Experience Europe by train

Post photo: Railway in Vienna | © Pixabay

Heinrich Kuemmerle takes the initiative DiscoverEU attention of the Commission and also demands that it must be possible to buy a train ticket to any other station within the European Union, at least from every main station. And this is combined with a transport guarantee that ensures that you can reach your booked destination without additional costs and, if necessary, with any railway company; the trip from Heilbronn to Porto should serve as a striking example.

I welcome such an initiative towards more sustainable travel (not to mention the increase in comfort). Personally, an inspiration for me was the article High-speed trains are destroying the European rail network. After the admittedly lurid title, the problems of today's rail traffic are well worked out.

One can certainly argue whether an ICE is not a great option. Especially if you live close to railway hubs. I clearly prefer a six-hour journey with the ICE from Munich to Hamburg to the earlier 10 hours with the IC. It is also up for discussion whether one would like to allow a city like Heilbronn to have a crippled connection to the railway network. Or that in some areas an alibi public transport is offered if buses run there four times a day.

I can still remember my childhood very well, when my mother and I used the local transport to visit my great-grandmother. We had to buy three (!) tickets in each direction to get to our destination. The starting point and destination were in Hamburg, about 12 km apart as the crow flies. We first had to buy a ticket for the bus, then one for the S-Bahn and then one for the bus from another bus company. Of course, the timetables were not coordinated, which gave me a "waiting ice cream" in the summer months.

Fortunately, there are transport associations today.

These transport associations are de facto “federally” organized. Of course, the company form is different, but there independent transport companies come together under one roof in order to make a better offer for the customers together.

The situation in European rail traffic is hardly different than in Hamburg (and many other areas) before the transport association was founded.

If I want to travel from Heilbronn to Porto by public transport, I have to change trains 12 times and use the services of 4-5 transport companies. Maybe I can book some of the 13 tickets together, but not all at once. What do I do if there are problems with an operator, for example because all the seats are fully booked? Canceling tickets that have already been booked for the previous stages costs at least effort, sometimes more.

Transfer times range from 6 minutes to 5 hours. The 6 minutes in Karlsruhe are clearly too short. If I didn't know that, I wouldn't be able to catch the TGV. Since I did not start the journey there, there is no compensation for the journey(s). So buy tickets again, provided I still have money. Why the 5 hours? Oh, there are no trains at night. Why not? (Answer: see article above). If I don't want to spend the night on the platform, I need a hotel. But for 5 hours? If the previous train is 3 hours late, then I don't need the hotel either. And you might not want to spend an extra day in Perpignan on the Mediterranean.

Why is there actually no European, federal transport association? Naive as I sometimes am, it would be a great project, from which everyone in (EU) Europe would have something directly that would have a huge signal effect. It shouldn't cost that much, certainly less than an airport still under construction south of Berlin, a concert hall in Hamburg or the construction of a tunnel in Stuttgart. One would “only” have to work towards a standardization of the processes, towards coordination between the national transport companies (which, moreover, are often owned by the states). And then you can agree on a transport guarantee, as is already the case in some cases nationally, as well as for air travel.

Then everyone who lives in the EU would benefit, not just young people, to whom I begrudge the current offer. Then it would be much easier to travel through Europe, easier to get to know other people. And one appreciates what Europe can be for us.


Supplement to Christian Moos' objection

A lot has already happened with the European railway packages https://www.eba.bund.de/DE/Recht Regelwerk/EU-Recht/eu-recht_node.html. There is a tendency towards harmonization, coordination in one way or another. It's not that in normal times you can't get from one EU country to another easily by train. So the European railway area already exists. However, this could be formulated more attractively and advertised. At least as soon as travel starts again.
With European greetings

Christian Moos, Secretary General of EUROPA-UNION Germany (April 22, 2020, 11:02 a.m.)

Thanks for the link, was new to me. I am also pleased to learn that there are very first attempts at harmonization. If I understand all the documents correctly as a non-lawyer, in addition to the general declaration of intent (RL 2012/34/EU), one moves more in the area of ​​making the different railway systems compatible at all.

Please allow me an analogy. I'm a computer scientist (that as an excuse/explanation).

In terms of a future market for personal computers, we are still in the pre-PC era when there were systems like the Apple II, the Commodore PET 2001 or the TRS-80. This market was characterized by the fact that the devices were virtually incompatible. A common operating system (whether DOS or Windows) was not yet conceivable. So if I understand the documents correctly, a standardization must first be created at the circuit level (railway tracks, electricity, bills, ...) so that something like a (back then) open IBM PC is conceivable at all. And then an operating system has to assert itself first. In order for a PC to be usable at all, application software must exist, such as Office products. And then these products must also work together so that even inexperienced users can benefit from them.

Of course, such analogies are always flawed.

With almost all products there are at least two perspectives: that of the technical implementation and that of the customer. Most people don't really care how a computer works technically, the main thing is that it works. As a train driver, it doesn't really matter to me how the train service works technically, the main thing is that it works. How the transport companies bill, how it works with the electricity, ... everything is certainly essential. I don't care. I want to book my ticket from Heilbronn to Porto. And I want to travel there comfortably and safely. I would like to have one (!) contact person if something goes wrong. I don't want to be referred from one company to another. In a word: customer orientation.

Of course, this doesn't always work on the PC either. MS Word does not work with a media player from another manufacturer? Bad luck.

It seems to me that everyone involved in the railway harmonization process is concentrating on the technical point of view. Even this term "rail harmonization" is a technical term. The user, the train driver, does not appear there. (Admittedly, hidden in some documents). Even the document RL 2012/34/EU focuses on technical things. Is there really no guiding document that describes the goals from the point of view of rail passengers?

If I'm not wrong, the process that led to the GDPR was very different. There the goal was given to do something for data protection from the point of view of the people. The goal was not formulated technically. And ultimately, the technical aspects are secondary if the goal is right for the people. Engineers, whether on the railways or in IT, are used to implementing such goals together across companies.

That's why I'm still glad that work is being done on it. From my, user-oriented point of view, there is not yet a European railway area. I don't want to doubt that this also exists from a technical point of view. Changing trains twelve times from Heilbronn to Porto is not particularly user-friendly. For me, this corresponds more to the pre-PC era, when only the initiated could use a PET 2001. So it's not surprising that many prefer to take the plane and only have to change four times on the same route (HN->S Hbf->STR->OPO->Porto).


dr Detlef Stern has been one of my favorite people to talk to for a few years — especially over a good cup of coffee — and is also “to blame” for my becoming a reading mentor. 

In real life he is Professor for project management, electronic business and software development at Heilbronn University. Attention, his enthusiasm for software is contagious, and so I now use his too note store. By the way, he blogs himself at https://t73f.de.