RAIL TRAVEL

The heyday of rail travel in North America is long gone, but trains are still

a popular form of transportation in many other parts of the world. And no

wonder: With speeds that approach 200 mph and stations located conve-

niently m city centers, modem railroads put airlines and interstate high-

ways to shame for trips of under 500 miles.

 

United States/Canada

In the United States and Canada, intercity rail travel falls into two categories:

• Business/commuter travel, with frequent service on routes such

as Washington-New York-Boston and San Diego-Los Angeles

• Leisure travel, often following routes that were pioneered by

classic trains like the Super Chief and the Empire Builder

 

Rail travel isn't necessarily cheap. In fact, a coach ticket on Amtrak

between New York and Miami may cost more than an excursion airfare—

and that's without a sleeping berth, which can cost hundreds of dollars more.

Still, rail travel does offer certain advantages: It allows sightseeing-

it's faster than driving on long trips; and it's a new experience for many

travelers. If you think of a rail trip as a cruise, not as a means of trans-

portation, the price isn't so bad.

A few tips:

• Ask about discounts and special packages. Off-season reductions

are common, and Amtrak has a "Rail Sale" page on its Web site

that offers savings of up to 90 percent on last-minute ticket

purchases.

• To avoid backtracking, buy an Amtrak Air Rail package, which

combines a rail trip with a one-way flight on United Airlines.

• Compare ticket prices carefully on routes in the Northeast. The high-

speed Metroliner trains may not save you enough time to justify

their high ticket prices unless your employer is footing the bill.

Amtrak

http://www.amtrak.com

America's National Railroad Passenger Corporation has had its ups

and downs over the years, but for most Americans it's the only train

game in town.

VIA Rail Canada

http://www.viarail.ca

Canada's passenger lines run from Nova Scotia and the Gaspe

Peninsula to British Columbia, with a route extending north from

Winnipeg to Hudson Bay.

TrainWeb

http://trainweb.com

This site is loaded with articles and links for travelers and railfans,

with an emphasis on North America.

 

Europe

In Europe, trains are often the quickest way to get from city to city. Many

European railroads are adding services at a time when North American rail-

roads are cutting back. A good example is the new Eurostar, which uses the

English Channel Tunnel to connect Paris and London in three hours. (New

track and local tunnels will shave another 25 minutes off that time by 2003.)

Most European railways are government owned, with notable excep-

tions in a few countries like Britain (which has sliced British Rail into 26

private companies) and Switzerland (where the Swiss Federal Railways

and many smaller private railroads are integrated seamlessly into a national

transportation network of trains, buses, lake and river steamers, finiculars,

cable cars, and chairlifts). Even in countries where a trip may involve travel

on two or three different railroads, you can plan your itinerary with a com-

mon timetable and buy a ticket for your entire journey at any railroad sta-

tion or travel agency. The same rule applies to trips involving railroads in

several European countries.

What's the cheapest way to travel by rail in Europe? Let's examine

three possibilities.

 

European Rail Passes

Eurail Pass is the best-known option in this category; the standard pass

provides unlimited first-class travel in 17 European countries for periods

that range from 15 days to 3 months. Variations such as the Eurail Youth

Pass are also available.

Europass is a newer option. It includes 5 days of travel in five "base"

countries (France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain) plus one or more

"associate" countries, with up to 10 more travel days available at extra cost.

Other possibilities include rail/drive passes that let you take the train

between major destinations and use rental cars for local excursions.

Pro: Eurail Pass and Europass are easy to use, and they're cost-

effective if you plan to cover a lot of territory by train.

Con: You're paying a premium for first-class travel (which is

overkill on most routes), and discounts on some services may be less than

you'd get with a national rail pass.

 

National Rail Passes

These should be called "transportation passes" instead of "rail passes,"

because in some countries—such as Switzerland—they include unlimited

travel by train, bus, boat, and local public transit, with steep discounts on

private railways, funiculars, cable cars, and chairlifts.

Pro: If most of your trip will be spent in one or two countries, a

national rail pass is likely to be a far better value than Eurail Pass or Europass.

Con: You'll need more than one rail pass (or you'll need a rail pass

plus point-to-point tickets) when you visit more than one country.

 

Point-to-Point Tickets

Trips over limited distances or between just a few cities may be cheaper

when you buy standard rail tickets. Local discounts for family travel, day

excursions, and so forth, can also make point-to-point tickets a better deal

than rail passes.

Pro: You pay for what you use.

Con: You may find yourself struggling with a foreign language

while a dozen local commuters line up behind you at the ticket counter.

(The antidote, if that happens, is to buy your tickets at a local travel agency

where the staff speaks English.)

For more information on European rail travel, or to buy passes and

tickets ahead of time, visit these Web sites:

 

Europrail International

http://www.eurail.on.ca

Design your own Europass, buy Eurail products, or purchase

national passes. Free on-line maps and schedules are also available.

Rail Europe

http://www.raileurope.com/us

This subsidiary of the French and Swiss national railroads sells

passes and tickets for 60 European railways. Its FAQ answers the

most common questions about rail travel in Europe.

Rick's Railpass Guide

http://www.ricksteves.com/rail

Rick Steves, Europe by the Back Door author and TV host, sells rail

passes in his spare time. His "rail pass worksheet" helps you decide

what kind of pass to buy.

SBB Travel Online

http://www.sbb.ch/pv/index_e.htm

The Swiss Federal Railway offers a streamlined timetable for

connections throughout Europe

Eurostar

http://www.eurostar.co.uk

Travel in style from London to Paris or Brussels in less time than it

takes to watch Titanic.

Railtrack

http://www.railtrack.co.uk/travel/

Plan a rail trip in Britain with an on-line query form.

European Rail Timetables

http://goeurope.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa990114.htm

This collection of annotated links points to local journey planners

and home pages for 17 European countries.

 

Rail Travel in Other Countries

RailServe

http://www.railserve.com

Click the menu window and scroll to the "Passenger and Urban

Transit" listings for railway pages and timetables on six continents.