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Pitfalls of Train Travel – a Horror Story

I love train rides. Really, I do. Julika of Sateless Suitcase has recently written a super thorough post on the beauty of train travel if you need convincing. Yes, it is great. It is absolutely lovely. I can’t get enough of it. I’m serious. I am genuinely excited about my overland travel from Berlin to Nottingham. That said – train rides can be the most aggrivating thing in the world. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Luckily the circumstances in which this is true are limited, but they do happen. Boy, don’t I know it. I hope my story saves some of you some grief when travelling overland in Western Europe.

Being on the train can be great – or not…

I get to Berlin central at midnight with some thirty minutes of time to kill before my night train to Cologne leaves. I’m looking forward to snuggling into my seat and be rocked to sleep by the moving of the carriage on tracks. I’m travelling – nothing else makes me happier than that. When I look to the annuncement board, however, it says my night train is over two hours delayed. It is to do with the flood in Poland and Czech Republic. I’m alarmed. This means I will miss my connection at Cologne to Brussels, and the follow-up from there to London, and I will definitely lose my connection from London to Nottingham. Domino effect… I am going through options, and I have a quick moment of panic.

Now, none of this would have happened if my train went through from Berlin to Nottingham. This way, I’m going to be anxious at every station if they let me go on or if they won’t accept my ticket, because it was supposed to be valid only for that specific connection. Having to change much is always a risk. Try to always travel short distances if you can and avoid connections with too many changes! Also, if I had a lot of time, this would be a much smaller deal. The delay will cost me at least half a day. Given that I only have three days in England anyway, that is quite a high percentage. Calculate your time generously and don’t reckon with five minutes being enough for changing ever! Of course all of that would also be less of a problem if I had enough money to just buy another ticket at any given moment. If at all possible, have a financial back-up in your account for cases like this!


Passing through Liege train station

Basically it comes down to this: Do I take the risk of this not working / costing me tons of money, or do I get my ticket refunded and go home. But what kind of a traveller would I be if I let this scare me away (athough I must admit that talking to Andrew on the phone and having him reassure me most definitely helps!). I do take the delayed night train to Cologne and hope for the best. Take it one stop at a time. Every train is taking you closer to your destination. Don’t think about the final stop just yet. At Dortmund they make us get on a different (if also marginally delayed) train to Cologne, because the night train is trying to catch up time and won’t call there. Too late do I notice that it does not stop at the main station in Cologne, but only at two smaller ones. Because of this, I have to change again in Düsseldorf to a train that is twenty minutes late. I am starting to just feel cynical about this, and I feel bad for travellers who don’t speak German and might not get by in this mess. I help a Taiwanese girl find her way and hope that other international travellers also find helpful locals. If they don’t approach you themselves, ask locals on the delayed trains for help, especially when you don’t understand the announcements! Thankfully at the service point in Cologne, my ticket is re-issued for the next connection to London without extra payment. Now all I have to worry about is getting from London to Nottingham. I relax a little. My train to Brussels is 15 minutes late. I have no words. In Brussels at check-in for the Eurostar train to London I am still a bit anxious, but it all goes smoothly.

In Brussels, behind security

In London St Pancras, the train that my ticket is issued for has left hours ago. At information they send me down to the booking office, where I somewhat hysterically explain my situation to the nice motherly lady. She looks at the ticket and says in a deep voice: „Nothing I can do about that…“ I feel tears rising. „Nothing at all?“ I ask, probably looking very upset. A standard train ticket  here would cost almost 80 pounds. I don’t have that money. My last option is to take a bus for a much more affordable price, but in that moment all I can think of is how weird and unfair it is that I should lose my ticket in England due to a delay caused in Poland that is absolutely not my fault, and how they expect someone who even goes through the planning ahead and who looks for cheap options to deal with a situation like this. I apologize to the nice lady for crying, when she utters the magic words: „Do you have a stamp at all that a train was late?“ I’m not saying you should cry, but, well, if you actually are desperate… what can I say, it helps. I carefully say: „Yes, but it wasn’t the Eurostar train to London that was late…“ „That doesn’t matter, darling.“ I show her the stamps I got in Cologne when my ticket got re-issued. She looks at them and says: „Sweetheart, dry those tears now. You’ve done yourself a big favour. Now I can act.“ And then she gives me a ticket marked SOS that I can use for any train to Nottingham on that day. I am so relieved I am now almost crying more, not less.

When finally I get off the train in Nottingham I have a total delay of 4 1/2 hours – it could be much much worse. I am a bit ashamed to think that my tears at the London ticket office probably played a role in this, but what’s more important is that I learned that you must always get a confirmation that your train was delayed if you want a chance for rebooking or refunding!

What are your experiences with delayed trains? Do you stay calm or do you go crazy when your journey is challenged? Any advice on what to do when you miss connections?

9 Kommentare

  1. Oh dear poor you! I had the same experience travelling from Groningen to Nantes, and well with the French it was much much harder. I didn’t cry but I was more pissed. They cancelled my train from Amsterdam-Paris thus I missed my Paris-Nantes train and the guy at the counter blamed me, even though there was an accident in Amsterdam, she looked at me cynically and I explained in English (which she didn’t like very much) and luckily got a ticket.

    I’m glad you arrived well in Nottingham and noted for my next train trips!

    • bridgekeeper

      Juni 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      Ugh, unfriendly counter people!!! It is harder when you have a language barrier. Glad you managed it all!!

  2. Oh poor you! This anxious waiting if it all works out must have been horrible! So glad it all worked out in the end!
    Being the avid train traveler that I am, I of course had some issues with delayed trains and other strange things happening, but really nothing as dramatic as the story you experienced here.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juni 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Lucky you… delays are just so annoying. I really hope for you that drama stays away from your train journeys – but then again this was nothing like the bus story I have to tell from Albania!! Oh, I feel a post coming on 🙂

  3. Ah what a painnnnn!!! I really love train travel, too, and no matter how awful some circumstances can be, I still feel like the probability and extent of flight problems way outweigh those of a train (also, for good reason).

    • bridgekeeper

      Juni 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      I haven’t flown much in my life so I have almost zero horrible flight stories and tons of horrible train stories 🙂 let’s face it, complications during transport are never fun… I still also really like train travel!!

  4. I have had an experience, which actually was rather nice, about that famous stamp confirming your delay.

    My husband and I once sat in a train that stopped for about two hours in the dark Spessart forest in the middle of Germany. There had been a thunder-storm and a lightning hit a tree or the power-line or something. It got dark and we started joking about a night in the “Wirtshaus im Spessart”, that fairy-tale inn in the middle of the dark forest threatened by robbers.

    We wanted to go to Passau and finally arrived there two hours late and one hour after midnight. On the completely abandoned station we were lucky to find the conductor to get the stamp confirming the delay!! And next morning we picked up our refund in cash at the station, which was half of the price, quite a lot for the long trip from Hamburg to Passau :-).

    • bridgekeeper

      Juni 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      So happy to have you stop by, Dorothea 🙂 sounds like a miraculous story – you sure the conductor wasn’t a friendly ghost? 😀

  5. Excellent advice! I’ve always been super lucky with train delays because they’ve all happened in London and the operators were aware of them. I leave hours between connections of any kind now. I think the longest connection ever at Hamburg in December taught me that.

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