Sunday, July 20, 2008

RANT - SERIOUSLY, What Is the Deal With This Rail System?!

Preface - I wrote this post after a particularly dreadful journey from Cinque Terre, Italy, to Barcelona, Spain. On that unfortunate occasion, I was in transit for 32 hours straight, with not so much as a shower, a bed, or even a place to put my head, except for the floor of the train station. The photo above shows me, hating life, at about 5am, waiting for the 9:30 train to take me out of Torino, where I was kicked off the train because my supposedly all-inclusive railpass wasn't good enough. To my left, a trashcan, and to my right, homeless men sleeping on cardboard boxes.

Okay, I have a bone to pick with the European rail system. And since I’m traveling alone and no one speaks English, I have no one to rant to. Thus, it is you all who must receive the majority of my ranting and raving, and for that I apologize.

Okay, so I have been traveling for over seven weeks now, and I’m pretty sure that every single one of my blog entries has begun the same way: “Well, my trip here was absolutely horrible and I didn’t sleep and it took me 58 hours and there was no water and the car was full and the train broke down and we derailed and there was a strike and they took me to the wrong place, and I’m so exhausted that I can do absolutely nothing but go to sleep at once.”

For the majority of my travels between cities, that’s been the story that I have to tell. Something ALWAYS goes wrong. Always. France and Germany, you two are excused because everything is done properly, so you can stop reading now. I think the only time I got mixed up there was when I passed out on the train to Munich and missed my stop. Everybody else, WHAT is the deal?? You have had well over 100 years to perfect the intricacies of rail travel, and yet everything is still a nightmare. How can a train be 360 minutes late, when the entire trip itself is only supposed to take three hours? What possible situation could have arisen that could not be resolved in that amount of time?

And what’s the deal with my railpass? I paid a ridiculously large sum of money (about 1/6 of the entire trip’s cost) so that I could leisurely take whichever train I wanted, for free, at any given time. So what’s with the 20-euro “supplement” that I have to pay for the “nice” trains? Or the “reservation” that I have to book days in advance just to get on board? I bought the railpass specifically to avoid having to worry about things like booking ahead, or paying for tickets. And yet, you still make me do both!

Now don’t get me wrong – I think the rail system is a good thing, and can serve as an efficient and practical way to see Europe. But you guys have got to kick the service level up a notch. Get the train there at the time it says it will arrive. Have it depart on the track it says it will depart on. If you sell a railpass that’s advertised as all-inclusive, don’t make its holders pay supplements and booking fees for reservations; that goes against the entire concept of the pass. And PLEASE make the entire system more flexible for travelers that don’t book every facet of their trip months in advance. If the entire train I need to take is reservation only, and has been booked solid for weeks, then it doesn’t really do me a whole lot of good, does it? I’ve spent the night in multiple train stations for that reason alone.

I realize that for now, it may not matter if you offer crappy service – that the trains will still sell out, and the almighty euro will continue to roll in. But eventually, in the long run, people will find alternatives to rail travel; some other way to get there. With the proliferation of the low-budget airline in Europe, that’s probably your biggest threat. It may not happen soon, but it will happen eventually. And once you’re in that hole, with the reputation of being a crappy way to travel, it’ll be hard to pull yourself out. So PLEASE, for yourselves, and for all of your customers, specifically the ones that have to sleep on the black, grime-covered floors of train stations because of your mistakes… kick it up a notch.

1 comment:

MOM said...

Brandon, if only they could read your comments and act on it, you certainly tell it like it is. Too bad you have had such a terrible experience with the trains. I hope airing that off your chest lightened the load. Talk to you soon, till next post,love you, mom