Why aren't (or can't) the train companies be cooperative…?

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  • MartynSinclair
    Participant

    If the airlines (even between different alliances) can do, it, why cant the train companies. Forget just in the UK, but also across Europe. Greener travel is continually being promoted but until the train companies can get their act together and start co-operating with each other, the shouts of Greta and others will go unheard.

    I read this week about a new website that enables train passengers to make use of pricing peculiarities and ‘split ticketing’. What a complete nonsense …

    There has to be a way of travelling by train across Europe – and the UK (with or without the EU) with one ticket at a price point that competes with flying, without needing a computer boffin to work it all out…

    Saturday rant over…

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    capetonianm
    Participant

    I have commented on this in the article about the OBB night trains.
    I frequently travel by train in Europe and booking these trips is a huge, and sometimes insurmountable, challenge to which I have found some solutions.
    Going out for lunch now, will comment more fully later.


    AMcWhirter
    Participant

    Hello Martyn – I starting writing about this in the magazine 20 years ago.

    There have been some changes but as you say there is a lack of cooperation amongst the growing number of train firms in mainland Europe. The cooperation exists both with fares and service.

    On the high-speed (HS) link between Cologne and Brussels there are problems when a passenger misses a connection. DB’s ICE trains do not co-operate with Thalys.

    This was Jon Worth’s experience when travelling Berlin-Cologne-Brussels.

    Another DB missed connection

    And just look at the situation with Nightjet where Eurostar’s service from London does not connect well.

    ÖBB to launch Brussels-Vienna Nightjet

    Rail fares within mainland Europe are complex and there is no easy solution as the trend is for train firms to offer dedicated services. We are now seeing more private / and or state-owned operators challenging the incumbents with different fares and different ways of booking a ticket.

    The rail companies could make life easier were they to allow agents to market all their fares. But again they do not. For example, Rail Europe UK tells me it hasn’t yet gained access to all the Nightjet fares for Brussels-Vienna. This firm, even though owned by SNCF, does not display SNCF’s Ouigo on its UK website.

    Many of these new services have been reported in Online news and we will be publishing a magazine feature in the months ahead.

    Aviation is different thanks to trade body IATA which was established in 1945.

    Nevertheless the market has changed over the years (originally IATA insisted that members cooperated fully *) and so today there is less cooperation on fares and other services.

    LCCs (low-cost carriers) are different again as they do not interline. Or should they interline with IATA members, as with EZY’s Worldwide by Easyjet, it’s quasi-interlining.

    * It meant all IATA member carriers agreed to charge the same, to interline and even to have similar standards for catering and drinks. Remember the ‘IATA sandwich’ ? Remember the days of just first and economy ? Remember when drinks and IFE were at extra cost for economy passenggers?

    The downside of IATA in the past was that ticket prices were far fare higher than they are today.

    3 users thanked author for this post.

    capetonianm
    Participant

    I have worked on a couple of projects supposedly moving towards creating a cohesive system of bookings across international borders in Europe, in the same way as this works for network/legacy airlines. Whereas with airlines there are standard communication protocols, so that a SITA message can be sent by (e.g.) Icelandair or Myanmar Airways and processed instantaneously and automatically by (e.g) Aerolineas Argentinas or TAAG Angolan, and there are standard traffic, tarification, and ticketing protocols, these do not exist or are extremely limited in the case of rail operators, even within Europe. I know that at least two of these attempts at a cohesive booking system have hit the buffers due to a lack of resources and planning within the national operators.

    This might have been something that the EU could have worked on, rather than trying to standardise the curvature of bananas or the number of perforations in a sheet of toilet paper!

    I frequently travel by train in the UK (irrelevant here) , and in Europe. I used to spend (waste?) time trying to plan trips for other people who for various reasons can’t or won’t fly. What always strikes me now is that whereas when I was an impoverished scholar/student, we could only afford to travel by train, and flying was for the wealthy, that situation has now reversed itself. As an aside, in 1960 a return air fare from London to most places in western Europe was about £40-60, roughly the same as it is now on LCCs. Except that in 1960 that money was worth about 25 times what it is now, in other words flying was 25x more costly than now related to earnings.

    A few weeks ago I attempted to plan a trip from Brussels to St. Petersburg. Booking a trip round the world could have been completed far more easily. The journey would have taken 4-5 days, with overnight stops, and in the cheapest classes available would have cost well over €500, plus overnight and meal costs. Flying …. 3 hours and €120 accomplished in a few clicks of a mouse.

    Where there are international services in Europe, it is usually possible to purchase tickets via the websites or ticket shops of the carrier in the country of origin or destination. Setting aside the recent exciting and encouraging development of the OBB night trains, there are few services that cross more than two countries operating on a regular basis. This means that journeys with connections cannot easily be booked in a single transaction, if at all.

    Possibly the most useful resource for international booking that I’ve found is the Swiss Railways ticketshop :
    https://www.sbb.ch/ticketshop/b2c/adw.do?sprache=de&artikelnummer=7731

    Obviously it allows you to book any journey to, from, or via CH, but it also allows bookings for some journeys that don’t even touch Switzerland, although (as Alex mentioned) it won’t show the full range of fares, but it’s useful where the national website is hard to navigate or not in a language you can understand, although they are mostly in, at worst, pidgin English. You have to register with the SBB ticketshop and pay in CHF, and it won’t accept some card types, for example a Revolut card, so it’s a good idea to have another card on hand when booking.

    An incredibly useful resource is Mark Smith, aka the man in seat 61 – https://www.seat61.com/ – which I’m sure most of us know. He provides links for booking most rail operators, globally not just EU.

    Some interesting European journeys :
    https://www.farandwide.com/s/train-rides-europe-8cb6836dad7b42e2

    Some links on this topic from the CATO research institute :
    https://www.cato.org/blog/why-trains-europe-function-so-badly
    https://www.cato.org/blog/no-passenger-trains-dont-work-europe-asia-either

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    canucklad
    Participant

    To answer your question simply Martyn
    It’s not in the individual train operators interests to co-operate with each other ?
    And the mess in the UK is just a microcosm of Europe.

    My rant on here last year had to with how difficult it was to get from Manchester Airport to Piccadilly I, and not the Circus in London but Manchester Piccadilly !!

    So, I’d ask a different question ?
    If governments accept the thesis of us being in a global climate emergency , should they then accept rail companies adopting the Anglo-American model of capitalism?


    AMcWhirter
    Participant

    This reply has been reported for inappropriate content.

    EU expert Jon Worth @jonworth tweeted another example of the complexity when arranging international rail travel and the lack of compensation wheh things go wrong.

    Yesterday he attempted a daytime trip:

    Bruges-Brussels-Paris (change termini) – Geneva-Milan-Rome.

    By air that would have required two tickets (rail + air) and one booking (no reservations needed for rail Bruges-Brussels Apt)

    But by rail it needed three bookings and six separate tickets.

    In the end the journey was completed in daytime (albeit with a late arrival) but one connection failed and Jon Worth had to pay Euros 100 for a ticket with Trenitalia (for the final sector) as he had booked Italo.

    It is unclear whether Jon Worth would be able to reclaim any of the Euros 100.

    Passenger rights for rail travellers in mainland Europe are behind those in the UK.

    And it is unclear whether or not passengers gain any rights in the case of international travel where a connection is lost in one country because of a delay in another (country).


    capetonianm
    Participant

    And it is unclear whether or not passengers gain any rights in the case of international travel where a connection is lost in one country because of a delay in another (country)

    Based on my experiences it seems to be quite random.

    Recently, I missed a connection from a French originating TGV in BRU, to a Thalys to AMS. They changed my ticket with a smile and no argument.
    Next time it happened, they said I could have made the connection. I could have done so if I could have crossed Brussels Midi station in about 3 minutes, with a heavy suitcase. As it was, the Thalys moved out just as I got to the platform. I had to buy another (expensive) Thalys ticket, but after writing to SNCF, was refunded.

    I missed a connection in MIL Centrale from a late running Thello onto a SBB train to ZRH. The ticket office man was most unpleasant and patronising and told me that if I didn’t buy a new ticket I would be fined on the train. I took the chance, was fined, but when I got to ZRH Hbf. I went to the ticket office there and after taking my details, they sent me a travel voucher for 100CHF, which was more than the fine I’d paid.

    As another example of how poorly synchronised things are, and we are talking about a train between Europe’s two most efficient countries, I bought a ticket and made reservations at the ZRH Hbf ticket office to go to MUC. In Germany, the DB train conductor told me that SBB had sold me the wrong ticket for that train and I should have paid an IC-supplement. She made me pay the supplement and a small fine.
    When I got back to ZRH, I went to the ticket office and once again ended with another 100CHF voucher.

    This is one of the reasons I love Switzerland and the Swiss. The fairness and honesty.

    .

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    Nick
    Participant

    EU expert Jon Worth @jonworth tweeted another example of the complexity when arranging international rail travel and the lack of compensation wheh things go wrong.

    Yesterday he attempted a daytime trip:

    Bruges-Brussels-Paris (change termini) – Geneva-Milan-Rome.

    By air that would have required two tickets (rail + air) and one booking (no reservations needed for rail Bruges-Brussels Apt)

    But by rail it needed three bookings and six separate tickets.

    In the end the journey was completed in daytime (albeit with a late arrival) but one connection failed and Jon Worth had to pay Euros 100 for a ticket with Trenitalia (for the final sector) as he had booked Italo.

    It is unclear whether Jon Worth would be able to reclaim any of the Euros 100.

    Passenger rights for rail travellers in mainland Europe are behind those in the UK.

    And it is unclear whether or not passengers gain any rights in the case of international travel where a connection is lost in one country because of a delay in another (country).

    If anyone can get a refund it’ll be Jon, but I’m not sure how much luck he’ll have! Given the struggles that Jon has with their “Hop on the next available train” (HOTNAT) policy from RailTeam <http://www.railteam.eu/en/for-your-journey/railteam-services/&gt;, as someone who knows the rules and speaks most of the possible RailTeam languages, I wouldn’t bet on most people’s chances. I’ve taken to advising friends to ensure they have good missed-connection travel insurance before trying any EU cross-border rail journeys with a connection, as at least those tend to look out for you.


    AnthonyDunn
    Participant

    Hi Martin, for reasons you will understand, Senior Management and I have been spending a fair bit of time on the continent since Apr19. The Dutch Nederlandse Spoorwegen with other Dutch transport providers have the superb UV-chipkaart which you top up and can use for any train, bus, tram, water taxi or whatever from one end of the country to the other. Works seamlessly and offers fantastic VFM.

    We’ve just enjoyed an 8-day SBB/CFF/FFS rail pass experience across Schweiz taking in Zurich, Grindelwald, Zermatt and Chur and then the Jungfraujoch Bahn, the WengernAlpbahn, the Glacier Express and the Bernina “Express”, amongst others. The entire experience was as seamless and as smooth as you could ever wish for – particularly as SBB/CFF/FFS has the most accomplished and easy-to-use mobile phone app I have ever experience from any rail operator. It’s so good, that I have kept it for its UK timetable information.

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