Now that we have seen the benefits, let us see as to how we go about planning a train journey. In Europe, each country has its own rail system, some of which are state owned and some privately owned. The types and classes of trains vary from the slow chugging one which is usually the cheapest to the sleek, comfortable and high speed ones including the famous TGV. You also have the so-called Swiss scenic trains’ in which you enjoy the beautiful countryside views through large glass windows while sipping wine. You can either get tickets or passes as follows:
• Ticket for a single or point-to-point journey e.g. London to Paris
• Pass within a country e.g. In Italy for travel between Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice
• Pass for multiple countries on a railway e.g. Thalys Pass
• Pass for multiple countries / places on different railways – Eurail Pass
Train Travel in Europe to India Photo Gallery
The Eurail pass will generally grant a passenger free access on an ordinary train and sometimes even ferries. Eurail Passes are available in different denominations as per the number of countries you visit and the number of days. You can travel on the premier trains, but they require reservations in advance. The reservation cost will be in addition to what you have paid for the Eurail pass. On Eurostar, the Eurail Pass is not valid, but one is eligible for a passholders discount. Fares covered by the pass and reservation fees vary from country to country. Sleeper reservations fees depend on the class of accommodation and how much in advance you book. Rail Passes are beneficial if you plan to take many trains instead of simply a few short train hops. On the other hand, Eurail Pass on TGV trains will be cost effective since the reservation fee is about 5 Euros as of the writing of this guide.
What the above implies is that you should compare on the websites for each of the railways as well as Eurail so as to minimize the cost and hassles. Let me explain. For example in Italy, you can opt for the Eurail Pass with a surcharge of about 10 to 15 Euros per pass. But with early-bird or promotional fares it might be cheaper to get Trenitalia pass or point-to-point ticket from Rome to Florence to Milan to Venice.
High speed trains include:
• Alvia, Alvaria, AVE and Euromed (in Spain)
• Le Frecce (Italy)
• ICE (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland)
• TGV (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland)
• Thalys (Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands)
Head over to the Eurail website www.eurail.com and read up on the various passes as per your requirements like number of days you have at your disposal, the places you would like to visit and the number of members in your group or family. As expected, these factors will matter in the overall cost for the passes. Now, decide on where to begin your journey. Download the maps (PDF) from the Eurail website so you can plan. If you are on a trip only in the Schengen region, then your obvious start point will be the place where you enter the Schengen region and then your travels should be preferably be in one direction e.g. from East (Vienna) to West (Paris) stopping at places of interest in between. I recommend this direction based trip simply to save on the cost and time you would have spent if you in crisscross the region. You may also be travelling to / from UK or Ireland etc. which are not part of the Schengen area (although they are in the European Union). In that case too, start from one end and continue to another. Then compare with the regional or country railways to home on to the best option.
All these trains have multiple classes like First and Second etc. Usually in high speed trains, the second or lower classes are as comfortable as our Shatabdi Express. The higher / first class may have Wi-Fi, complimentary beverages and snacks besides more legroom. So, decide on getting a higher class only if necessary or if the journey will last more than a few hours.