat, are often not included in the ticket price, so if you want to reserve a seat you need to factor in this additional cost.

Why are some tickets for the same journey cheaper than others? 

There are two main reasons why you'll often see different prices for the same journey available online; (1) some 'types of train' may be cheaper than others and (2) a range of discounted tickets can be available for a journey, or even on an individual train.

The different types of train on each route

The types of train in Europe can have a big effect on ticket prices, you generally pay a more expensive price for the faster type of train when more than one type of train operate between two destinations.

For example, if you want to travel between Milan/Milano and Rome/Roma by train you can choose between travelling on a high speed 'Frecciarossa' FR train, or on a more conventional IC express train.
The FR train is more than two hours faster so it is more expensive.

Something else to consider is that virtually all tickets for any high speed European train, guarantee a seat on the train, the reservation fee is included in the price.
On non-high speed trains, reservations that guarantee a seat, are often not included.

If you don't pay the extra couple of euros to make a reservation on a train on which it's optional, you can board the train and find that no seats are available.

It's why some summer express trains in Europe can be as crowded as trains on the New York subway or the London Underground.
If you've not made a reservation, all those Eurail and InterRail users are just as entitled as you to sit in a seat on the train.

Discounted Tickets

Discounted tickets confuse many travellers, they still trip ThereByTrain up now and again, but something to be aware of is that you don't have to travel by a slower alternative train to save money!.
Sticking with the above example of the 'Frecciarossa' (FR), if you can find one of the discounted tickets you'll be on the same Frecciarossa (FR) train, sitting in the same sort of seat and travelling at the same speed as somebody who has paid the full price to travel on the exact same journey as you.
It's why discounted tickets can be a good deal!

And yes there are a couple of exceptions to that somewhat sweeping statement, it's not a golden rule, particularly in 1st class.
The most expensive 1st class tickets can come with special privileges such as access to station lounges, a meal, free wi-fi and other benefits that can be denied to those who have purchased discounted 1st class tickets.

In 2nd/standard class the travel experience in each train of the same type, ie. all 'Frecciagento' or TGV trains, is no different no matter how much you have paid for your ticket.

The big difference in the tickets is in the small print, those pesky Terms & Conditions on that tick box that you checked without bothering to read it.
Never book a discounted ticket without knowing what you're signing up to - see two questions below to find out why

And yes that was quite a lot of text for such a simple question, but as you can now hopefully appreciate, discounted tickets is a complicated topic.
We wish it wasn't, just as much as you do!

Why can’t I find the cheapest prices that I’ve seen advertised? 

On a list of the most frustrating aspects of European train travel, this is a contender for the No.1 spot.

Here's the simplest explanation we can muster as to why this happens, yes we did say simple despite ALL those words below.

We're going to stick with using a journey by Frecciarossa (FR) trains between Milano/Milan and Roma/Rome as an example (Trenitalia, we're not picking on you, arguably the best travel bargains in all of Europe can be found on Italian long distance trains).

  • The standard non-discounted price for a one way 2nd class ticket on this journey is, at the time of writing, €89
  • Trenitalia would like to fill all its 2nd class seats on these trains with tickets sold at this price, we would too if we were in its position.
  • However, it wants to operate at least an hourly service all day long, it has airlines to compete with and everyone wants to travel at a time that suits them.
  • It is not going to sell every 2nd class seat on every train at €89, so rather than leave some seats empty, it offers some seats at a discounted price.
  • Like many other train operators it places it tickets on sale three months ahead of the travel date, so for example tickets for

    travel on May 1st become available to be booked online at 00:01 on February 1st.

  • At some time before 00:01 on February 1st it has decided how many discounted tickets that it will make available on all the Frecciarossa trains between Milan and Rome on May 1st.
  • The most popular trains will have less or no discounted tickets, it can be confident that lots of passengers will pay the €89 for the convenience to travel on these trains.
  • It also offers its discounted tickets at different prices, not much point in selling a ticket for €29 if someone will be willing to pay twice this price.

So what happens is something like this:

  • The 09:00 Frecciarossa (FR) train from Milano (Central) to Roma (Termini) is likely to be a popular train,it is non-stop to Roma and you can get there in time to have lunch in the 'Eternal City' etc. 

    Therefore most of the tickets for this train may be priced at €89, and perhaps only a very few €29 tickets will be made available.
    By contrast, the 14:15 Frecciarossa train is likely to be less popular, not so many people will want to hang around in Milan until the middle of the afternoon before heading to Rome/Roma.
    Many more seats may therefore be made available on this train at the cheapest price of €29.

  • At 00:01 every night all the tickets for all the Frecciarossa trains on a date three months ahead become available to buy online on the Trenitalia website.
  • Eight hours later the €29 tickets on the 09:00 train are probably sold out, but €29 tickets for the 14:15 train are more likely to still be available.
  • Eight days later the 14:15 train may be the only train departing on that date on which the €29 tickets are still available, but you might find a ticket on the 09:00 train priced at €49.
    Not too bothered about time what time of day you want to travel? You can still travel to Rome/Roma for €29.
  • Eight weeks later all the €29 tickets on the 14:15 train and every other train that day are sold out, no more tickets at the price of €29 will be made available on any trains.

    The €49 tickets may still be available on the 14:15 train and some of the other trains too.

  • Eight hours before you want to take the train all the €49 tickets on any train are likely to have sold out, all the 2nd class tickets that are still available are €89.

Until you read the above you didn't know why you couldn't find the €29 ticket.
You know the price is €29, all the advertisements you have seen anywhere have said 'Milan to Rome by train from €29'
There’s a good chance, you're frustrated because you can't find a €29 ticket, you might even post something on a travel forum about 'what a con thisis!?!', other people will agree with you. Lots of people want to complain about train ticket prices, in Britain it's a national obsession.

But the train companies copied this idea from the airlines, all the seats on virtually any flight worldwide are sold like this, but the airlines don't tend to make it as clear as the train operators that those cheapest tickets are now sold out.
In fact knowing whether you've paid the best possible price for a plane ticket is virtually impossible, but not so many complaints?

Is there some sort of 'catch' to the cheapest discounted tickets?

Usually the answer is yes.

Terms & Conditions = very boring, but they can matter A LOT when buying train tickets online, particularly for 'ordinary joes' that don't sell tickets for a living.

Sweeping statement alert, but virtually all of the very cheapest discounted tickets for European train travel are non-exchangeable and non-refundable.
When you buy them it is highly likely that they will be for a specific train, ie the 09:00 FR train from Milano to Roma - and only that train and no other.

All discounted tickets on French, Italian and Spanish high speed trains that can be booked online are amongst those that are train specific.

If, for example you've bought a 'Super Economy' ticket for the 09:00 'Frecciarossa train from Milano to Roma, (or its equivalent throughout Europe) and decide that you don't want to go by the 09:00 train because you've fallen in love with/or in Milan, or you have to cancel your travel plans due to work commitments etc, you won't get your money back.

Need to now leave Milan at 11:00 because, for example, you need to see a doctor at 09:00, you'll have to buy another ticket for the 11:00 train.
If only €89 tickets are available for the 11:00 train then that is the price you pay, and you won't get a €29 discount, that €29 is gone.
Missed the 09:00 train because the Milan Metro train broke down, or the tram didn't turn up on time? You will probably need to buy another ticket.

This isn't a Trenitalia issue (we're very fond of you Trenitalia), it's the usual practice for the most heavily discounted/cheapest tickets across Europe, particularly for high speed trains. 

See, it's worth checking out those terms and conditions and don't ignore terms like 'not flexible', because you're not sure what they mean.

Try not to consider the cheapest possible price as the only factor to take into account when buying a ticket.
Those slightly more expensive, but still discounted tickets, can be a good idea.
Often you can pay a fee to exchange these tickets for another train, much cheaper than buying a brand new ticket if you miss the train because of any other reason than a late running connection from another train (see the question below for more info about this particular scenario).
You might even get some of your money back if you cancel your plans altogether.

Our train tickets pages for each country on ThereByTRain.com have a lot of information on these different types of discounted because it can make a big difference.

One further piece of advice - grabbing super cheap discounted tickets for multiple train journeys on a 'holiday' can lead to more stress than your day job.
Panicking about whether you're going to make it to the station in time, every couple of days, isn't relaxing.
You'll soon find yourself arriving at stations hours before your train leaves, and hanging around in stations is never going to be a holiday highlight, even for train fans like us.

However, more often than not, there is one big exception to all of this - see the question below.

I'm using more than one train for my international journey, so have separate tickets for each, will this be a problem? 

First up a big thanks to Mark at Seat61.com for pointing the information below out to us, his site has more detailed information about train tickets than the basics we've covered, so it's definitely worth a look!

So, you're going to set out on an international train journey, that involves a change of trains. You've got multiple tickets for the journey, one for each train, that you've either booked separately online or the travel agent has sent you.
In the digital age, having one ticket that covers multiple trains operated by different companies for specific journeys, is quite rare - rail passes are of course the exception.

The ticket for the second, (3rd), (4th) train that you will be taking is a train specific ticket because it is a train that has a compulsory reservation.
Before you boarded the first train you wanted the whole journey to be covered, rushing around stations to book tickets between trains is not a good idea.

However, you didn't pay the full price for the train ticket on the train that had to be reserved, you managed to find it a discount, or your travel agent did, or the good people at Loco2 and InternationalRail wanted to give you the best possible price.

This ticket you now have for this particular later journey on your trip, has non-refundable or non-exchangeable printed on it, implying that you mustn't miss this train.

But what if your first, (2nd), (3rd) train is delayed - which is is not that rare in Europe - and you're too late for the connection into a specific train that you're booked on to?

Well as the Man In Seat 61 points out HERE this is something of an awkward 'grey area'. You might have to buy another ticket for the final/next train journey, but then again you might not

Speak to the conductor on the train that is late, they should be able to give a note of explanation

Go to an enquiry office and explain the situation, don't head to the ticket office and buy another ticket until you're sure you have to.
This is all to do with the CIV that Seat61.com explains in depth.
The CIV was intended to guarantee that you won't have to pay again if you were using one ticket for multiple journeys, but in the age of separate tickets it's become more complicated - hence the 'grey area'.
Though you can be in a better position to make a case for not paying again, if you booked all the tickets for the journey in one transaction.

The Railteam Alliance

The better news is that this shouldn't be a problem when you're travelling on trains between countries in the 'Railteam Alliance, and if you are making connections at a hub station - where lots of people change trains -
The countries in Railteam are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland - plus Eurostar.

So if you're travelling between two of these countries and a delayed train means you miss your onward connection, at a range of stations; including Basel, Brussels/Bruxelles (Mid), Cologne/Koln hbf, Lille and Zurich, you almost certainly won't have to buy another ticket to complete your journey. 

Though go to the enquiry desk or ticket office to check what you need to do, you'll probably be issued with another ticket. 

Don't just get on a later train, with the ticket that was valid on the train that you have now missed, due to the delay.

But only ask for another ticket, if the train is/was late and not you - because you missed your first train of the journey due to not hearing the alarm clock or your taxi got lost.
You need to have been on all the prior trains that you were booked on, you can't mix and match trains on the journey because you wanted to have a spontaneous look around Cologne cathedral etc.

Try to eliminate much of this potential stress by leaving more time than you think you need between trains.
It can be tempting to make the end to end journey in the fastest possible time, but ThereByTrain's advice is to allow a minimum of 45 mins-1hr to make a connection into a train that you've had to reserve.

Try to allow 1-2 hours if you're connecting into the only train of the day/night.

Why are some international train journeys so expensive? 

Some of high speed international trains including the 'Lyria' trains between France and Switzerland, ICE trains and the Thalys trains have advanced discounted tickets available.

In contrast certain journey by EC trains, the main type of international train in Europe that that don't operate on the high speed lines, seemingly only have a set price.

Germany and Austria offer limited numbers of discounted 'Europa Spezial' tickets on international trains, other countries, including Italy Switzerland apparently do not offer this facility.

It's why it's often a good idea to compare prices for international journeys on the train ticket websites of the countries in which you'll be starting and finishing your journey.

It's also why it can be a good idea to shop around and look for alternatives, particularly when booking in advance.
For example if you're planning to travel from Brussels/Bruxelles to Zurich by train, booking the cheapest discounted tickets on the Thalys from Bruxelles to Paris and the Lyria from Paris to Zurich can be a cheaper option than buying a ticket for the direct EC train between Bruxelles and Zurich.

Will a rail pass save you money?

As Eurail and InterRail passes are priced differently we’ve produced separate guides for this, click
HERE for Eurail

HERE for InterRail

Are there any other advantages to using a rail pass?

As an alternative to using a rail pass you've managed to find some discounted tickets for the longer train journeys, you've then looked at a map and decided to hop between some countries on local trains because there aren't any direct express trains, or you could only find expensive tickets online for the express trains.

However, crossing borders by train can be trickier than it seems. An example is travelling from Verona to Munich/Munchen - the direct EC train can be expensive, but if you don't have a rail pass you'll  have to:

  • Buy a ticket in Verona for the local (REG) train to Brennero.
  • At Brennero station you then need to buy a ticket for the local train to Innsbruck.
  • At Innsbruck station you then need to buy another ticket for the train to Munich/Munchen.

With a rail pass in your hand you can just jump on to any of these local trains.

Other popular international routes where this benefit of a rail pass can save a lot of faffing around buying tickets on local/alternative trains include:

  • Milan - Chiasso - Bellinzona - Lucerne/Basel/Zurich
  • Milan - Domodossola - Brig - Geneva/Basel
  • Marseilles - Nice - Ventimglia - Genoa
  • Barcelona - Port Bou - Cerbere - Perpignan/Narbonne/Montpellier/Toulouse/Avignon
  • Brussels - Luxembourg - Strasbourg - Basel
  • Paris - Amiens - Lille - Antwerp/Brugge
  • Brussels - Liege - Aachen - Cologne

More often than not in Europe you can only buy tickets online or at the station for trains within and to/from a country.
The very largest stations with international travel desks are usually an exception, but in some countries including Belgium and The Netherlands, you will be charged booking fees.
If you're travelling through a major German station, it will have an international travel desk that will sell you a ticket for virtually any express train in Europe and you won't be charged a fee!

Can I get on any train in Europe if I have a rail pass?

DAY TRAINS

For Eurail/InterRail pass users, the answer is yes for virtually all DAY trains, but there are notable exceptions namely:

Before boarding the majority of high speed trains and certain

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/types_of_train_in_Europe/About_International_day_Trains">international trains, Inter Rail users need to pay a supplement - details of which types of train that applies to are available

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/tickets_and_passes/rail_pass_supplements">HERE.

You will need to pay for these supplements prior to boarding the train.

Pleading ignorance and attempting to pay any additional charges if you’re challenged by the train conductor/guard once on the train is very rarely an option.

Rail pass users who haven’t paid the required supplements or reservation fees prior to boarding are often treated in a similar manner to traveller who have tried to avoid paying for tickets at all. 

This can seem harsh and it fuels many of the negative comments about using rail passes that can be found online, but many train conductors and guards understandably enforce the terms and conditions of using Eurail/InterRail passes.

Trains That Have Limited Numbers Of Seats Available for Eurail/InterRail Users

When trying to make reservations/pay supplements for a train with a compulsory reservation, you MAY be informed at the time of booking the supplement that no more reservations are available to rail pass holders.

This is due to the fact that quotas of reservations are restricted on some, BUT NOT all trains that require compulsory reservations by rail pass users.

When that quota has been booked by other pass users, you may be informed that you will not be able to travel by that train on payment of the supplement only.

Information regarding these quotas appears to be (deliberately) vague, the terms and conditions are not imposed by Eurail/InterRail, but ThereByTrain.com's understanding is that the quotas do not apply to specific departures but are applied to periods of time.
Meaning that you may not be able to take an alternative departure later that day by the same train type/service on which compulsory reservations apply.

If no reservations are available to pass users when you attempt to pay for a supplement and you want/need to travel by a specific/departure or type of train, you will have two options:

(1) Buy a completely separate ticket for that type of train, or 

(2) Follow an inevitably slower, more awkward schedule to reach your destination on trains that don't have compulsory reservations (feasible alternative routes may not always be an option).

Types of Train on which these 'quotas' apply include:

  • ALL Spanish trains that have compulsory reservations including ALS ALV and AVE trains
  • the Alleo (AEO) trains between France and Germany - see alternative options below
  • Lyria (TGVL) trains between France and

    Switzerland

  • TGV trains (on the most popular routes within France), this apply for Eurail passes only InterRail pass users can pay more expensive supplements when the cheaper supplements have sold out.
  • the TGVFI* trains between France and Italy - see alternative routes below

It may also apply to Thalys trains, but Thalys train supplements are the equivalent of the cheapest discounted advance Thalys fares.

*= The 'supplements' currently charged on the TGVFI trains between France and Italy are more expensive than the cheapest advance discounted fares.
You're therefore unlikely to save any money by using a rail pass for these trains.

If you leave it until the last minute when discounted fares have sold out, you may be denied the opportunity to pay for the supplement. 

Our advice is to either avoid these trains completely - we show you how below, OR add the train between Paris-Italy to the start/finish of your Eurail/InterRail adventure and purchase a completely separate tickets for these trains.

As this something of a 'grey area' in which Eurail/InterRail pass holders can find themselves 'unexpectedly' having to pay extra fees, ThereBytrain.com's advice is:

  • Try not to let a compulsory reservation stop you from visiting a destination, or taking a particular route - we've outlined the alternatives

    below.

  • IF a compulsory reservation/supplement IS required and you want to pay it, do so at the earliest opportunity - using the advice on the question below
  • If you want to book all hotels/accommodation in advance of setting off on your rail pass journey, pay the supplement and be 100% sure that you can arrive in your destination on that date, BEFORE you book a hotel etc.
  • If you don't want to pay supplements/make reservations in advance of commencing your rail pass trip, try not to leave it to the last minute/dayof departure on trains that have compulsory reservations - book onward travel on arrival at a destination, or when passing through a station that has an international reservation desk.
Alternatives for Lyria Trains

If you discover that no supplements are available for a Lyria train between Paris and Basel/Zurich its more likely that you will be able to

travel on a TGV train between Paris and Strasbourg. Local/regional trains operate between Strasbourg and Basel (and there are frequent trains

between Basel and Zurich). You will need to pay a supplement on the TGV trains on the route between Paris and Strasbourg.

If you discover that no supplements are available for a Lyria train between Paris and Geneva/Lausanne its more likely that you will be able to

travel on a TGV train between Paris and Lyon. Local/regional trains operate between Lyon and Geneva (and there are frequent trains between Geneva

and Lausanne). You will need to pay a supplement on the TGV trains on the route between Paris and Lyon.

If you're having problems obtaining supplements for the TGV trains, or want to skip the bother, it is possible to travel from Paris to Basel/Zurich on trains that don't require any supplements/reservations.
However, the most convenient

schedule (by far) is only possible on Mon-Fri by taking the:
(1) 13:12 train from Paris (Est) to Belfort
(2) 17:33 train from Belfort to Mulhouse (Ville)
(3) 18:16 train from Mulhouse Ville (SNCF) - walk through Basel station to the Basel (SBB) station
(4) 18:47 train fron Basel (SNCF) to Zurich (hb) arrive at 21:43

In the opposite direction the most convenient schedule (by far) is also only possible on Mon-Fri by taking the:
(1) 10:00 (I.C.E) train from Zurich (hb) to Basel (SBB) - walk through the station to the Basel SNCF terminal
(2) 11:21 from Basel (SNCF) to Mulhouse (Ville) - train destination is Strasbourg
(3) 12:23 from Mulhouse (Ville) to Belfort (Ville)
(4) 13:12 Belfort (Ville) to Paris (Gare De L'Est) - arrive 17:16

More information is available for rail travel between France and Switzerland

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/Eurostar_and_other_international_journeys/trains_to_Switzerland">here

Alternatives for ALLEO Trains

If supplements are sold out for the Alleo trains between Paris and Germany, you can probably take a TGV train in either direction between Paris

and Strasbourg.
There are frequent local trains across the border between Strasbourg and Offenburg in Germany.
However, there are infrequent

direct trains between Offenburg and Frankfurt, its likely that will have to make yet another connection at Mannheim.

There are (virtually) no

direct trains between Offenburg and Stuttgart, you will have to make another connection in Karlsruhe.

If you're travelling between Paris and Frankfurt another option is to take a train between Paris and Brussels (the TGVR trains to/from Aeroport

CDG are cheaper than the Thalys trains to/from Gare Du Nord) AND the ICE train (on which no supplements have to be arranged in advance) between

Brussels and Frankfurt.

More information is available for rail travel between France and Germany

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/Eurostar_and_other_international_journeys/trains_to_germany">here

Alternatives for the TGV France-Italy TGVFI Trains

ThereByTrain recommends that Eurail/InterRail pass users should avoid using the TGVFI trains if possible, the supplements are now more expensive than the cheapest discounted rate tickets per journey.
The 2nd class 'supplement' for a journey between Paris and Milan in either direction is now €55, while for 1st class pass holders it is now €75!
These are the most expensive rail pass supplements for any day train in Europe and once you have factored in the daily rate for using your pass,

you're highly unlikely to be making any savings by taking the TGVFI trains.
These charges haven't been imposed by Eurail/InterRail and Eurail/InterRail, they've

been set by the new operator of this rail service.

If the supplement only tickets are no longer available or you don't want to pay these high supplement costs for the TGVFI

train between Paris and Turin/Milan (in either direction) you will have no alternative to travelling a completely different route than that taken by

the TGVFI trains.

The good news is that the alternative routes happen to be some of the most spectacular in Europe. So there's no need to cancel your rail travel

plans between France and Italy because you (rightfully) resent paying these additional charges to travel by the TGVFI (or Thello overnight) trains.
We

tell you all you need to know about the alternative routes

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/tickets_and_passes/Eurail/InterRail_passes_between_France_and_Italy">HERE
Follow our suggestions for using your Eurail/InterRail pass on the Swiss Tourist Railways and you definitely won't have any regrets about avoiding the TGVFI

trains!

If you intended to travel between Turin and Paris the alternative connections are so awkward we'd honestly consider an alternative destination -

this is one trip we'd definitely arrange/reserve before arrival in either Turin or Paris!

NIGHT TRAINS

Rail pass holders cannot board

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/types_of_train_in_Europe/night_trains_sleeping_cars_and_couchettes">overnight trains in Europe

and travel in sleeping cabins, couchettes and (when available - reclining seats) without paying reservation fees.
When ordinary/daytime seats are available, reservation fees MAY also be charged, but are less likely to be payable in Eastern Europe.
see the therebytrain.com

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/types_of_train_in_Europe/night_trains_sleeping_cars_and_couchettes">overnight trains guide for

more information.

AIRPORT TRAINS

Rail passes are also not valid on these special airport express trains - Arlanda Express (Stockholm), CAT (

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/Vienna/trains_to_and_from_Vienna_Aiports">Vienna/Wien), Flytoget (Oslo) and Malpensa Express (

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/Milan/trains_to_and_from_Malpensa_Airport">Milan/Milano), only 1st class passes are valid on The

Leonardo Airport Express in

href="http://www.therebytrain.com/default.aspx/Rome_by_train/trains_from_and_to_Leondardo_Da_Vinci_airport">Rome/Roma

How do I pay for supplements/reservations/sleeper trains etc. if I have a rail pass?

A general rule is that the majority (but not all) online train ticket booking services in Europe will NOT allow Inter Rail pass holders to ONLY buy supplements and reservation fees.
Another general rule is that it IS possible to book reservations/buy supplements at stations, but in certain countries terms and conditions can apply (see below)

Before leaving home

If you wish to book reservations/pay supplements before embarking on the first journey of your itinerary you have the following options:

1: - Call or visit in person a travel agent, ideally one that specializes in rail travel/train tickets and pay any required booking fees for their services.

2: - Go in person to an international travel desk at a station in your home - call/check in advance of making a visit to check that they will be able to make the reservation that you require.

3: - For train travel within and to/from Germany, within Italy and within Sweden only, you CAN make reservations/pay for supplements ONLINE - see links below

Germany by phone: For train travel within and to/from Germany you can call the D-Bahn Reservation Service
Call +49 1805996633 (Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central European Time), you'll hear a German menu, select extension 9 for an English menu, then 1 for train information and booking.

Germany online (day trains): For DAY trains within and To/From Germany online - click here and select 'seat reservation only' when following the booking process.

Germany online (night trains): Germany To book reservation fees online - click here and when following the booking path, select the 'Book only, extra charge' link and on the page that you'll be taken to, enter the type of rail pass you have when you see 'pass offer'.

Trains within Italy online: Supplements for the AV, ES and FB trains within Italy can be booked online (does not include TGVFI trains, Allegro (ALG) and Thello (TLO) overnight trains or the EC trains between Italy and Austria/Germany/Switzerland)
Click here and when following the booking ticket steps; ignore the ticket prices and when you reach the 'fares and preferences' page, click the 'More Fare' drop down box, select 'Global Pass' and follow the steps from there.

Trains within Sweden online: online - click here and when following the booking path, look for the 'traveller' section, when you've reached it select the 'customer card' information box and match the options to your rail pass.

At MAJOR stations in Europe

You can leave paying for supplements etc until you have embarked on a trip - though at popular travel times try to avoid doing so for the following types of train in particular:

  • Alleo - high speed trains between France and Germany
  • Lyria - high speed trains between Paris and Switzerland
  • TGVFI - high speed trains between France and Italy
  • TGV trains within France
  • ICN - overnight trains within Italy

More information is available on the 'Can I Get On Any Train' section above.

If you intend to travel on DAY trains on which a supplement is required, or on night trains during the summer months and want to be 100% certain that you'll be able to board any of these trains (despite alternative trains/routes often being available) our advice is to use a specialist rail travel and arrange ALL your supplements/reservations before embarking on your trip.

The trains that can be booked at the travel desks at stations and the terms that apply vary across Europe.
Certain countries charge booking fees while others don't and restrictions regarding what trains can/can't be reserved can apply, so in particular note the following:

Stations in Belgium: - At Belgian stations it is only possible to book reservations for trains to/from Belgium and booking fees apply. (trains within Belgium cannot be reserved).

Stations in Germany: D-Bahn reservation desks/offices are fantastic for removing much of the hassle of a rail pass trip. You can buy supplements and pay for reservations on virtually ANY day or night train in Europe , including trains that don't travel within or from/to Germany and you won't be charged any booking fees.
Our advice is, if your trip takes you to a German station that has a reservation desk, make full use of it!

Stations in Great Britain: - It is only possible to book reservations for train travel within Britain, the specialist Trainseurope desks at St Pancras and Cambridge stations are an exception.

Stations in The Netherlands: - It is only possible to book reservations for trains to and from The Netherlands, trains within The Netherlands cannot be reserved.
You can also only make a maximum of two reservations and a €10 fee applies per reservation.

Therefore therebytrain.com's advice is to avoid making reservations at Dutch stations. In our experience reservations aren't generally necessary on the ICE and EC trains between Netherlands and Germany.

However, if you DO want to reserve you won't pay a fee at German stations, or will save 50% on the booking fee if you call the D-Bahn reservation service.

Particularly avoid paying supplements for Thalys trains at Dutch stations.
On Thalys trains, once you've added in the booking fee to the total cost, it is more likely that buying a separate Thalys ticket at a Dutch station will be cheaper than paying both this reservation fee AND the supplement.

Stations in Spain: - It is only possible to book reservations/pay for supplements for trains within and to/from Spain at Spanish stations.

Ticket machines at Italian stations

In Italy you can pay supplements/make reservations for trains within Italy operated by 'Trenitalia' including all 'Freccia' and IC trains using 'Trenitalia' branded ticket machines.
Follow the prompts/instructions on the screen and when it appears select the 'global pass' option.

However, the machines can be temperamental over they will or won't accept your credit or debit card(s) and you won't realise that your card isn't being accepted until the final step of the reservation process.
If you have this problem it is likely that the fault will be the machine and not your card, so try another machine. This can quickly become frustrating, I once missed a 20min connection in Milan because none of the machines I tried would accept my card and they were dozens of people waiting at the ticket desk.
A top tip is that you find a machine that will accept your card make full use of it and book the other reservations that you need that day or tomorrow, you can pay for supplements on multiple trains in one transaction, or re-insert your card to reserve another journey.
No other ticket machines in Europe sell reservations only/supplements to pass holders.

General tips for paying for supplements/reservations at booking offices

Have the details of the trains on which you wish to make reservations/pay supplements for with you, either printed off or written clearly, so that you can show them to the booking clerk - not all booking clerks will have fluent English, but if you can show a pass and the details of the trains on which you wish to travel by, you can make yourself understood.

When speaking to a booking clerk you can (usually) make multiple reservations.
However, you don’t have to book every individual trip you’ll be taking in one visit to a ticket desk, you can be flexible and book other trips when you reach another station.

When you pay for a supplement on trains that require them, seats will automatically be assigned (reserved) for you.

IF a station has one, make use of a reservations/international desk and avoid using the main ticket booking windows if possible.

It can be a v. good idea to make reservations for onward travel on arrival at a destination before you head off in to the city.
If you don’t want to do this and want to make reservations/pay supplements on day of your departure, our advice is to be at the station a minimum of 45 mins before the departure of the train that you plan to take (and have a contingency plan available if you’re told that no reservations are available).

Is it worth paying the additional charge for first class seats?

This will always be a subjective decision, as the seats in standard/2nd class on long distance European trains would be considered adequately comfortable by the majority of passengers (particularly in comparison to economy class seats on airlines).

First class seats are wider offer more leg room and on many trains food and drink is served to your seat if you pay additional charges. First class carriages tend to be quieter, but don’t expect to have carriage to yourselves, particularly at a weekends when young children can treat trains like playgrounds.

On certain routes (indicated where appropriate on therebytrain) it is highly recommended to reserve second class seats when you don't have , but this isn’t necessary when travelling 1st class, so travelling 1st class can allow for greater spontaneity.
Therefore on trains on which reservations aren’t compulsory a 1st class ticket/pass will give you a better chance of ensuring that you’re sitting on the appropriate side of the train to make the most of the views when travelling through scenic areas.

Can I use a rail pass on overnight trains?

Rail passes including Eurail and InterRail do not allow access to reclining seats, couchette berths and beds in sleeping cabins.
Rail pass users have to pay the reservation fees to travel on virtually all overnight trains, but when special fares are not available (i.e. on Thello trains) pass holders have to pay the full cost of a bed in a sleeping cabin.

Rail pass holders can travel in ordinary seats (when available) on some overnight trains in eastern Europe at no extra charge.

On certain overnight trains rail pass holders are free to select which additional reservation they are prepared to pay, so 2nd class pass holders can travel in the highest class of sleeping accommodation if they’re prepared to pay the price.
Conversely 1st class pass holders can avoid the expense of travelling in luxury cabins and opt to pay for cheaper accommodation.
However, this facility is not available on City Night Line (CNL) trains, on these trains pass holders have to travel in the accommodation that matches the pass that they hold.

Do I have to book a sleeping bed/compartment when I travel on an overnight train?

If you want any sort of flat bed on an overnight train in Europe (including couchettes) you now have to reserve it in advance.
In theory bookings can made up the day of travel, but more popular overnight trains can sell out completely days in advance, and even weeks in advance in the summer months and around holidays.

Therefore ThereByTrain advises booking tickets/reservation fees for overnight trains at the earliest opportunity, bookings can normally be taken from up to 90 days before the travel date.

rail pass users can no longer scramble aboard in the hope of finding somewhere to sleep.

Do I have to use couchettes or sleeping cabins on overnight trains?

Certain overnight trains offer special reclining seats (similar to club class seats on airlines) to travellers who don’t want to opt for a flat bed for the night.
They have to be reserved in advance , incur a special price and pass holders have to pay the reservation fees to use them, but they’re cheaper than couchettes or sleeping cabins.

On other overnight trains, particularly in Eastern Europe, ordinary daytime coaches are often included in the overnight trains.
They are often charged at the daytime rate and usually pass holders don’t have to pay additional charges (reservations are now compulsory on all trains to/from Hungary), and when available they can offer the only means of overnight rail travel that doesn’t have to be reserved in advance.

Can I get off the train and stop somewhere before I reach my final destination?

The simplest answer is sometimes yes for rail pass users and usually no if you have a ticket for a journey between destination.

If your ticket/reservation is for a specific train (and that includes a rail pass supplement), it is only valid on that train and not for the route you are taking.
So for example if you’re travelling on an FA train from Venice to Rome in Italy that calls at Florence, and if you decide to leave the train in Florence, you will then have to purchase a new ticket/supplement that’s valid for a later train from Florence to Rome.

One of the great benefits of travelling by rail pass is that on routes on which relatively frequent trains operate that don’t have compulsory reservations, you can think ‘let’s get off here' and then catch another train later that day.

Do I have to check in for international journeys?

The only European train service for which you have to check-in airline style is Eurostar.
For all other international trains you simply board with other passengers, though don’t leave it too late!

What is a couchette?

A couchette is a self-contained compartment on an overnight trains with a door to a corridor that has seats for daytime use which convert into beds for overnight travel. The accommodation is less comfortable than a standard sleeping cabin.

An attendant on the train will convert the compartment and pillows, sheets and a form of sleeping bag is often provided (though not on all trains). The key difference between traveling in a couchette and a sleeping cabin is that travellers remain in their daytime clothes and that washing facilities and WCs are always only available at the end of the coach outside of the cabin.

As passengers remain in their clothes couchette compartments are often mixed sex, though CNL and COR-LUN trains offer women only couchettes. Couchettes can be 4 berth or 6 berth, with 6 berth being cheaper when both types are offered. 4 berth couchettes are sold as 1st class on COR-LUN trains in France.

Rail pass users can only access couchettes if they have paid the reservation fee for each berth prior to boarding - see our overnight trains guide for many of charges that apply.

Couchettes are considerably cheaper than sleeping cabins (prices in eastern Europe are cheaper than western Europe).

Pass holders must always reserve a berth in advance before boarding a couchette, you can no longer scramble aboard an overnight train and hope to find somewhere to sleep.

If you’re traveling in a group of 4 or 6 people and want to reserve an entire compartment you need to do so at the earliest opportunity. If you’re in a group of less than 6 (or 4) people it’s likely that you’ll be sharing a compartment with people that you don’t know. It can be a great way of making new travel companions and swapping tips, but be aware of security and keep valuables hidden and locked if possible.

What facilities will I find in a sleeping cabin on an overnight train?

There are several different classes of overnight train in Europe so take a look at our unique at a glance guide for specific information as to what facilities are available to passengers travelling on overnight trains.
The primary distinction between couchettes and sleeping cabins is that beds in sleeping cabins are fully made up, as they would be in a hotel and the bedding is prepared by the attendant on the train. The beds in sleeping cabins are more comfortable.

However do not expect 4* hotel standards when travelling on the majority of overnight trains. Not all sleeping cabins offer WCs and showers in the cabin and when they are available they attract a premium price.
Sleeping cabins can be 1, 2, 3 or 4 berth and generally male OR female except when a 2 berth cabin is booked by a couple or a multiple berth cabin is booked by a family.
The fewer number of berths in the cabin, the higher the price, but consider you are likely to be sharing a multiple berth cabin, unless travelling in a group which has reserved every berth available.

Can I use a rail pass for sleeping cabins?

Rail passes including Eurail and InterRail do not allow access to sleeping cabins unless the reservation fee has been paid in advance, see our overnight trains guide for more information.

On certain overnight trains rail pass holders are free to select which reservation fee they are prepared to pay, so 2nd class pass holders can travel in the highest class of sleeping accommodation if they’re prepared to pay the price. Conversely 1st class pass holders can avoid the expense of travelling in luxury cabins and opt to pay for cheaper accommodation. However, this facility is not available on City Night Line (CNL) trains, on these trains pass holders have to travel in the accommodation that matches the pass that they hold.

Do I have to book a sleeping bed/compartment when I travel on an overnight train?

If you want any sort of flat bed on an overnight train in Europe (including couchettes) you now have to reserve it any advance, however bookings can often made on the day of travel, but overnight trains - particularly those to/from Italy can sell out days in advance. (Therebytrain.com's advice is to book overnight train travel at your earliest opportunity.)
You can no longer scramble aboard a train when it arrives at a station in the hope of finding somewhere to sleep.

Do I have to use couchettes or sleeping cabins on overnight trains?

Certain overnight trains inc City Night Line (CNL) (not all routes), Elipsos (ELP) and EuroNight (EN) (some routes only) offer special reclining seats (similar to club class seats on airlines) to travellers who don’t want to opt for a flat bed for the night. They have to be reserved in advance , incur a special price and pass holders have to pay a reservation fee to use them, but they’re cheaper than couchettes or sleeping cabins.
On other overnight trains, particularly in Eastern Europe and Italy, ordinary daytime coaches are often included in the overnight trains. They are charged at the daytime rate and often pass holders don’t have to pay additional charges, and when available they can on occasion offer the only means of overnight rail travel that doesn’t have to be reserved in advance.

Is my journey likely to be disrupted by work on the line?

In the UK many lines are closed at weekends for work on the line so check before you travel as in many instances bus services will be substituted for all or part of the journey.

On mainland Europe trains tend to run more slowly when work is being carried out and diversions can also apply. However, you can check details when booking tickets, paying supplements or reserving seats, you won’t be sold tickets/reservations for journeys that aren’t possible on the day on wish to travel.

However, avoid travelling long distance on weekends if at all possible. In many countries the timetable is no different at weekends and assumes that trains will be operating at weekends as on Mon-Fri (this particularly applies in Germany).
But any work on the line will slow down trains and they will therefore be delayed and arrive late.

Major projects can affect rail routes for consecutive days over several weeks and months, as can weather incidents. In these instances trains will operate to a dedicated (slower) timetable, during the period of time that the work is going on for.

Rail Pass holders should double check train times prior to boarding on trains that don’t require reservations/supplements, particularly when making onward connections. The departure times listed on therebytrain are standard departure times and don’t include adjusted times when trains are delayed or have routes altered by work on the line.

What happens if my train is delayed and I miss my onward connection?

You MIGHT have

to buy another ticket for the final/next train journey, but then again you might not, appreciate that sounds very vague, but this can be a grey area of European train travel;
Speak to the conductor on the train that is late, they should

be able to give a note of explanation
Go to an enquiry office and explain the situation, don't head to the ticket office and buy another ticket until you're sure you have to.
This is all to do with the CIV that Seat61.com explains in depth.
The CIV was intended to guarantee that you won't have to pay again if you were using one ticket for multiple journeys, but in the age of separate tickets it's become more complicated - hence the 'grey area'.
Though you can be in a better position to make a case for not paying again, if you booked all the tickets for the journey in one transaction.

The Railteam Alliance

The better news is that this shouldn't be a problem when you're travelling on trains between countries in the 'Railteam Alliance, and if you are making connections at a hub station - where lots of people change trains -
The countries in Railteam are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland - plus Eurostar.

So if you're travelling between two of these countries and a delayed train means you miss your onward connection, at a range of

stations; including Basel, Brussels/Bruxelles (Mid), Cologne/Koln hbf, Lille and Zurich, you almost certainly won't have to buy another ticket to complete your journey.
Though go to the enquiry desk or ticket office to check what you need to do, you'll probably be issued with another

ticket.
Don't just get on a later train, with the ticket that was valid on the train that you have now missed, due to the delay.

But only ask for another ticket, if the train is/was late and not you - because you missed your first train of the journey due to not hearing the alarm clock or your taxi got lost.
You need to have been on all the prior trains that you were booked on, you can't mix and match trains on the journey because you

wanted to have a spontaneous look around Cologne cathedral etc.

Always attempt to allow additional time if your onward connection is the only train of the day/night that operates to your final destination, or if you are connecting into services that operate infrequently, particularly when making connections in France, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe.

Where can I find out which destinations I can reach from my location?

Take a look at ThereByTrain's MAPS, they give a snap shot of what trains travel between cities (the pan Europe day trains and night trains maps do need updating)

All of the key tourist destinations that can be reached by train in Europe will (ultimately) be listed on their respective country pages on the therebytrain.com. On the page dedicated to each destination you will find details of other tourist destinations that can be reached by direct train from the location.
For major cities and key rail interchanges we've also provide details of departure times as well as schedules for journeys when you can only travel to popular destinations by changing trains.

If you’re travelling internationally check out the international journey section on therebytrain.com for details of how you can cross borders from one country to another.

I can’t reach my destination from my location; does that mean that I can’t take the train?

Often you will have to change trains particularly when trying to reach smaller towns or cities that are far from each other. Check the list of locations that can be reached from both your final destination and your starting point and you can change trains at destinations that appear on both lists. It can be a good idea to check how to travel to one of the key rail hubs in Europe from your destination and then look at which trains are available from that travel hub.

The major rail travel hubs of Europe are; Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna, Brussels, Budapest, Cologne/Koln, Copenhagen/Kobenhavn , Frankfurt (Main), Lyon, Mannheim, Geneva, Hamburg, Innsbruck, London, Madrid , Milan/Milano, Munich/Munchen , Paris , Prague/Praha, Rome/Roma, Salzburg, Strasbourg, Verona, Vienna/Wien, Villach and Zurich

How do I find out departure times?

The incredible D-Bahn web site lists the times of the vast majority trains which depart from any station in Europe (including instances when train times have been altered on specific dates). However, the wealth of information on the site can seem overwhelming, so check out ‘how to use the D-bahn timetable guide’ here.

Departure times are also summarised for many of the destinations listed on this site, but these usually don’t include altered times due to work on the line as well as early morning departures on certain routes (we have assumed that leisure travellers won’t want to get out of bed earlier than they have to),

How will I know which station my train departs from?

ThereByTrain has produced a guide to cities with mutiple stations

The vast majority of towns and cities in Europe have one principle station (in Germany called Hauptbahnhof) which trains to all destinations that can be reached from that location depart from.

Certain cities have secondary stations which only certain services call at, examples include, Berlin, Brussels/Bruxelles, Cologne/Koln, Florence/Firenze, Lyon, Munich/Munchen, Prague/Praha, Rome/Roma and Venice/Venezia.

Towns and cities which are served by multiple stations that provide services to different destinations from each other include Avignon, Barcelona, Budapest, London, Madrid, Milan/Milano, Naples, Paris and Vienna/Wien. The pages on Therebytrain.com for each of these locations provide details of which train services are specific to each station.

Can I purchase food and drink when I’m on the train?

The only DAY trains on which hot meals are served in restaurant cars are certain of the premier trains listed on the therebytrain.com Trains guide - though not all of the premier trains have this facility, so it’s worth confirming in advance – those that do include ICE trains, EC trains to/from Italy and OEC trains in Austria.
When restaurant cars are available the facilities and ambience are more akin to a café than a restaurant, the days of luxury fine dining on ordinary trains in Europe are over, but fine quality hot meals are served, expect to pay an average of €15 for a hot dish.

On other trains/routes including Thalys (THA) and Talgo trains, 1st class passengers have meals (similar to business class airline meals) served to their seats.

On the majority of long distance express trains a buffet car serving drinks and cold food will be available, though don’t assume it will be open throughout the journey. If you know that you’ll want to eat on the train it’s cheaper to purchase food/drink prior to boarding and take it on to the train with you.

Not all European overnight trains convey restaurant cars and some have no catering facility at all. Check our info on the link above, but our advice is to take your own food/drink on board.

Should I check departure times before I arrive at the station?

It’s virtually always a good idea to do so, after all it’s why we created therebyrain.com, often it’s not a good idea turn up a station and think ‘where should I head to…?’, for the following reasons;
• Trains between destinations don’t necessarily operate particularly frequently, particularly in in France, Norway, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
International trains operate less frequently than domestic trains, on many routes only 1-4 trains per day are scheduled.
• The majority of European long distance daytime trains and virtually all overnight trains require seats/sleeping berths to be reserved in advance before you board the train, so it can be important to know when you need to allow time to do this.
• Overnight trains can depart early in the evening and on the majority of one routes only one train per night operates, so don’t miss it!
• You can also minimise the number of occasions during a trip that you have to wait in line at ticket offices if you plan in advance.
• On certain routes you can save money by taking less frequent alternative trains, so try and minimize the time you’ll be spending at stations. (Italian and Spanish station waiting rooms are often full of people who didn’t realise that the train leaving 2, 3, 4 hours from now is 3x cheaper than the next train(s) to their destination.)
• Don’t assume that you’ll be able to reach your chosen destination from your location, many European routes have been discontinued over the years.

You don’t have to over-plan a trip, but it’s always a good idea when you arrive at a station to check the details of subsequent departures, so you know what your options are for the next stage of a trip, or to confirm return departure times.

The information listed on the paper departure sheets at many stations is unlikely to be in English. You may read additional information with the train details, if you’re unsure what it’s referring to check the departure details by asking at the ticket office, particularly if it seems as though the information is referring to days of the week or dates.

How soon do I have to arrive at a station before the train departs?

Try to avoid arriving at a station a couple of minutes before your train departs. Stations large or small that you haven’t used before can be confusing, so try to avoid catching trains against the clock.

If you need to purchase a ticket and don’t want to use an automatic ticket machine (or if they’re not available) allow a minimum of 15 minutes at a small station (you only need one person ahead of you with a long list of questions and you’ll miss the train). At larger stations allow a minimum of 30 minutes (45 minutes is recommended at the largest stations in France, Italy and Spain during the summer, as ticket queues can be lengthy) to purchase a ticket or pay for supplements/make reservations. This is another reason for arranging your onward travel on arrival at your destination, if you spot that queues at a ticket booking office are short, grab the opportunity to book any reservations etc required for your next journey.

If you don’t need to purchase a ticket (because you have a return ticket or hold a rail pass) allow 5 minutes at small stations and 15-30 mins at larger stations (where you may have to walk some distance).

If you’re planning to catch a very sporadic train, such as the only overnight train to your destination, allow an hour if you need to purchase a ticket and 30 mins if you don’t. This may seem excessive but in these instances you need to catch the train and if you find you have additional time available, you can use it to purchase food, drink or reading material for the journey.

It can be tempting to think ‘I don’t need to arrive early at the station because I already have a ticket and a reserved seat/sleeping place on a train’, but don’t be too complacent. You still need time to locate and make your way to the train and if you miss this train, it’s likely that you’ll have to make a new reservation. In certain instances, including Eurostar, you’ll have to pay again for a completely new ticket.

How will I know which train to board when I’m at the station?

This will depend on the facilities provided at the station but passengers can use printed timetable sheets, airport style departure indicators that will list every train that departs from the station, electronic ‘next train’ indicators on the specific platform and indicators on the front and/or the doors of the train.
Avoid assuming that you’re boarding the correct train, always check first and ask the passengers already on the train if necessary.

The majority of main electronic departure boards at stations are bi-lingual, but printed timetable sheets are normally only issued in domestic languages.
There may be footnotes on printed timetables that will, for example, inform travellers that the train does not operate during holiday periods.
Do not therefore assume that the train you see on the printed timetable is operating. If you can’t also see it listed on the electronic indicator it may not be operating that day.

Electronic departure indicators will only include train departures that are operating that day.
If a train that you were expecting to board is not listed on the electronic display, it is probably not operating for some reason. In such instances check the printed departure sheet, but if the situation is not clear you may need to clarify the situation at the ticket office.
For this reason it’s a good idea to arrive at major stations at least 20 minutes before the departure of the train that you intend to take particularly if you’re a pass holder and don’t need to have booked a specific train.

Certain electronic departure indicators only list the terminating station of a departure and don’t list intermediate stations.
In these instances check the departure details of the trains on the electronic indicator against the departure sheet. Find the time of the train and the final destination that is being displayed on the electronic indicator on the printed departure sheet. The printed departure sheet will list all of the intermediate stations that the train is calling at.

Announcements at stations are normally made in the domestic language only, but often announcements are only made if there is an issue relating to a specific train, such as late running or cancellation.
If you think an announcement concerns the specific train that you’re planning to board, ask other passengers for confirmation of what the announcement is informing you.
It’s nearly always possible to find a fellow passenger or railway employee that can speak English and can therefore translate the message for you.

Will the booking clerk at the ticket office speak English?

At international travel desks the answer will be yes and virtually all booking clerks at major stations will speak some English, but at smaller and medium sized stations they may not do so. Therefore it can be a good idea to write down the destinations that you wish to travel to and departure times of specific trains that that you need to reserve for.

What do I need to consider if I need to change trains?

On the majority of occasions passengers won’t have a problem when changing trains, but European trains do not always operate to schedule and connections are not normally guaranteed, meaning that if your train is late, the connecting train won’t wait for your train to arrive.

Therefore if you’re connecting into the only train of a day/night, or are heading to airports/ports in order to take specific flights/ferries, allow more time for connections than you think you’ll need or the timetable suggests. It can be a good idea to take the train from your starting point prior to that which the timetable suggests.

Also if you have luggage (particularly wheeled bags) try to change trains at terminal stations where you can move from one platform to another on one level. On therebytrain.com we have indicated (where possible) stations at which changing trains is comparatively easy.

Allow a minimum of 15 minutes to change trains at large stations, you may have to walk some distance from one part of a station to another.

What do I need to consider if I’m taking the train to the airport to catch a flight.

If you want to be sure of checking in for your flight on time, plan a trip to the airport carefully, particularly if you’re planning to take a long distance train direct to the airport. 
It’s not unknown for long distance trains in Europe to operate up to two hours late, so factor in time for delay.
Additional time in an airport departure lounge is of course a better option than missing a flight.
Also consider the transfer time from the airports station to the terminal from which your flight departs.

Will there be somewhere where I can leave my bags at the station

The largest stations in Europe will have left luggage facilities, but they’re not always available so on therebytrain.com we’ve attempted to indicate when they are.

How do I get from the station to my final destination?

Taxi – As a general rule taxis will only be available at stations by served by regular long distance trains. It can be a good idea to have the address of your final destination written down/printed out to show the driver.

Public Transport – On therebytrain.com we have indicated whether stations have good public transport links and whether they’re within a 10 minute walk of the city/town centre.
When stations are within a 10 minute walk of the city/town centre, it can be quicker to walk than take a metro (if they’re available).

Cities with Metro/Underground systems have stations that are directly linked to the main long distance station (Warsaw/Warszawa is a notable exception) so Metros can be a good and fast option for accessing other areas of a city (or other main line stations).

Many stations including, Amsterdam (Centraal), Basel (SBB), Florence (S.M.N.) and Rome (Termini) have bus/tram stations immediately outside the station, but ask at information desks (when available) how you can buy tickets as they can vary between countries and cities. 1

Virtually all bus/tram stations will have maps of the public transport system and/or the city, to help you identify which route you need to take. Using a bus/tram will be cheaper (and can often be quicker) than taking a taxi.
In certain cities pick-pockets and other petty criminals will look out for passengers struggling to identify which route to take/ticket option they need, so it can pay to check details before arrival at the station.
On therebytrain.com we have tried to go the extra mile to provide accurate information for onward travel from stations to the city centre/major tourist destinations.

Walk – If your final destination can be reached easily on foot from the station, try to have a detailed map with you, detailed street maps of the town/city may not be available at the station. There’s not a lot of point in booking a hotel because it’s a 10 minute walk from the station, if you then walk around for 45 minutes trying to find it. A detailed map will also help with working out which exit from the station provides you with the quickest route to your hotel.

If you’re planning on taking a day trip to a city centre, you may regret that 20 min walk from the station later that day.

How will I know when to leave the train?

Work out whether you’ll be leaving a train before its final destination and, if you are be ready to leave the train before it arrives at your station. You will usually only have a couple of minutes to leave the train when it arrives, so allow time to pack away everything you need to take with you including your ticket – never leave a ticket behind on the train even if has been inspected.
On longer distance trains an announcement will be made regarding the next station that the train will be arriving at.

Familiarise yourself with the national name of the destination that you’re travelling to. Announcements and station signs will only be in the domestic language, so it can be useful to know for example, that when Firenze is announced that you’re about to arrive in Florence.

In certain cities the train may call at more than one station, so try to ascertain in advance which specific station you need. In Germany the city centre station signs will have the name of the city and ‘hbf’ written on them. In other countries stations have specific names and those in the city centre often named ‘Central; or a variation on this word. But this rule does noes not always apply, in Italy stations are often named after landmarks or saints, while in Spain the names of people are often used.

If in doubt ask the ticket inspector on the train or your fellow passengers. Don’t over worry about alighting at the wrong station; you often won’t have to wait too long for a train that will take you to where you need to be.

On therebytrain.com we have striven to include the names of specific stations on train departure details.