Tips for rail travel

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KTX high-speed train, South Korea

Before airplanes and automobiles exploded onto the scene, rail travel was the ideal way to travel cross-country. In some parts of the world, such as Europe and much of Asia, it's still one of the standard modes of city-to-city travel, and in others (e.g. North America) it remains as a fairly popular alternative. It lacks the speed of air travel and the flexibility of driving an automobile, but compensates with space to move around while someone else does all the driving. It's also more comfortable than air travel, especially to those who don't like the thought of being suspended 30,000 feet above the ground. For distances between about 100 and 800 km it may be the fastest method of travel, especially if you need to go from city center to city center. For longer distances it takes longer than travelling by air, but provides you with a ground-level view of the territory you're visiting, and allows you to stop on the way.

Ticketing[edit]

  • Be aware that it can be very expensive in some countries to travel by train. Especially high speed trains can be as expensive as — but more convenient than — flying.
  • If you can, book in advance. In many countries you benefit from a substantial discount, and on popular routes at certain times longer-distance trains can be fully booked. Reserving a seat, on the other hand, will usually incur a small surcharge — in these countries, you will have to decide whether or not the train will be empty enough for seats to be readily available.
  • Fares might be calculated by distance, or by market demand (with more popular routes being more expensive).
  • Many countries offer passes, allowing several journeys to be made within a region. Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for others) are good value for those who qualify and wish to travel extensively through Europe. Otherwise, typically, the value gained from such a ticket is in inverse proportion to the area covered (unless you spend the whole period of the pass on trains).
  • In some countries tickets can be bought on the train, in others they must be bought before boarding to avoid fines. Buying tickets on the train might incur a surcharge, or mean you can't buy a discounted ticket that would have been available from the ticket office.

When to travel[edit]

  • If possible, try to avoid business rush hours. For local trains, this typically means travel on trains due to arrive at a reasonably large town or city between (roughly) two hours before and one hour after the traditional start of work, and departing the same town between one hour before and two hours after the traditional end of the workday. On the other hand trains in the rush hours are more frequent, and if you don't mind standing, you're more likely to have good connections in peak periods.
  • In western countries, Friday evenings, Sunday afternoons and public holidays are also not good choices of time. Please be particularly careful when travelling on Sundays and public holidays, as services are often reduced or non-existent.
  • Services in the late evening or early morning are often sparse and may not be as safe.
  • Sometimes there is a limited amount of discount tickets or special discounts apply for certain days, times of the year or hours of the day. If this is the case it is usually wiser to travel at off-peak times, or plan well ahead if you are reasonably flexible.

At the station[edit]

  • If required, check that you have validated you ticket. You may have to pay a fine or a supplement on board if you forget it.
  • Be on time, or early. In many countries, if you have bought the tickets in advance, turning up 10 min before departure is more than enough, but allow more time if the departure station is large and unfamiliar. Longer distance (inter-city) trains often lock the doors 30-60 seconds before departure. Sometimes an earlier arrival is necessary, for example in China where there are security and identity checks before boarding, or for the Channel Tunnel between England and France/Belgium, where customs checks are done before boarding.
  • Many trains call for very brief intervals at smaller stations, sometimes as short as 30 seconds. Have all your luggage at hand and be prepared to board quickly. Tuck away loose pieces of luggage like drinks, maps, guidebooks and coats before the train arrives to ensure a smooth boarding procedure.
  • Don't run if you can avoid it.
  • Do not walk on the tracks except at an authorized, controlled crossing or under the direction of staff. Look both ways before crossing, even if warning devices are operating. Do not cross against warning devices.
  • Stay behind any yellow lines on platforms except when you are actually boarding.
  • Stand well back from the platform edge when express or through trains pass the station. They can generate a lot of turbulence as they pass.
  • Face the platform edge if you are wearing a backpack, so the pack won't be caught by a moving train.
  • If you have a pram with you (or, for that matter, anything else with wheels or rollers), keep an eye on it, make sure the brakes (if any) are engaged and position it parallel to the tracks. This will minimize the risk of rolling on platforms which slope slightly towards the tracks.
  • A radio controlled watch can be a useful device for frequent rail travellers. Trains in Western nations normally depart pretty much on the second of timetabled time, and "railway time" is synchronized with "atomic clock time", which radio controlled watches use. A normal watch is often wrong by a couple of minutes, which can make a big difference in the world of trains. Knowing in confidence that you still have 120 seconds to get from platform 1 to platform 12 will save you from having to run and experiencing unnecessary stress. Radio controlled watches can be purchased cheaply online. Synchronized mobile phones and PDAs will also do the job.

Boarding[edit]

  • Before boarding a train, wait until all passengers getting off at your station have alighted. Trains will not depart if there are still people queueing to get on, even if it means they're a minute late. (The exception can be very frequent services at rush hour, where a few seconds delay can cause many following trains to be delayed, but in this case the next train will not be far behind.)
  • When boarding, stand on either side of the doors when other passengers are alighting.
  • Find out if the class or car you are boarding is in the front, middle or rear of the train and position yourself on the platform accordingly. Ask the staff on the platform. In some countries, stations are divided into zones and diagrams show you what zone your coach number corresponds to; for Japan and China's high-speed trains, even the exact positions of the doors are painted on the platform.
  • Give way to encumbered passengers, such as people with lots of bags, people with children and people in wheelchairs. Offer them a hand if you can if they're struggling.
  • Do not enter or leave any train that is moving or while the doors are closing. If someone is caught in the door, alert the guard or operate the emergency stop/door release lever/button if the train begins to move. (Do this only in an emergency as once the train is stopped this way it may need to be inspected from end to end — which may cause a considerable delay. There are often fines for stopping a train inappropriately and you may be put off the train where it is stopped and handed over to the police. Missing your station is not a valid reason to stop the train.)

On board[edit]

  • Trains offer a wide variation of amenities. Some trains offer airline style entertainment systems (when working and when the passenger has a seat), WiFi and power sockets. Others offer very little by way of facilities, some not even offering toilets.
  • Train toilets are also to widely varying standards; some may not flush and others may be extremely unhygienic, while others are spotless and extremely modern.
  • Tuck away your luggage as much as you can. Don't let it block the aisle or the seats for other passengers. There may be luggage racks at the ends of carriages for larger items, or overhead space for smaller bags.
  • Some trains are fairly safe as far as petty criminal activity is concerned. Others are not. When in doubt, ensure that your luggage is kept in your sight at all times. If you have your own compartment, lock the door from the inside when sleeping, preferably with your own lock.

Accommodation on board[edit]

  • If the train is lightly loaded, just sit anywhere (preferably where the seat is stable).
  • More typically, there will be some seats remaining. Double (or triple) seats are usually fairly hard to find (although there may be some at the far end of the train)
  • If you are on a peak time train you may find that all the seats (if any) are taken. Do the best you can to find a safe place to stand or squat. Do not occupy the roof, the toilet, the luggage racks or the space under the seats or tables.
  • Many trains have first class accommodation. This can be affordable in some cases, or very expensive in others. You are paying (typically) for a wider seat and a much emptier compartment. The "perks" offered to first class ticket holders are usually fairly minimal (for example, free tea and coffee, better entertainment or newspapers). Do not travel in first class unless you have a ticket or other permission to do so. In some countries (such as Belgium), pregnant women have first class access at no extra cost.
  • For overnight journeys, consider investing in a couchette or sleeper compartment, which are often cost-competitive with lodgings for the night. A couchette cabin has around 6 beds for sleeping and no other facilities, while a full-fledged sleeper will have two to four beds and possibly bathing facilities like a sink or shower.

Speed of travel[edit]

  • Trains travel at widely varying speeds. High-speed trains travel at around 300 km/h on dedicated lines, making rail the fastest travel mode for fairly long distances.
  • Conventional trains may travel at 150-250km/h in countries with decent infrastructure, or significantly slower in others. The same country may have both modern, fast lines and older, slower lines.
  • Trains are typically, though not necessarily, faster than buses.

By region and country[edit]

Africa[edit]

Further information is available about rail travel in specific countries.

Asia[edit]

Further information is available about rail travel in specific countries.

Further information is available about several specific routes:

Europe[edit]

Especially in Western and Central Europe, trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with air travel. High-speed trains like the French TGV, the German ICE, the Spanish AVE and the cross-border Eurostar and Thalys services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane. The flip side is that tickets bought on the spot can be expensive, although there are good discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of various deals. In particular, the Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for others) passes offer good value if you plan on travelling extensively around Europe (or even a single region) and want more flexibility than cheap plane tickets can offer.

The most extensive and most reliable train travel planner for all of Europe is the one belonging to the German railways (DB) [1].


For further details of European rail travel, see:


Information about specific routes:

North America[edit]

Although it once held much of the continent together, and remains useful for local travel in many metro areas, intercity train travel in the U.S. and Canada now ranges from relatively convenient in the Northeast Corridor, to manageable in California and parts of southeastern Canada, to sparse in other parts of the continent. If you prefer to travel by rail, it's still possible (depending on where you go), but it offers neither speed nor convenience. Passes allowing several journeys to be made within the same country are available, but cross-border passes have been phased out. Many train stations do not have ticketing agents, or have agents for brief periods at the time the train is scheduled to arrive. At smaller unmanned stations, you may be able to use a ticketing machine, or may be required to purchase your ticket onboard. You may also purchase tickets online or by telephone.


Trains still serve an important role in some parts of the Caribbean and Central America. In addition, tourist and scenic trains can be found on St. Kitts and Jamaica.

Information about specific routes:

South America[edit]

Oceania[edit]

Information about specific routes:

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