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Chamonix – Bruxelles by train. No, no, no.

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 12.21.17A new case to add to the long, long list of journeys that should be easy enough by rail, but in the end are such a nightmare that most people will just not attempt them, and will fly instead.

I am working in Geneva on Friday 15th March, and will spend a weekend skiing at Chamonix on 16th and 17th March. I then need to be in Brussels by the evening of Tuesday 19th March. So how do I do it?

I start, as ever, with DB’s timetable search, and it gives me a decent connection on Monday 18th – Chamonix – St-Gervais – Paris – Brussels, using TER – TGV – Thalys.

So then I try to book it, trying first with Loco2, and then with Capitaine Train, and then with Voyages SNCF. All just give me a Lunéa night train for St-Gervais – Paris. Strange. I try St-Gervais – Brussels, rather than Chamonix – Brussels, and this time I get trains, but changing in Bellegarde onto a TGV Lyria. But DB tells me the St-Gervais – Paris TGV should run on a Monday.

So I turn to Twitter, where Stefan de Vries tells me these TGVs run only on Saturdays. I point out to DB that their timetable is wrong, and they tell me they rely on other railways to give them the right information. Meanwhile Erik Griswold suggests I route through Martigny in Switzerland, and here too I encounter a problem – a Brig-Lille TGV, stopping in Martigny, that doesn’t run on a Monday but is listed by DB. The problem is compounded in Capitaine Train’s search, which gives me just Martigny-les-Bains, a town in France near Nancy, rather than Martigny in Switzerland, although the train from there ends in France…

And then there is the price. I am trying to book all of this 5 weeks ahead of the journey, but the best price I can find is €146.00 single for the trip, in the main because all connections end up on a peak hours service from Paris to Brussels. Paris-Brussels alone is €99 single, although if I book it through to Liège (yes, further) then I save a bit (thanks to Alex van Herwijnen).

And if I were to fly? €26 bus transfer to Geneva, and then €37.99 for the Easyjet flight (excl. charges).

The irony in all of this? The work in Brussels is to chair a panel discussion with MEPs, the very people who could sort out this mess by obliging rail companies to provide full ticketing and timetable data APIs in standardised formats.

Photo: "Chamonix railway station" by Sally Payne on January 23, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

5 Comments

  • Silke KAUL |

    Sitting in a train in the US with a lot of time thinking because this train is so slow I just had the following experience: the train stopped somewhere in Delaware. It was announced that only the doors in a certain car would open (I guess the platform is too short to allow all doors to open). A lady seemed to have missed that and ran along in the train when it started again: screaming: how to I get out of here! The train guard saw her and immediately got in touch with the driver via some old style broadcasting device and stopped the train again to let her out. Btw none of the other passengers got annoyed.
    I find that quite remarkably nice of the guard! Does anyone have similar experience in the EU?
    Only if you want to stop a train that just pulled out in let’s say Cologne main station you would mess up the timetable of Northwest Europe for the rest of the day (ok, I am exaggerating a bit)
    Looking forward to some stories or comments

  • Jon |

    @Silke – I’ve never known the same situation from a European railway, and indeed saw completely the opposite a few weeks ago with DB when a guy forgot to get off, the doors of the train had closed but the train was not moving, but they did not let him off. I think there is a fair point though about the schedules – they are, in my experience, rather more flexible on Amtrak than they are on most European railways!

    As for service though – it really depends on the individual in my experience. I’ve had some very friendly and fun conversations with some DB staff, and others are downright rude. Depends on the individual and the circumstance I suppose.

    @FRchick – thank you, that’s really interesting. Why the Commission is funding this I don’t know – I presume that whatever the Commission is funding should be available for other companies to use? But in any case it’s an interesting piece!

  • passerby |

    It’s called the Chicago Convention 1944: aircraft don’t pay tax on aircraft fuel for international flights. How do you want rail to compete with that? Dates from 1944, and no politician in a hurry for treaty revision.

  • Simon Field |

    Likewise I gave up trying to book a Nantes – Berlin trip by rail last month. Transavia wanted only 65 EUR including up to 23 kg hold luggage.

    Have just learned that the last non-TGV/ICE long-distance connection between France and Germany via Strasbourg (IC 360/1 to/from Munich) will cease at the Dec 2013 timetable change, leaving only ‘globally priced’, compulsory reservation trains that make multi-leg journeys so difficult to book.

So, what do you think ?