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Rail travellers frustration when booking rail travel

February 05, 2013
Author: Philip Martin

At the Amadeus Rail Forum 2012, Mark Smith The Man in Seat-61 talked about customers’ frustrations when booking rail tickets. Recently, we caught up with him to explain the new Christmas date, as well as ask him a few questions to see what 2013 has in store for us.

Why a new Christmas date in November? 

European railways change their timetables at the worst possible time: on the second Sunday in June and in December just before the busy summer and Christmas period. Every time they change the timetable the 92-day booking horizon shrinks to 60 days, if you are lucky, some trains for Christmas didn’t open until December. On the opposite side, airlines are open for business a year before. They take millions of euros of business away from the railways, simply because people aren’t prepared to wait for a price and a seat available on a train one month in advance. 

It’s impossible to move the timetable change date because of EU legislation. It seems all too difficult to sort out railway timetabling and infrastructure to preserve the rail booking horizon across a timetable change, the only logical solution is therefore to move Christmas.

Railways can’t change the dates for the timetable change because it is hardcoded in the EU legislation, which isn’t a great way to do it. When I used to draft legislation, I would not hard code things like that, I would require a set date by agreement but then leave the date flexible. I would change the dates to late January or February, where it won’t do any damage because nobody’s travelling then.

The Paris-Barcelona line

This new line and its service are great but booking the journey is stressful. There is a change at Figueres which is a simple stroll across the platform, which completely messes up the ability to buy tickets, often passengers will need to split the booking the first leg on the French rail website and then the second leg on the Spanish rail website. Hopefully, the situation will be solved with through services planned from mid-April this year, all the way from Paris to Barcelona central. But it’s a shame that we can only resolve rail ticketing problems by completely transforming the train service.

The most frustrating part of booking rail travel

Finding the right website to book your train journey, remembering you might need a different website to book the same journey depending on which direction you are coming from or travelling in. Some railways try and divert you to other overseas subsidiaries if you live in the wrong country, and you have to use dodges to stay on their original website and book at the European price. Journeys involving a change of train often need to be booked in stages and multiple websites. You need to check ticket delivery options. Sometimes tickets can be collected at stations, self-printed, sent by post and sent to certain countries, and some websites are notorious for rejecting credit cards at the very end of the transaction.

The Man in Seat 61: his best journey by train

It has to be one of the Swiss journeys I think, the Bernina Express or the Glacier Express simply because I like mountains and of course they are totally different journeys in summer with the grass and the meadows, as they are in winter with the mountains covered in snow.

 Take a look at Mark Smith presentation at the Amadeus Rail Forum 2012 : the complexity of booking rail


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