Thursday, April 26, 2007

European Railways to Challenge Discount Airlines (we can hope)

Spiegel amongst others are reporting on the Railteam consortium's attempts to stem the tide of budget airlines stealing their passenger (English version here). The idea is simple enough, rail companies from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium along with British operator Eurostar plan to co-operate on ticketing, connections and customer reward packages, in order to make the European cross-border rail experience competitive.

Sounds like a great idea, which I support fully. However, I think these guys have their work cut out for them. A quick visit to reveals that I cannot book a return to Paris this weekend, because the advance order deadline has passed. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, then tried to book the following weekend, i.e. travelling 8 days in the future. The website couldn't calculate a price, even after taking my BahnCard and age into account. If I really had wanted to travel to Paris, I guess I would have had to physically go to the station and buy a ticket. Scary inefficiency in an online world.

This is not just a problem between Germany and France. I tried to book a train journey from Munich to the Dolomites for my father last year, the online rail booking was terrible, enabling me only to buy a ticket to Venice! Even on the train things are more chaotic than necessary - recently on the way back from Amsterdam to Heidelberg I overheard the following surreal conversation between conductor and an unsuspecting American passenger:

(P): To Frankfurt please, here's my credit card.

(C): You have to pay 29 Euros cash, as I can only charge a credit card for the German leg of the journey.

(P): I have no Euro cash, just the credit card.

(C): Then dollars or off at the next station.

(P): ???

I wish the Railteam consortium luck in sorting out this mess.

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