Europe: De-Railed

I could talk about the economic crisis but… today, I’m going to tell the story of a trip that never happened 🙂

When I was a kid, my family hadn’t bought a car yet, and we would take the train twice a year to visit the extended family for Christmas and Easter. This is how trains and train stations came to feel like home to me, with their particular rhythm, noise and smell. Recently, in contrast, my experience with flying has been dreadful. So I searched for trains that would allow me to live anywhere in Europe (and visit my family often) without taking any flight.

After a few research and booking ventures, I found that traveling efficiently across three or more European countries is almost impossible. Here is what I found…

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International train webpages have annoying redirections:

  • For the Lisbon-Madrid night train, cp.pt redirects to renfe.com.
  • For the Madrid-Paris night train (called Elipsos), elipsos.com redirects to raileurope-world.com;
  • then raileurope-world.com redirects to tgv-europe.com for the very same train!

International train bookings have annoying discrepancies:

  • elipsos.com says the return trip between Madrid and Paris would be 122 euros; yet tgv-europe.com (to which I am doubly redirected) provides the same trip for 150 euro!
  • renfe.com books the same trip but provides no choice of upper/lower berth (bed) nor a window/aisle option.
  • tgv-europe.com provides these options but they don’t actually work…

What happens when I try to book a Paris-Madrid train online?

I select dates, times and seat preferences…then an error message tells me to select a berth preference, though I already chose one. The online booking form is crooked… A website with hundreds of euros per transaction has a critical buying block! As online marketers and business owners would say, tgv-europe.com has a fatal conversion mistake.

I wrote a quick line through their contact form…

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…and I got this reply:

Reply-1

Now doesn’t that make me a happy client? 🙂

Many travelers nowadays are unhappy with air travel, but they don’t really have a choice. Even Deutsche Bahn, while providing a decent booking system, is making international train rides impossible with their price discrimination — charging ridiculously high prices unless you have a contract for their discount cards.

It’s a classic example of going safe instead of going big: railways could snatch long-distance travelers but they choose to target reliable but cheap local customers. It gets worse if you’re an adult. In that case, chances are that travel is important to you: many times you travel because you really have to. Say, because your clients or family need you. Sorry mate but you will have to stick to the flyin’ sausages.

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