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High Speed Trains are Killing the European Railway Network (lowtechmagazine.com)
230 points by gvb on Dec 17, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 212 comments



For European HNers (or travelers) I plea for you to use the night trains, keep them alive.

One example: Between Amsterdam & Bern - Skybus flies for €86 (1.5 hours) and the CityNightLine train is €80 for a bed (11.5 hours). Other routes are comparable, you can pay a bit more for your own (non-shared) compartment.

Economically it seems crazy to take these night trains, and I never even bothered until a recent business trip from Amsterdam to Munich.

It was great for many of the reasons mentioned in the article and other comments here: leave and arrive in the city center, no security, no gate closing time, no baggage restrictions/pick-up/lost luggage, have a beer or dinner on board at a real bar or table, use your laptop/phone/ereader whenever you like, lie down, take a shower, whatever. Basically it's like flying the night before with a free (albeit basic) hotel stay thrown in.

I'm worried that too many people dismiss the night trains too easily (like I did), and that these will be relegated to the history books. In my opinion that would really be a tragedy.

Plane travel has turned into a elementary school bus trip. The train is still a grown-up alternative.


I'm not so sure.

I took the fated Trenhotel Joan Miró that the author talks about. It was a little over 100€ and covered the distance in twelve hours, like the author said. After getting off that train, economically I could not fathom why anybody would ever subject themselves to that experience again.

The 100€ got me a seat in the back of the train in a semi-reclined seat (the least expensive ticket I could buy). I booked it about four weeks in advance. For 150€, I could get an actual bed to sleep in (four to a compartment), and the price/service level went up from there. If the train had free food or even just free water, Wi-Fi, showers, and such like you describe (at least at that price level), it'd potentially be a different experience. But Trenhotel's stock is about as old as it gets, and what you get for the base price of 100€ makes for quite an unfortunate twelve hours.

I just went to Vueling, and I can fly from Barcelona to Paris for 40€ in two hours. Even with security, time to/from the airport and such, I'm still saving time and money. Copious amounts of baggage is the only thing left out, but I could pay 100€ to check piles and piles of bags, and now I spend slightly more than the Trenhotel and arrive five times faster.

High speed trains make sense for semi-long distances. Paris to Amsterdam is a great example. Three hours on modern equipment is very doable, and a plane ride can't beat that in time (fixed costs of security and required early arrival are too high). Comfort is superior, and the price will come down. The author makes the point that the cost is 2x but the travel time is only slightly faster. These routes were just inaugurated, and the stock is fresh out of the factory. Give it a few years, and they will come down. I'll bet you the old "vintage" routes that the author pines over were pretty darn expensive when they too were first inaugurated.

For the <4 hour trips, high speed rail is excellent, and I believe those prices will fall. But anything longer than that, forget the night trains. They're only semi-useful for tourists and backpackers, and I'm shocked they still operate. I'll fly, thanks.


If nations applied the same silly security theater to trains that they force upon aircraft, the train advantage would be cut to ~2hr trips.


Trains are harder to crash into buildings, so hopefully sanity will prevail. (The Madrid train bombs happened and no excessive security was applied as a result)


A hijacked train doesn't make as good an improvised missile as a hijacked plane, so the threat profile isn't the same -- so its not surprising that the security treatment is different.


Far easier just to shoot down the planes, assuming reinforced doors, air marshals, and passengers aren't enough. No, I don't think there's anything rational about it, beyond the rational calculation of shirt-term advantage by politicians.


> Far easier just to shoot down the planes

Not if they are taken control of near their targets.

Prevention is clearly better than response.

> No, I don't think there's anything rational about it

To the extent that some of the actual measures are theater, they are theater that has a real reason for being presented in the particular context they are presented in. Some of them may be irrational as security measures, but they aren't completely arbitrary.


Spain does have slightly enhanced security for long-distance train journeys. At Malaga, for example, there are "security" checks and closing times. Advice by RailEurope is to arrive 30 mins prior to departure...


This is one of the major advantages of trains vs planes, together with stations usually being in city centres.

However, I've had my share of security theatre with trains as well... At least with EuroStar from London to Brussels, and with bullet trains leaving from Madrid.


> At least with EuroStar from London to Brussels

Yeah, true, but in my (admittedly limited experience of international travel), it was very painless compared to airports simply due to having more staff available.


Imagine how much money could be saved by redirecting HSR funds towards faster passenger processing and screening at airports.

Just as much time saved (or more?) for dramatically less money, right?


Interesting. If trains only make sense for trips of <4 hours, how does that impact the California High-Speed Rail project?


"Interesting. If trains only make sense for trips of <4 hours, how does that impact the California High-Speed Rail project?"

Disclosure: I am pro-rail and pro-CA-rail ...

Better to refer to it as "California Rail" and not "California High Speed Rail" since the speed and travel time is modern, circa 2005 or so. As of 2015 it is looking a bit sluggish compared to competitors globally and by the time it is actually running, with riders, it will be decidedly slow by comparison.

Anything under 2 hours from city center LA to city center SF is very interesting and a real game changer. But 2:40 or more ? And I am potentially stepping off a train in LA which is absolutely governed by car infrastructure ? That sounds like a wash, at best.[1]

[1] As opposed to a 5.5 (or so) hour drive, with complete control over departure time, unlimited luggage, total control over your own environment and when you arrive you have your car with you already ...


The grand central train station in LA is well connected to the local light rail network. It is also in downtown LA, so there are plenty of business, pleasure and cultural destination just a short cab/light rail/bus ride away.


So why are you pro-CA-rail? Do you think they'll surprise you with a faster train and good public transit in LA?


a) Stop less. b) Take a more direct route.

The distance between SF and LA is such that it /should/ take under 4 hours.


Love to know a <4hr route that you can do even at safe slightly-over-the-speed-limit speeds.

(CA native).


I have done San Jose to San Diego in 5.5 hours. Not going to tell you how fast I was driving.


No. You will never make it in four hours. 5.5 is about the minimum.


Why not? 350 miles in a straight line, 380 by road; Paris to Avignon is 390 miles by rail, journey time of 2:39 in service. I don't see why 5.5 hours is needed?


The road isn't as straight as it looks, I guess. Also, it's only two lanes in each direction, and the route has a lot of commercial traffic.


Ah, I think we've been talking past each other. The typical view of HSR is that it is viable for HSR journeys of four hours or less — not that it is viable for car journeys of four hours or less. This means SF–LA should be well within the viable HSR distance (per above, it really shouldn't take more than three hours by HSR).


That may be true. Certainly I'll ride it if they ever get the damn thing built.


Here (Copenhagen) trains have a pretty big share of the market up to about 5 hours. Copenhagen–Hamburg (4.5 hr), Copenhagen–Stockholm (5 hr), and Copenhagen–Aalborg (5 hr) are all popular routes.


Yes but most of the time you can still get cheaper flights to Hamburg or Aalborg. And here we are talking old slow-speed trains.


Higher speeds!


> These routes were just inaugurated, and the stock is fresh out of the factory.

Well Thalys trains were made in 1995-6 and it shows. They actually have comparable leg room as airplanes (at least with legacy carriers)


Sometimes, due to the variable pricing, a 1st class Thalys ticket can be as cheap as a 2nd class ticket. My wife and I traveled 1st class from Amsterdam to Paris, which was extremely comfortable, and came with free wifi, food and drink, and probably some other luxuries.

The return trip was 2nd class, which meant you had to pay extra for wifi (despite many Dutch intercity trains having free wifi these days), and lacked the free food and drink. Not sure if it was cramped. Still better than a plane, as far as I recall.

But next time, we'll definitely be looking out for cheap 1st class tickets.


> no baggage restrictions/pick-up/lost luggage,

No

Stories are plenty of people that get their baggage stolen while they are sleeping

Your comment is loaded with romantic idealism (which I won't say I don't have as well) but is sorely lacking on the practicality of it

Yes, I like getting to the city center. In Wien this cost me around 4€. In Paris, 17€ (the more expensive bus) or 10€ for the cheapest bus (you can take the RER as well), yes, if you take Ryanair it's probably more to get there.

But staying in a train all night doesn't make me enthusiastic anymore. I'd rather cope with the hassles of air travel but it will still get me somewhere faster.


My one experience of a sleeper (London-Scotland) was horrid. Farts, sick, snoring, alcohol noises and smells all night.

I hope things are better on the mainland. If not, I'd rather take a plane.

I flew back from Glasgow to Stansted for a small fortune to avoid the experience.


I've taken this route a couple of times - the Caledonian sleeper. I had this romantic vision of linen tablecloths and breakfast in bed.

Instead, I got instant coffee and a single croissant served in a vacuum-packed plastic wrapper.

One time, the train even ended up in a Glasgow by mistake.


Croissant! Lucky soul. They had supply problems when I went on it. We had Fosters and microwaved burger for breakfast. Not a great start to the day.

It became apparent at about 11AM that the burger was poison and tried (unsuccessfully I will add) to escape both ends. Sorry if that was too much information.


Poisoned burger? Luxury. We were served dingy water reclaimed from the train radiator and a pigeon what had flown against a window and died, and told to fend for ourselves. At night a drunken conductor would thrash us all to sleep with a broken bottle of Glenfiddich, shouting various slurs.


Oh, we'd have killed for Fosters. All we got was half a cup of brake fluid, and if we said anything the engine driver would stop the train "until everyone was quiet". Then we took a wrong turn at Crewe and ended up in Archangelsk twelve days later with beriberi.


Was is 12? Seemed like 13.

At least the brake fluid was fresh.

I had a window seat, but all I could see was despair. Turns out it was my reflection.

The small lady in the paper hat was nice, but she ran out of cookies before she got to me.


Cookies? Ridiculous! They fed us burning hot coal, then forced us to pull the train while the driver sat up front and whipped us. And we had to pay train driver to let us pull!


Somewhat off-topic - I found EasyJet to be a cheap alternative to trains going from London to Edinburgh. RyanAir is another one, though they have a reputation of claiming to fly you to one city, only to land in a different one because its airport fees are slightly cheaper [1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryanair#Alleged_misleading_adve...


Ha! We flew from Paris to Dublin a couple of years ago, but the "Paris" airport was actually in Beauvais, about 80 km north of Paris. The bus ride from Paris to the airport both took longer and cost more than the flight to Dublin.


When I flew with them to spain a few years back, their Barcelona airport was in Girona (105 km away, according to Google maps).


"though they have a reputation of claiming to fly you to one city, only to land in a different one because its airport fees are slightly cheaper"

Well, even though I dislike Ryanair, their information on that aspect is as good as it gets.

They advertise "Paris Beauvais" airport which, ok, is not known by many people but I'm not sure how they could do it better.


I take the London-Edinburgh sleeper fairly regularly, and have only ever had good experiences.

That said, although in theory standard-class passengers have to share, this has only ever happened to me once. I can imagine that if you drew the short straw it could be terrible.

The other big down-side is that you can't have a proper wash on the train; luckily there are some pretty good public swimming baths between Waverley station and our client's offices.


The Stena Line ferry to Holland is also superb, it can be very cheap, or you can get a "captain class" cabin that was actually bigger than my flat...


> Basically it's like flying the night before with a free (albeit basic) hotel stay thrown in.

But that's not a good thing for many use cases, like tight business travel or vacations where I'd rather not spend a vacation day traveling if unnecessary.


If you're leaving at (say) 8pm on Friday evening, an overnight train arriving Saturday morning is much more convenient than a plane landing at midnight; likewise for getting back in time for work on Monday morning. What's the use case where it doesn't fit?


I know someone who liked to take the night train for business travel the few times it was possible. Flying he had to get up at 4 am to catch a 6 am flight for a 9 am meeting. With the train he hopped on the evening before, enjoyed dinner and a drink or two in the restaurant, got a full nights sleep, woke up at 7, took a shower, ate breakfast and arrived at the meeting rested.

Admittedly it was very rarely that meeting locations and train schedules lined up so it wasn't like he did it often.


I always take the night trains when I travel in Europe, but it is infrequent enough that I am not going to be able to save them. This makes me sad as well.


Most European rail networks are not profitable. Night trains have approximately never been profitable for anyone, anywhere. They survived only due to government subsidy, and those same governments are not subsidizing the high-speed trains. The price difference has nothing to do with high-speed vs low-speed and everything to do with government subsidy.

Cheaper and easier transport will always increase demand; either you're for cheap transport or against it, and if you're for it you accept that it will be used by commuters living further away from the cities they work in. Making the rail networks cheaper, as the author seems to advocate, would only increase this effect. Or is the argument that leisure travellers care more about cost and commuters care more about journey time? Maybe, but the rail network would be completely unsustainable without commuter traffic.

And as someone who travelled by EuroCity, they weren't the land of milk and honey this author portrays; they were (and still are, in Eastern Europe) frequently several hours late, leading to missed connections. I do think there are cases for some international trains to be scheduled more sensibly (Italy's high-speed trains that then sit for 30 minutes in each station on the way up are ludicrous; Eurostar has sped up by several minutes over the last few years by eliminating less popular stops), but at some point you simply can't match the speed advantage of true high-speed rail.

The specific route complained about here is a dogleg for connectivity reasons; what you're not seeing on his map is the line from Calais (and thence from Britain) coming down to meet it at Lille. There are winners and losers in any routing decision (basically the high speed lines her are a tree centered on Lille, so rather than two distinct lines from Paris to Brussels and Calais there's one line that branches. Longer than a direct train, but it avoids building two distinct lines), but as a Brit I'm profoundly grateful for this one, which makes day trips to Paris or Brussels plausible in a way they simply weren't before.


those same governments are not subsidizing the high-speed trains

In the UK at the moment, the government is about to blow £50 billion on a high speed rail link. If that's not subsidizing, what is?


Yes, I think this is closer to the real problem here: Politicians just loves these big, glamorous infrastructure projects, and anything "train" also tastes green, so that's double the glamour for the same money, and any unintended consequences are, well, unintended, so who can possibly blame them for it?

HS2 has already been heavily criticized for overly optimistically assuming away all problems with the line, and it would not surprise me one bit if one of the assumptions in the cost/benefit analysis is that all existing passengers will use the new line at double (or whatever) the cost, and that the older slower line can close.


The main rationale for building HS2 is that the West Coast Main Line is close to capacity. They aren't going to close the WCML. I believe the plan is to use the freed capacity for more frequent local trains in around Birmingham.

On a related note, it's amazing how little the underlying WCML issue gets mentioned in HS2 stories.


That's because the sexy story here is 'politicians spending money on glamour projects', and not something dull like 'out of capacity rail line desperately needs relief'.

Nobody mentions the rationale, because it's practically impossible to intelligently argue against. It's like the world's greatest strawman.


Sorry, maybe I'm misunderstanding, but are you claiming that it's practically impossible to make intelligent arguments against HS2? Or just that it's practically impossible to argue that the WCML is running out of capacity (without necessarily assuming HS2 is the way to fix that)?


The latter. There's plenty of sensible criticism to be made of the current project plan, but it's really hard to get away from the fact that we're out of capacity. The quickest, cheapest and least disruptive way of fixing that is to build a new railway line. At the moment, we just have some ridiculously rabid partisan public 'debate' where you are either in favour of the HS2 in its current entirety, or you think we shouldn't be doing it at all. There's a huge spectrum of insight that's being lost, and that's what makes me a sad panda.


I think he meant it is practically impossible to argue intelligently against the need to add capacity to the WCML, so nobody mentions it because they would rather argue against the strawman of 'policians are only doing HS2 to look good'.


I believe that the plan is to run both as the current line is over capacity.

As an avid UK train user, but not frequently on that route I support high speed rail plans in general.

I'd like them to build the phases in the opposite order - first the links in the North, then down to London.

A sad fact of the rail privatization, and the rail in general is that governments seem to prefer the large infrastructure projects rather than ongoing subsidy. From an environmental standpoint commuting by train should be much cheaper than by car, but for many places in the UK it is far more expensive.


What I can't figure out is: If rail is so efficient and road travel so inefficient, why is it that rail travel costs more than road travel, even when the government subsidises rail companies and heavily taxes fuel and parking?


Frustrating, isn't it?

To be fair, subway travel in dense cities like NYC tends to be substantially cheaper than road travel in most cases. (Think taxi vs. subway -- the taxi can sometimes, but not always, get you there faster, but you'll pay a lot more. If you have multiple people in the taxi it becomes more competitive though.)

Also, are you counting the cost of the car? If you don't have to buy/rent the car then road travel might look cheaper than it is.

Nonetheless, in general I agree with you. I suspect there's a greater demand for rail travel, pushing prices up. Nearly everyone I know prefers rail when they can, since they don't have to drive or sit in traffic, but chooses road often, primarily for cost and convenience reasons.


1) Was under the impression that NYC subway system receives massive subsidies?

2) Private minibus, illegal everywhere in the US, would be cheap like a city bus and of course much faster than the subway.


In the US at least, government subsidizes driving quite a bit. Mandatory free parking is one of the biggest examples: building parking on all roads (which has an indirect tax on alternative transportation methods by reducing density -- worse for walking, biking, buses, and trains); forcing commercial developers to create free parking lots; etc.

Gas taxes also do not cover the entire costs of roads, nor do they cover the environmental costs. In the US they're also free of sales tax -- another subsidy compared to other goods, though shared by many transportation options.

All that aside, like another commenter said, in a place like Manhattan driving is definitely the more expensive option. This would be true elsewhere if more areas did not subsidize driving or have policies outlawing the density necessary for alternative transportation methods to succeed.


Roads are free to use which is a ridiculously huge subsidy. Also, driving is a lot more expensive than you might think it just involves a lot of sunk costs which people ignore.

EX: Driving a cheap car 15,000 miles per year with 3$ gas 30mpg = 1,500$. Except insurance is ~90$ a month which adds 1,080$ a year. A combination of maintenance / car payments / depreciation runs around 200$ a month adding 2,400$ a year. Live in town that's generally 100$ a month (12,00$/year) for parking at your apartment which is generally close to break-even for an apartment complex. Ignoring other fees like tolls etc your talking about 6,180$ a year for 15,000 miles or 41.2 cents a mile which is far from cheap.


Except in the UK, 80p of every pound you spend on petrol is tax. The road system is very well funded.


Here are the numbers:

Public Expenditure on Roads and Public Transport, 2007-08: £21b

Total motoring taxation: £46b (estimate)

So, just to make it clear, AFTER paying for the roads AND public spending on public transport, motorists contribute a solid £25b to the budget.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/c...


“Entertainments may be taxed; public houses may be taxed; racehorses may be taxed…and the yield devoted to the general revenue. But motorists are to be privileged for all time to have the whole yield of the tax on motors devoted to roads. Obviously this is all nonsense…Such contentions are absurd, and constitute…an outrage upon the sovereignty of Parliament and upon common sense.”

-- Winston Churchill


That's cute, but the reality is that if you impose a severe tax on people who behave in a certain way, those people are going to expect something in return to justify the discrimination. Using tax as a weapon for implementing social policy is always a dangerous path, and it will remain so until politicians don't always have to answer to their electorates sooner or later.


Indeed. Most people still cling to the belief that NI funds the NHS, instead of just being "income tax plus". Having said that, TV tax does fund the BBC.


Having said that, TV tax does fund the BBC.

Which also makes money from various other sources, and which also provides numerous radio and Internet services at home in some cases to people who don't need a TV licence, thus demonstrating how silly it is that the government funding element of the Beeb's income wasn't switched to general taxation long ago...


Should I expect something in return for my beer taxes?


I don't see why that is so unreasonable.

If people who drink beer also need disproportionate amounts of expensive attention from say the police service or hospitals or courts, it seems fair enough that beer drinkers should make some sort of contribution accordingly. However, even that is a shaky argument unless it applies to most/all beer drinkers and not just a minority who don't drink responsibly.

Beyond that, as long as drinking beer is legal, I see little ethical basis for taxing someone who drinks beer more than someone who does not. Why should you contribute more to the cost of something completely unrelated like running schools or buying aircraft carriers than I do, just because your preferred evening drink comes in a pint glass and mine does not?


The question isn't whether it's fair for motorists to contribute to general revenue, it's whether it's fair to say that motorists are being subsidised.


As long as you ignore the fact the UK is not keeping up with the full costs of maintaining there roads as well as the value of all that land and all the past construction costs then it looks good. Because, maintaining an all that aging infrastructure is not that expensive but building it was. Don't forget £11.911 billion (56%) was capital expenditure when you might think most roads and bridges you want built have already been built.

Edit: By not keeping up with infrastructure I mean the average age of there infrastructure is increasing which is not really a bad thing as replacing things early wastes cash but depredation is a real cost.


As for keeping up with maintenance, well, that's just criminal while overcharging motorists £25b a year, no?

As for the initial cost, that's harder to figure out, but this (dodgy looking, admittedly) website[1] suggests that a mile of motorway costs £24m to construct. That means that the motorists are "paying off" the roads at a rate of about 1000 miles a year. There are 7500 miles of motorwayways and A roads[2], but motorists have been paying more in taxes than has been spent directly, although not at the current rate, for 30 years, and with no sign of slowing down.

1: https://63336.com/brilliant_answers/2009/06/how_much_does_it...

2: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/road-lengths-stat...


Rail is environmentally efficient over low occupancy car travel. It's not very economically efficient, in part because the infrastructure is bigger, more expensive and more complicated, in part because politicians force train operators to operate a comprehensive schedule, not just when it's economically viable.


in part because politicians force train operators to operate a comprehensive schedule, not just when it's economically viable.

I assume that's because the fewer trains there are over the course of a day (or weekend), the harder it is for people to use the train as a substitute for personal transportation and the less likely people will rely on the trains in general.


Yeah, in theory, and possible also in some practices, but you also end up with an impenetrable mesh of cross-subsidies that raise the cost of some routes that might be economical in their own regard to subsidise other links but not enough to make them solid alternatives. And then suddenly you have to compete with low-cost airlines and bus services that don't have this subsidy complexity and are much more agile - recipe for disaster.


It's more _energy_ efficient, but also much more expensive to maintain. Partly because it's held to more serious safety standards, and partly because it's so much harder to route around difficulties. Signalling is a major maintenance money sink: a distributed safety system that must be completely reliable.

(Parking is rarely heavily taxed and often "free" - where were you thinking of?)


Perhaps I should have been clearer about the parking.

Here in the UK, particularly in London parking is often non-free. In some areas, councils have adopted policies of not granting planning permission for workplace car parking spaces, or making planning permission conditional on there being a certain charge, in order to increase the costs of driving. I agree that this is not technically a direct tax, but it is an example of government intervention to increase the costs of driving.


Fighting against parking is more complicated than that. Parking moves buildings further apart, making them more difficult to service with transit/pedestrian/bike services. Urban services require dense construction, and parking lots are the opposite of density.


If the policy was that single-level outdoor carparks were denied while underground and multistorey car parking was allowed (or less discouraged) I'd agree with you. But it's my understanding that is not the case.


Most road are paid for with taxes and no additional fee from the drivers is necessary? (while train operators need to pay the fee for using the rails).


Most gasoline taxes, which are a loose proxy for miles driven, go to pay for roads and highways (although other funds are used too).


Gas taxes don't come close to covering the expense of the roads.

http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pa...


The problem with roads is congestion.

It would make more sense to create new roads, but limit their use to coaches and HGVs. This would reduce congestion on existing roads, and provide more point-to-point capacity. Trains are great if you want to travel between places on a fast main-line but most journeys are more complicated than that.


The train subsidies differs greatly by region. For "my" rail company, the fees were flowing in the other direction over the last year - Southern paid an average 0.6p per passenger mile.

For my part at least, my travel card is a bargain compared to what owning and operating a card would have cost me.


The only people who get to play are the ones the government lets use the track. Even if they would let you play you need a lot of money up front.

Effectively closed market, high cost of entry, the gov demands money from them for the privilege so has an incentive to not bring prices down.... And if you choose not to use it the gov gets you again on fuel tax.

I suspect whatever the underlying economics were it would be expensive. It's essentially a monopoly with a, from an end user standpoint, perverse incentive structure.


I would imagine economics of scale plays a significant part. If there was a lot more people travelling by rail, it would be cheaper- increased capacity implied


I was getting an off-peak train from near London into central London. The train is often packed, with people left standing, and I can only imagine it's even busier at peak times.

Many train lines are at or near maximum capacity and need more investment, if you believe the claims used to justify regular above-inflation rail fare increases.

If economies of scale make them profitable, they should be making money hand over fist.

I'm not convinced economies of scale are the problem.


But those packed routes have to subsidize lower volume routes where off-peak cars will be nearly empty.


There's plenty of ongoing subsidy for trains in the UK, it's just going in the shareholders' pockets rather than towards lower prices.


Sure, but the best-guess calculation is that it's going to be worth that £50 billion in terms of economic return for the country (even if not all of that is realized as revenue for the government/train operator). But night trains can't be justified even with that kind of logic, only on some kind of social "it's good for people to be able to travel even if it's not economically reasonable" grounds.


Unfortunately the 'best-guess calculation' is also the 'I really, really need this to be true' calculation.

HS1 also had a promising ROI, but the calculation failed to account for the explosion in cheap flights happening over the same period of time.

The bottom line is that it's really, really difficult to predict the future.


> HS1 also had a promising ROI, but the calculation failed to account for the explosion in cheap flights happening over the same period of time.

I'm pretty sure part of this is due to low/no taxation on aviation fuel, while train fuel is taxed. [1]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrocarbon_oil_duty


Most trains in the UK, and to my knowledge all high speed trains, are electrified, and your link states that electrified services are not subject to this duty.


Not even all the main lines in the UK are electrified, and there's still a large stock of 1970s diesel "High Speed Trains" (yes, that's the actual model name) in operation on main lines.

The main lines:

  - Cross Country Route: partially electrified;
  - East Coast Main Line: fully electrified (but a number of services continue north of it, which is not electrified);
  - Great Eastern Main Line: fully electrified;
  - Great Western Main Line: partially electrified (for the first 11 of 120 miles);
  - High Speed 1: fully electrified;
  - Midland Main Line: partially electrified (again, only for a relatively short distance near the London end);
  - West Coast Main Line: fully electrified.
That's 3 out of 7 main lines that are only partially electrified. If we get off the main lines (and quite a number of smaller lines still have frequent services, all diesel!).


Depends what you mean by "most". Many (many) aren't. I'm fairly sure the UK has the most diesel passenger trains in the world.


That didn't change during HS1 construction, so they would have included that in the analysis.


Are night trains relevant? No-one builds a railway to run night trains, but once you have the route built for the daytime services, running an extra train at night on an otherwise-empty track must be very low cost business.

Some UK train franchises even lay on so-called 'ghost trains' [1], services that are on useless routes and useless timetables, simply so that they can make up the numbers to hit their service agreements (and so not lose their franchises). This strongly implies that the cost of rolling an extra train along the tracks is relatively small.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-hunt-f...


> No-one builds a railway to run night trains, but once you have the route built for the daytime services, running an extra train at night on an otherwise-empty track must be very low cost business.

The operators find them unprofitable (at least in the UK). AIUI they can be very disruptive to track maintenance (particularly given modern safety regulations[1]); they also require paying staff, keeping stations open during the night, leasing nonstandard carriages that can't be used for anything during the day (which in turn means either dedicated locomotives or careful scheduling and shunting, something that modern railways try to eliminate as much as possible). Certainly the sleeper train to Scotland is heavily subsidized and I believe the one to Cornwall is as well (less confident of that though). With Eurostar, AIUI the government even bought and fitted out sleeping carriages in the early days of the channel tunnel, before they turned the whole thing over to a private company to operate - which then concluded that night services would be uneconomic, and sold the carriages off cheaply to Canada.

The ghost trains you link to are more about a legal obligation; even if they cost the relevant companies a lot of money to run, they don't have any alternative. (And honestly an off-peak daytime service, when the trains are already out and the staff already on shift, isn't really comparable).

[1] Which are not unreasonable IMO - people have been killed by e.g. a train on the track next to the one they were working on.


It's not about making up the numbers, but because closing a line is an expensive and lengthy affair due to the amount of consultation that is required under the Transport Act 1962

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_train


The Newhaven Marine ghost service in East Sussex is a fascinating example too:

http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/other-sites/70397-newhav...


That is mind boggling.


Does the UK have dedicated passenger train tracks?

In the US, most train tracks (in my experience, at least) are used for both freight and passengers (and frequently owned by the freight companies, who shaft the passenger trains to keep the freight running on schedule, but that's another rant). The freight trains could easily be crowding out the night passenger trains.


The UK network prioritises passengers over freight in almost all circumstances. Much of the freight is "bulk" that can tolerate delay quite happily.

You don't see a lot of freight going past while waiting on a passenger platform or at a level crossing. There are some freight-only lines mostly for coal to power stations.


There is some separate track, but a lot of the freight and passenger traffic go over the same track.


sure, the fast lines on any 4 track section


Worth pointing out that £14.4b of that is earmarked as contingency. Actual 'budget' is more like £35b. And I believe (but would have to check) that includes spending money on new trains, which we're going to do anyway.


But all of these figures are funny money, and usually subject to variation by at least a factor of 2 if you ask the critics, at least some of whom have valid points to make. The reality is that we don't know what a project like this is really going to cost, economically or otherwise, until we're at least a significant part of the way through implementing it.

Whether that actually matters is a different question, because the realistic alternative isn't that nothing will happen instead and taxpayers will suddenly get a £1,000+ windfall, it's that a broadly similar amount of government funding will be used for other purposes. Many of the interesting questions in this debate are qualitative ones about which general areas should be funding priorities and what the overall national infrastructure strategy should be. And many of the interesting questions that are quantitative are about opportunity costs as much as what will/would be spent on one massive project.


usually these projects are pandering to donors and expected donors. There have been numerous reports that many high speed rail lines only serve to allow the very well off to live where they want with access to other places they need.

The build out costs are not the same as funding day to day operations. Usually subsidizing implies the fare is lowered because of government spending.


Like any big project, I'm sure some of the money is going to well-connected people, and the route is partially influenced by politics. That's not the subsidy bit.

The real subsidy is that once the line is complete, the rail franchise will be sold off, allowing a company to run a rail service on the line. This is in effect a subsidy, since it's letting a company run a rail service without having to foot the bill for the construction. Sure, it's a form of rent, but the risks associated with the line construction have been swallowed by government money.

Plus, the UK government(s) have an absymal record for selling franchises below their 'true cost' (see the original rail privitisations, where franchises were bought and then sold-on shortly later at vastly inflated prices). Only an eternal optimist could happily assume they'll get it right this time!

Finally, consider that these big rail projects are never initiated by private business. Few enterprises willingly stump up the cash to construct a big railway line just so it can run trains on it later. They only do so when government invests the cash. This surely implies that the government-backed schemes must be of benefit to the railway companies => there's the subsidy.


Actually I think all the major lines were initiated by private businesses, during the steam era.


Most of them were, but HS1 is major (and it's a new line, not a conversion of an existing one) and government-initiated.


In Italy, you can arrive at the station without a ticket, and go to a machine. The machine supports multiple languages. You can buy a ticket in multiple classes on multiple speeds of service (roughly "regular", "fast", "high-speed"). These trains are frequent, well-connected to regional buses, and clean. The high-speed ones are fairly expensive, but the regular ones are fairly cheap.

This is the way to do train service. And it's heavily used.

P.S.: if you really want a slow night train for cheap, visit Zimbabwe. A "first class" sleeper cabin is about $10 from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, and it's beautiful. But every part of the 1970's British train has long since been stolen--the lights, the faucets, the toilets, etc. Still, $10, and it goes to interesting places.


I'm sorry but you forgot the other side of the coin there. I am Italian (living abroad now though) and until last year I had been traveling a lot across Italy.

Trains are a joke in Italy, every Italian person would be able to tell you that. While we mostly use trains to move around from town to town, the train service itself is abysmal. Dirty trains, missed connections, delays because of problems in the infrastructures/scheduling. I used to take regional trains to go visit my (now ex) girlfriend living in the neighboring city from mine (which is Bologna, a pretty big train exchange/junction between the north and center of Italy). Every single day my train would wait literally 100 meters away from the station, stuck there for an hour or so (outside of its timetable) because somebody messed up the platform and there was another train incoming.

Yes, we have a lot of ticketing machines where you can just go there and buy a ticket in 10 minutes, but actually getting to your destination is a whole different deal in Italy.

Also, thanks to the new high speed trains (especially connecting Milan and Rome), the fares for normal regional trains have skyrocketed as well (they want to push people on the HS ones). I clearly remember doing Bologna -> Florence for 7 euros 5-6 years ago, last year I checked again and it had skyrocketed to 20-25 euros. That's a massive increase for just a ~1 hour ride.

EDIT: Forgot to add that this is all in the North where the infrastructure is more mature and stable. The south is way worse, don't get me started.


Never been able to understand why Italians are so down on their country. I spent a week there a couple of years ago, mostly travelling by train. Italians I had spoken to had me believing I should be bracing myself for North Eritrea in terms of infrastructure, police corruption, and so on... the reality is that it feels just like France. Admittedly I never went south of Rome...


It's a latin thing. I'm Portuguese, and we're also devastatingly critical of our country. Talking to a French colleague yesterday, he also bemoaned the negativity of his countrymen. Spanish people also tend to be suffer from the same problem. I wish I knew how to push people into constructive criticism.


The opinion I have of my own country, I admit, is overly critical, however all I stated here is mostly "objective" facts (as far as objective I can be, which is still biased).

And yes, if you travel in the north-center as a tourist you're probably going to see a more sunny side of Italy. As somebody who lives in the country, however, it's far too easy to see everything in a negative light. Especially in the south where these common infrastructures are often missing, broken or very uncomfortable (speaking about trains of course)


LOL. Last time I was in Italy (on a trip across Europe), I wanted to get a ticket to get to France. I tried one of those machines… wouldn't let me buy tickets for the route I wanted (commuter rail to Paris). Actually tried two or three; there were several kinds.

Stood in line for an hour plus. Guy at the desk claims no-one there speaks English (fine, but that was a lie as the attendant next to him was). We use our phrasebook to order tickets. Walking away from the counter, we realize they're for a train that leaves in ONE MINUTE. Of course we don't make it. Eventually we found customer service tucked away in a dirty corner. They were able to right everything, but seriously… my experience getting train tickets in Italy was NOT as rosy as you paint it.

(Only place worse was France, where the damn airport tram ticket machines needed 18€ of COINS.)


I think the parent was referring to trains within Italy. It's train system is really good, you can go almost everywhere, easily buy a ticket on the spot for a fixed fare, and they are quite comfortable.


Yes, to be fair, I didn't have trouble within Italy. It was only trying to get out that I had trouble. (And I had been through nearly every country in western Europe by that point without any trouble, despite some convoluted plans.)


ha, my experience was being charged for adult prices trying to go Milan-Paris because the agent insisted they couldn't take a french student card, despite it working for train trips from Rome through Florence and Venice on the way there. She told me that I could get the difference refunded once I arrived in Paris...as if.


Last year I did exactly that. Was in Lucca, wanted to go to Florence for the day. Came to the station, bought a ticket, all very easy, even shows you what trains are available and allows you to choose a specific one, which I did.

On the train, conductor came past. Must have been a bad day because this lady was furious at us that we didn't stamp our ticket... No idea we had to (since we chose the specific train on the machine...) She was gonna let it slide this time but next time we would pay a huge fine...

7 seconds later we heard her shout exactly the same story to basically every other tourist in the cabin :P

Protip to TrenItalia, when printing the ticket, show a big warning on the screen that you need to stamp the ticket to make it valid ^_^.


In Germany, even the low-speed trains have met a powerful competition in form of coach bus lines.

The coaches are brand new, offer free WiFi, and are vastly cheaper than even the lowest-price DB tickets.

edit: another quite popular travel solution is car sharing("Mitfahrgelegenheit"); this is especially useful if you must drive with your own car (e.g. because you carry stuff you can't transport in a train/airplane) and want to lower your own travel costs.


I was really excited about the coach bus lines - until I took a trip with one. Did you take a (longer) trip with one yet?

In an IC(E), I can open my 13" Laptop and work fine, even if the person in front of me lowers their seat. On the particular bus I was riding, the table was just too small. Plus, the bus has much more unexpected movements than a train, I couldn't even look on a tablet screen for too long without feeling some travel-sickness. It was a very long, very boring ride.

The WiFi, btw, was a joke on the autobahn. It was working a bit in the cities...

Also, the trip took more than an hour longer than was planned, and the traffic on the autobahn was absolutely fine (I did the same trip with a car a couple of times). Driving into the cities took lots of time, but again the traffic probably would have looked the same any other average day.

It definitely is cheaper though...


I regularly travel between Amsterdam and Berlin, and I have had the same experience.

I avoid the bus because it sucks, I avoid flights because they actually feel longer and more exhausting, and because the door-to-door advantage is only two hours (out of 6 or 7 total). Whenever I can, I take the train.


Same experience here.

Although I could live happier without "problems in course of operations". :)


I've done lots of trips since the first coach lines started... and yes, the WiFi quality tends to suck (but so does your cellphone internet).


In the northeast US, too. If I wanted to go from Manhattan to Boston this afternoon: $200 by plane, $75-100 by train, $15 by Boltbus. All take about 4 hours. Plane is going to cost more because it's a bit of a haul to get to JFK or Newark airports -- about $8 + 1 hour by public transportation, or about $50 + 30 min by taxi. Planning out a week or two, though, airfare can be as little as $75. Train stays the same price.


At least part of the issue is that Boltbus is traveling on heavily subsidized highways. On the Northeast Regional, ticket fares more than cover costs. In comparison, only about 50% of highway construction and maintenance is paid for by highway and gas taxes and trucking fees, with the rest coming from general taxes. New York in particular is a state which funds highway maintenance heavily out of general tax revenue.

Still, I think air travel is the clear loser in the comparison. The public transit route to LGA or JFK is a bus trip through not very pleasant parts of Harlem and Queens, and is just a huge PITA with luggage. Strolling into Penn Station is a breeze.


Roads are certainly "subsidized" in the U.S., but given how much economic and civic activity they enable relative to the general revenue required, I don't think it's fair to call that subsidy "heavy". I doubt it's outrageous when considered per passenger-mile relative to, say, the non-fee general revenue that goes to the TSA, FAA, airport improvement, etc.

The federal highways that represented the majority of that Boltbus' trip could easily be funded by gas taxes and other essentially user fees if you raised them marginally and removed the requirement that something like 1/6 of that funding be redirected to subsidize public transit. With a few regional exceptions, Amtrak absolutely could not exist without general revenue: As you raised fares, passengers would vanish. And I'm skeptical that Northeast Regional fares really do cover any more than the operating expenses. Are they sufficient to cover capital expenses as well?

State and local road funding is trickier, because it's inefficient to build toll booths along small roads and local gas taxes can be evaded in border areas by driving to another locality. But almost everyone uses local roads, so paying for them out of local taxes isn't a terrible solution. Regardless, if we could switch to GPS-based taxation without too much of a row, I am quite sure that state and local roads would continue to exist and grow without any "subsidy".


People keep saying this. But, it is BS.

When you ask them for a link, they trot out something from 30 years ago from the DOT, or a recent study, with no real numbers, from PIRG, a decidedly left-leaning and biased source.

Want REAL numbers? Look up the CAFR financial report for any toll road or turnpike.

Dig into it, find out the actual maintenance costs (not the cost of everything else like hiring people to take toll money), divide by the miles of toll road covered. Then, you will have an actual handle on what maintenance of roads costs.

Hint: it is a lot less than you think and far less than the total amount of road fees, vehicle taxes like the sales tax, registration costs, fuel taxes, etc. that the govt takes in each year.

Don't forget, every 18 wheeler you see has a 12% Federal excise tax on its first sale (and such trucks are usually over $100K, thus at least $12K taxes); and each year, every commercial truck has to pay a sliding scale under Form 2290 to even register their vehicle for plates, from $100 to $550.


Purely a personal pet peeve, but BoltBus also gets to be cheaper because they don't have to build or rent space in bus terminals.

Instead they stop and pick up on busy, narrow streets in Manhattan and their passengers frequently block the sidewalk to such an extent that it forces pedestrians into traffic.

Ditto all the other coach lines. At least the sketchy Chinatown bus lines have the decency to pick up on less busy streets in the Lower East Side, the BoltBuses have no reservations about gunking up the works during rush hour in Midtown.


BoltBus to Boston was moved last month from its Penn Station location (at the request of NYC DOT & a community board) to 33rd St between 11th and 12th -- a dead block pretty far away from anything. They sent out an email two weeks ago asking for cust feedback on an "opportunity" to move to 1st Ave between 38th and 39th. They wanted feedback within a couple of days to tell the city, so the city obviously has some control/input, but I don't know the extent.


"At least part of the issue is that Boltbus is traveling on heavily subsidized highways. On the Northeast Regional, ticket fares more than cover costs."

You might want the check on that since Amtrack is heavily subsidized by taxpayers[1] and rail is the original subsidized transportation.

Here's a thought experiment. What if you took all the rail in the northeast[2] and made it private roads for automated buses? Would it be better or worse? I imagine you can crank the speed on an automated bus on a closed road.

1) In 2010, Amtrak earned about $2.51 billion on $3.74 billion in expenses.

2) yes, big impact on cargo hauling - the thing American rail is optimized for


Amtrak loses money in most of the country, but the Northeast Corridor is profitable.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/03/01/amtrak_profit...


The Brookings Institute reports relies on accounting information that is suspect[1] and it looks like the route is a money loser when capital costs are taken into account[2]. The Inspector General's report is one of those nasty reports that show some manipulation.

1) http://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/dot/files/Amtrak's%20New%20Cost...

2) http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/fred-frailey/archive/2011/05/13/i...


Although Amtrak (esp on the East Coast) could not be construed as high speed, I suspect they are having a problem with buses too. Previously, I used Amtrak without fail to get from NJ to DC and back. Now, I take BoltBus or MegaBus unless they are fully booked. The bus takes 1-2 hours longer but usually costs about 1/5 to 1/6 the cost of Amtrak. Plus, they both have fantastic customer service whereas Amtrak seems to not care at all about their customers. (Admittedly, I've had some bad experiences on Amtrak, but I don't think they are particularly unusual.)


Amtrak in the east surely does not care about "low tech" or "slower pace" people one whit. For example, all eastern corridor trains are off-limits for bicycles, all the time. And the NYC-Montreal service, while being the perfect duration for a night train (11 hours or so), only runs during the day, making it positively absurd for anyone to take the entire journey (it's not cheap enough for the unemployed).

Some buses will take bicycles, and they have more services each day too. Amtrak may as well not exist except for specific commuter services such as NYC-Boston Acela (which is not value for money unless you're in the 1%).

NJ Transit, LIRR, and Metro-North are fairly cheap, compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the first world. Too bad they're not long-distance.


Amtrak is excellent for Milwaukee<->Chicago. 1.5 hours, impervious to traffic, clean, comfortable (like a first class airplane seat), $24. It gets pretty high utilization too.


My wife and I ride Amtrak all the time between Wilmington and DC, because with a 1 year old the extra room is a godsend. We've had uniformly positive experiences with the customer service, both the Red Caps who always give us a hand with the stroller and finding a seat at the end of a car, to the ticketing protocol that automatically refunds no-shows (although unfortunately that's changing in March).


I've been pretty happy with the Acela service between Boston and NYC, but it is considerably more expensive than the buses. Sometimes it's even more expensive than some of the planes, though they're more comfortable and quicker when you account for airport traffic/parking and TSA nonsense.

I've also tried four of the bus lines. They're generally cool, but there are significant differences in terms of convenience of the pick-up and drop-off points at both ends. They don't all go right to the door of Penn Station. ;) Still, for someone on a budget, they just whip the alternatives. The only way either trains or planes could win would be to offer a significant reduction in total door-to-door travel time with prices no worse than double. I don't see any way they'll be able to do that.

If people want to improve the long-distance transportation infrastructure, I think high speed rail is the wrong place to look. There are surely better ways to take advantage of the train right-of-way and station infrastructure, probably some variant on electric buses traveling at the same speed as today.


MegaBus around here has some pretty horrid customer service. Buses are frequently quite late (by several hours even), drivers then speed at 10-15MPH over the posted limit to try and make up time. The built in WiFi is generally either broken or basically inoperable (EDGE mobiledata is faster!). On top of that, the drivers are usually asshats about everything.


There is a similar ticket price disparity here in the UK too. You can travel from Manchester to London and back for less than £30 on the coach but it will cost over £100 for a similar journey by train. The downside is the time it takes; nearly 5 hours each way on the coach versus just over 2 on the train.

Personally I never consider using the coach as I own a car and would always perceive it to take longer than it would for me to drive, although it would cost a lot less. Whilst I would travel by train over taking the car as I'm not that keen on driving and somewhat perversely actually enjoy it. However, my main reason for not travelling by coach is that they always make me feel sick.


I went to a one day conference in London and, to save costs, decided to take the coach overnight (depart Leeds at 1am and then leaving London at 9pm in the evening - sleeping on the coach both ways).

The train worked out at £40ish each way (I didn't know I was going till a couple of weeks in advance, if it had been months I'm sure I could have bought tickets for less).

Using Megabus, I paid £4 to get there, £8 to get back ... and then had to pay £9 to get a taxi from the city centre to my house.


The train does have a huge speed advantage though. That Leeds-London train takes a tad over 2 hours, while the bus is more like 4.

The entire "privatised" monopoly train system is ridiculous though. I'm dreading the day I turn 26, because it will basically mean that I can no longer afford to travel by train.


Was that a regular Megabus, or the special Sleeper Service one with beds?


Just the regular one. The seats were surprisingly comfortable - but I have been told that I could "sleep on a stick"


Yeah, riding train in Germany is just too expensive. Unfortunately I still have to use it because currently it is more flexible than the bus lines. I really hope that the competition will drive the train prices down, but that's something I don't believe in...

Visiting my girlfriend at the other and of Germany costs 220 Euro if I pay the full price. Sometimes you get cheaper tickets but that's still too much. Just visiting each other twice a month cost about 400 Euro which woudl be better invested in a vacation or something similar.


Train prices are not too high, the other means of transport are too cheap – both regular cars and coaches receive heavy subsidies and cause existential costs for the environment without having any advantage whatsoever.

And if you get a BahnCard 50, the price cap for a return ticket is 140 € second class (~200 first class). The (underpriced) BahnCard 100 is at about 4000 €/year second class (and 7000€ for first), which is also a completely reasonable price to ask for a year’s worth of transportation.


I particularly enjoyed the German Rail Pass when I was there recently. Something like 240€ got me 3 days of unlimited travel within a month on the ICE trains (and S-Bahn) around Germany and to Brussels, which worked out fantastic for my travel plans - from Frankfurt to Hamburg, Hamburg to Brussels, and then Brussels to München. Worked out a lot cheaper than flying and the time cost was about comparable. Mostly it was far more comfortable too - apart from the bit where I caught the train from Köln to Brussels at the end of the weekend and ended up sitting on my bags by the toilets because it was so crammed.


Problem with the BC100 is that you have to put up the whole amount upfront and that it's for a full year only - I wouldn't mind something like a 1-month "Bahn Flat" for 350€ or such.


€4000/year is incredible value. That's about the same price in the UK to commute 60 miles daily from Surrey to London.


Prices won't go down, probably, but bus lines will diversify. They work really well and many people use them.

Random comparison: Stuttgart–Berlin is 6 hours, 140€ by train and 8 hours, 25€ by bus, going two or three times a day.


Care to share some links? I just declined meeting my brother today, because the trip (70km) costs vastly more money than I'd spend on a train ticket and still a lot more than the route costs by car. We're talking about slow trains (Regionalverkehr) here..

That said, I haven't actually encountered those coaches before..


Sure, just go on meinfernbus.de. ADAC/Deutsche Post have launched the "Postbus", and if you're into carsharing, I recommend mitfahrgelegenheit.de.


I recently used Meinfernbus to travel from Frankfurt Airport (yes airport) to Hannover. It's comfortable and very cheap, 15 euro.


Luckily, DB are raising their prices, in some cases by over 8%, to remain competitive.


The buses can be pretty decent in Turkey also.


The title to me is link bait, and the post considerably biased towards pricing, which is an important factor, but not the main reason I use high-speed rail. Not to mention that the author fails to mention how important, in passenger volume terms, are some of the routes he mentions e.g. Barcelona-Paris, come one, +800km on a train it isn't going to be cheap nor fast. High-speed travel works for shorter distances under 500-600km, not this.

I travel on high-speed rail 2-3 of times a month, and this is my choice over air travel because:

> Pricing: On average the train price is c. 20% more expensive than the plane, but that is one side of the story.

> Travel time: the fact is that the time I require to go to the airport is a minimum 30min ride (if I'm lucky) from city centre to airport. Add to that the need to be there 45min before the plane departs, and any of the usual delays. That's at least 1h 15min of my day gone in commuting to travel. If I travel by train my commute is not that different than that of going to work by bike, needless to say that the train gate closes 2min before departure, not 45min.

> Location: the train station being located at the city centre is extremely convenient, forget about getting a taxi and bumping into traffic, paying arbitrary "airport" fares, etc.

> Comfort: the leg space, seat width, baggage allowance, etc knocks out air travel. I can open my laptop on a tray way bigger than those on planes and comfortably work all the journey with my 3G/4G connection and get real work done.

> Flexibility: train frequency is much higher than that of planes, so finding a time that fits my agenda is not a problem. Add to that the fact that you can catch an early train if, for example, you finish your meeting/work early, without paying additional fees.


I think the article is really complaining about the difference between high-speed and normal trains, rather than the train<->plane comparison.

In your own example, you could be catching a slower train and still get there faster than the plane. It's not really the 'high speed' bit of the train that matters much.

You can also argue that nowdays it matters even less. With WIFI/3G, as you say, you can get useful work done on a train journey, so even if it takes a bit longer, the travel is not dead/wasted time for business. This weakens the case for high speed trains even more.

I agree with your points though, I've commuted London<->Paris by plane and train, and the train is so much nicer.


I get your point, but these are my two options: http://d.pr/i/Mnhm

Top row, slow-speed train; bottom row HST; first column departure time, second column arrival time, third column travel time. If you need to be at a meeting by 8.30am which train would you get? One has a travel time of 4h 16min vs 1h 38min, HST has a higher, marginal, price difference.


I haven't been to Europe yet, but after living in Japan for a year and then returning to the US, there's nothing I miss more than trains that go fast and go everywhere. I could wake up, walk down the street, hop on the train, and be 350 miles away before getting bored of staring at the back of the seat. They've managed to get by without much cannibalization of other services (you can still get to anywhere on normal-speed trains) and it seems that revenue ends up being at least more than operating costs. They obviously make a great deal of sense in Japan, and perhaps less so in Europe and the US, at least for cross-country service. Regional services would be fantastic for key areas, and I don't see why we couldn't make it work. Unless we just skip right to Hyperloop?


The big reason why Japanese high speed trains are so good and why they haven't cannibalized anything, is that they've built new tracks for them everywhere. Shinkansen aren't even compatible with normal tracks, they are wider (another reason why they're so spacious and offer such a smooth ride). There's simply nothing in the world that even comes close to the Japanese train system. As an indicator, here's a list of the 50 most frequented train stations in the world: http://www.japantoday.com/category/travel/view/the-51-busies....


A clarification: Shinkansen use the same 1.435 meter standard gauge as the continental railroad. Other trains in Japan use a narrower gauge. In modern times, wider gauges don't have much of an advantage in comfort. For example, the notoriously loud-and-shaky BART uses a 1.7ish meter gauge.


Broader gauges generally do allow wider cars, which is a plus for comfort. Wide 2x2 seating with a wide aisle is nice to have; wide 3x3 or 3x2 is probably not going to work on standard gauge.


That's a great point, the Tokaido Shinkansen (the first bullet train line in Japan) was created in the 60's but the Tokaido Main line is still going strong. The Tokaido Shinkansen is also very profitable. It'll be interesting to see how things change when the even faster Linear Motor car comes into service.

The competition for the High Speed Rail in Japan is really domestic air flights.


I never understood why HSTs are supposed to be in competition with planes.

For short trips (<500km), HSTs generally win against planes when comparing door-to-door times, but so do cars. For longer trips, planes win. Period.

To me, the HST is what makes the train able to compete with the car for medium-distance travel. Let's take an example from Germany: Hamburg to Frankfurt. It's about 500km, which takes 4-5 hours by car. The HST link takes 3:30h - if you take the time from station to station. But that's not a fair comparison, because generally you do not want to go from station to station but from some place in Hamburg to some place in Frankfurt. If we add an hour of traveling by local public transportation, we arrive at a local trip time of 4:30, in the same range as the car. The HST has made traveling by train a viable option - not insanely fast, but comparable to the car.

Mass transit is slow compared to cars. HST is fast. Combine those, and HSTs make public transport a viable alternative to going by car, time-wise.


If I owned a railway I would like to use shipping containers to provide a night train service.

The shipping containers would be self contained and appointed to budget hotel chain standards - clean, smart and to the point functional. Each would contain a small kitchen, toilet and shower. The beds would be bunks but with a bit more space as there would not be a shared walkway as happens on existing rolling stock. You would also be able to stow bicycles and other bulky luggage items without blocking up the train walkway if you were willing to go without much kitchen area.

During the day the mini-hotel shipping containers would sit at the docks, out of the way, whilst the train went about its business delivering normal shipping containers to wherever is needed. Then, early evening, the mini-hotel shipping containers would be loaded up and the train would head off to London/Glasgow/Plymouth to pick up customers. The train would trundle at a nice sedate pace through the night with minimal stops and starts to arrive at a sensible time at the other end (5.30 a.m. is too early, 7 is good). Thereafter, back to the docks, unload and regular freight service for the train.

To cope with seasonal demand and different passenger service levels (1st, 2nd class), the train could be loaded up with a mixed load of regular shipping containers and their mini-hotel variants.

Modern IT niceties such as wifi, 'swipe' door locks and mobile telephony would make sure that everyone had a nice and secure journey. With 'aerogel' style materials and double glazing the inside of the mini hotel would be insulated from the noise of the train and the weather.

Current night trains in the UK do not provide a good night's sleep, you also expect your belongings to be potentially stolen. With 'containerisation' problem solved.

Would there be any takers? It all depends on price, however, if you are expected to be in two places at once or work on a North Sea oil rig then a decent night train would be quite tempting. If the business did not work out then a buyer could be found for the deluxe shipping containers, they could be transported by road to somewhere where a temporary workforce was needed or even used as a hotel.


A nice idea - yet technically unfeasible.

First problem is the time and storage you need for loading/unloading a whole train worth of carriages - I expect at least 30-60min, if not longer. And most container facilities are not equipped with large storage areas, just for short-term storage.

Second problem is power: a freight train carriage usually just has two connections to its neigboring carriages: torque and the pneumatic brake line. Basically you'd need to somehow add electricity infrastructure (which 'd then again require specially modified freight carriages, and likely even different locomotives. I'm not sure if freight-only locos carry the 1kV heating power, which is (ab)used to provide electricity in passenger trains).

Third problem is maintenance and cleaning: container load/unload facilities are not equipped with the place and the necessities for properly cleaning the containers, and even less maintaining them.


I think not so much as "unfeasible" as "does not offer any benefits that could not be achieved with normal night train carriages".


Only technically infeasible in the current infrastructure. Say a new continent opened up and there was a chance to build the rail system from scratch. Such a facility could be planned for. Maybe this is how travel will work on Mars? (With redundant self contained power, for safety.)


How many people would feel comfortable alone inside a locked metal box travelling at 60mph? I know I wouldn't. Not to mention it would be stupidly wasteful to build and haul around a couple hundred toilets, beds and sinks, it would more than triple the carried weight and fuel expense.


German here. I have a Bahncard 100, which allows me unlimited train travel (plus unlimited local public transport in many cities) in Germany with most trains for one year. Fast or slow. I don't care. I usually pick the faster one.

http://www.bahn.de/i/view/DEU/en/prices/germany/bahncard.sht...

Deutsche Bahn also advertizes that they use renewable energy for my Bahncard travel and they will expand this over the coming decades to 100%.


It also costs close to 5000 euros per year. That's a little more than you'd lose to depreciation if you owned a luxury car. If you have to travel that much inside Germany to make that card worthwhile for you, then you have a problem. Either you need to relocate or inject some telecommuting into your existing work habits. I'm going to go out on a limb here & suggest that many people travel for travel's sake as a way to give themselves an inflated sense of their own importance...or just find some glamour in being on the road all the time.


Travel with a car long-distance is not an option. I'm not going to drive 400km early in the morning with a car and be relaxed in the office at 9:30.

> If you have to travel that much inside Germany to make that card worthwhile for you, then you have a problem.

The 'problem' is called 'WORK'. A little bit more than 40000 people have such a card.

> Either you need to relocate

No option.

> some telecommuting into your existing work habits.

Sure, I do that.

> I'm going to go out on a limb here & suggest that many people travel for travel's sake as a way to give themselves an inflated sense of their own importance...or just find some glamour in being on the road all the time.

Maybe it's not that good to 'go out on a limb here and give useless suggestions. You seem to fail to understand that a lot of people have to travel as part of their work to meet customers.

In my case I work with people which are located in different areas of Germany and I have to meet them face to face quite often.


In my case I work with people which are located in different areas of Germany and I have to meet them face to face quite often.

No, you don't. unless you're a handyman whose physical presence is absolutely required, both you & your client are simply indulging in such an idiotic wasteful behavior because it makes you both feel good. 1- Your client is holding up to some anachronistic notion that having an employee physically present informs them about your competence or diligence. 2-you like traveling 400 km & being at the office at 9:30, it makes you seem important, which you may well be. just not enough to justify this ridiculously expensive card & all the environmental impact its ownership entails.

For years, I used to fly coast to coast every week, consulting for a major IT company in the US. It was completely idiotic even then. A knowledge worker's physical presence is not really required in this day and age, it's all part of some old heritage of employer-employee relationship we can't quite let go of.

Germany being Germany, rigid & set in its customs & ways of doing business, if given no other choice & out of fear for my income, I would relunctantly agree to such an arrangement. I just wouldn't go boasting around about how great of a deal this card is.


4,090 euros for all rail travel in germany (BahnCard 100) is a very good deal I am jealous.

For example if I work in central London again my season ticket for a 65 mile journey (bedford to London) is over 6000 euros a year.


Plus it gives me local public transport bus/underground trains/ferries/... in most major city areas. There are reserved spaces in trains and I can use the DB lounges where available. Also you can take your children with you for free in trains.

Another plus, which I haven't used: you can send you luggage (max 30kg) for free on workdays home to home.


Damm maybe i should look for a job in Germany.


> Either you need to relocate or inject some telecommuting into your existing work habits.

Not always an option.

As an example, I live in NRW but our customers are scattered around Germany.

Luckily I am located on our headquarters, but many of my colleagues need to go everywhere and not all clients appreciate phone conferences.


He states that there was more air travel in Europe, and more trips taken in general because of HSR on routes that used to be serviced by air, thus there was no decrease in pollution, instead an increase. This is such a regressive attitude towards transit. Travel makes us all richer, more of it is a good thing (commuting is a different beast).

My understanding is that overnight trains and the other trains that were less expensive were heavily subsidized and unprofitable. My guess is that HSR in Europe is less subsidized and closer to profitable. Many forms of transportation are subsidized (highways for cars, TSA for planes, HSR projects). The subsidies distort choices and encourage inefficient waste by not letting consumers decide with true information as to the costs of their mode choice.


Travel makes us all richer, more of it is a good thing

Sure, this world can now afford constantly to have about one million of its people sitting in a chair in the sky.


I think a lot of the differences boil down to once-a-day point-to-point connection of classical or EuroCity trains versus corridors for frequent high-speed trains. Thalys goes every 2 hours, Etoile de Nord once a day.

That's why bullet trains work so well in Japan, you can basically have 2 corridors one on each coast and they will pass through most of the important cities removing the need for direct links.

I do agree with the article in most of the points. I have traveled Amsterdam-Perpignan (the last french city before Barcelona) with Thalys and low-cost night train (and TGV and Thalys on the way back) and I can attest that the night train is indeed quite uncomfortable. At least I could take a gas canister (for hiking) with me...


In about 6 weeks, my girlfriend and I will be flying into Frankfurt - because that was an available cheap flight via China from Hong Kong, where we live.

We will be travelling from Frankfurt to Strasbourg (fast train, 1 change), from Strasbourg to Brussels (fast train, change in Paris), from Brussels to Amsterdam (fast train, direct), and from Amsterdam back to Frankfurt (fast train, direct). Total price for these train journeys, for two people, is €330 - because I booked the apparently hard-to-get cheap fares.

Compared with travelling by plane on low-cost carriers: We will mostly be going from city centre to city centre. We will have power at our seats in at least some cases. We will be free to get up and walk around for comfort. We will be able to bring our own food and drink onboard. We will get to see some of Europe passing by the window. And we will have to be on the platform a couple of minutes before departure time, not an hour or more...

Trains make more sense, in terms of service and cost, over short-to-medium distances. Barcelona to Amsterdam is probably over the line where flying makes more sense. Our Strasbourg to Brussels journey will take around 5 hours, but over 1 hour of that is time to change trains - and stations - in Paris, so I think that still falls before said line.


When you're looking at a 12+ hour train ride with two changes and 200€ vs a 1.5hr flight for 30€, as seem so often to be the options. To someone who hates visiting airports more high speed trains can't get here quickly enough.


Low Tech Magazine: Drawing arbitrary boundary lines sells. 150 year old technology (trains) = ok, 100 year old technology (airplanes) = not ok.


So many comments but only one passing mention of "Eurail" in this discussion.

http://www.eurail.com/

So, help an American (potential tourist) out. Does using Eurail for a European vacation make sense? For a family of 2 adults and 2 children?

E.g. getting the "15 days continuous" pass is $548 + $548 +$276 + $276 = $1648. That doesn't seem unreasonable for being able to go pretty much anywhere except UK.

Does that make sense?


In addition to the itinerary, it also depends on your planing. If you want to be very flexible, it's most likely cheaper than buying a long-distance ticket at the station/in the train.

If you want to plan and book your trips ahead of time, it may well be that, with early booking discounts, it's cheaper to book ahead of time. This would also allow you to reserve seats/a table, which I'd recommend if you travel with kids.

Also note that in Germany, and maybe in other countries as well, kids < 15 years travel for free with their parents if noted on their tickets.

If you travel a lot within one country, you may also want to check their frequent traveler programs. E.g. in Germany, the DB sells cards that give you 25%, 50% or 100% off of the ticket price. The 25% one can be ordered for a duration of only 3 months and costs 19 Euros, so it should pay off quickly! Note, however, that it is an subscription that you need to cancel.

Enjoy Europe :-)


How many countries do you expect to visit, doing 4 / 5 countries in 15 days would seem like the best idea. Any more and you'll be on the train non-stop..

https://www.google.com/search?q=US+vs+EUROPE+size&tbm=isch&t...


I think it really depends on your itinerary. 15 days is a short time to visit Europe. Maybe it could make sense if you plan on visiting only one or two countries and smaller cities. But if you want to see let say, Paris, Roma and Berlin. I don't think it's a good option.


This is sad. I wonder if the high speed trains need to be this expensive (through energy use etc). Also, if the lower speed ones are being shut merely to move people onto the higher speed lines.

Certainly in the UK, with high speed one, they introduced an extra delay into the old line to make it seem less competetive.

I'm guessing that nearly double the price for a 20%-25% decrease in journey time is more than a sane person would want to pay.


I'm wondering if this type of analysis has been done for HS2 (http://hs2.org.uk/about-hs2/facts-figures/route-trains-cost). I can see a situation where routes are closed to force uptake of the HS2 route thus making HS2 a 'success'.

I would highlight that the cost of air flights is kept artificially low by the lack of fuel duty or VAT on fuel. So flights do come across as cheaper. Of note, in the UK public buses are able to claim a fuel duty rebate. I am unsure on the situation with diesel trains.


The price model of the rail company doesn't make much sense here (germany). I can travel from Berlin to Paris cheaper, than I can from Frankfurt to Munich for example. But then they have special offers for certain regions sometimes, which you can combine with regular tickets for the rest of your route, which makes it cheaper again. Or in combination with a flight ticket. Or traveling in groups with special ticket, or traveling in a certain region with a specific train and so on. It is so complicated and confusing that even the staff at the train station can't always tell you whats the best ticket.


It's a bit disingenuous to compare prices from the 90s to today's without accounting for inflation.


His comparison on the "Paris - Brussels - Amsterdam" route is using today's prices:

"The relatively modest time gain of the Thalys has a steep price. The fare for the Étoile du Nord was a fixed amount calculated according to a rate per kilometre. Converted to the current kilometre charges of the Belgian, French and Dutch railways, a single ticket Paris-Amsterdam over the same route (the blue line) would now cost 66 euro, regardless of whether you buy it two months in advance or right before you leave.

[...]

You can still travel cheaply by low speed train between Paris and Amsterdam -- over the same route that was covered by the Étoile du Nord. But you have to be very patient: the trip takes 7 to 8 hours and you have to switch trains 5 to 6 times (Paris-Maubeuge-Jeumont-Erquelinnes-Charleroi-Brussels-Amsterdam). A one-way trip costs €66, half the price of the most common fare of the Thalys.

The "Barcelona - Paris" route was completed recently (December 15, 2013), so presumably both fare figures are current.


>> "Paris-Amsterdam over the same route (the blue line) would now cost 66 euro"

The 'now' indicates he is probably accounting for inflation.


Possibly, but it's a very important thing to specify. It wasn't at all clear to me he was :)


What unintended effects would the Hyperloop have? My limited experience with the California train system is that it's no good unless you are in no hurry, or your travel just luckily happens to coincide with the right time and place.


It was pretty amazing pricing DB train tickets vs. Eurail passes (I'm going to 30c3 and will probably be in Europe 25 DEC to 12 JAN). A single 2nd FRA-HAM-BER trip costs more than a 5-travel-day pass, in first on ICE.


Cars are killing Horse Drawn Trolleys.


I've ridden through bits of Central and Northern Italy, Rome to Florence to Venice all on regular 'old trains. And little tiny bits of France as well. I've also ridden trains in the U.S. from D.C. to Miami.

Italy was an absolute pleasure. An easy walk to the stations, even with luggage. In Rome the rail network is an easy connection off of the subway system and in Florence lets you off and on so near the old parts of the city (which are fantastically walkable) that you don't even need a cab to get there. Seats were comfortable for the 2 or 3 hours the trip took, had a table to setup a laptop, read a book whatever. I sat in group of four seats that faced each other and had a lovely chat with an elderly couple from Scotland on holiday.

Florence to Venice was similar, except my destination was outside of Venice and took a little more to get to from the station. No big deal and it beat having to deal with a rental car for a few weeks.

Importantly, the ride was unbelievable smooth compared to other rail trips I've taken.

Amtrak was my first long distance rail trip and was very bleh, seats were okay, but nothing to do on the 20+ hour ride from D.C. to Miami. This was back before laptops were common, but even with a pack full of gadgets I would have run out battery long before I ran out of boredom. Impossible to sleep on the train as it's noisy and jostles all over the place since we were on old freight rails for the entire trip. People also get so bored they start pacing the length of the train and with numerous stops were cars are split of and rejoined to other trains, and waits of a couple hours each time this happens, you feel like you make no progress at all. Trains were old, but in decent shape and generally well maintained. I've heard sleeper cars provide for a moderately better experience, but there's still the hours of boredom. I also didn't see any scenery of note, either mile after mile of overgrown weeds or industrial sections or really bad parts of towns we passed through. The worst, stations are hard to get to/from at the end points without prearranged transport and they aren't really all that nice. I regret the trip as flying would have only been $100 more and much faster. Every once in a while I think about taking the train North towards the better run North-East corridor parts of the system, but that one experience kind of waived me off the whole thing and with the stations so hard to get to and flying to my destinations faster (even with security hassles included) and about the same cost it just isn't worth it to me.

My experience in France was on much shorter, hour or two trips, and they were "ok" if a bit run down. Graffiti on the trains, that sort of thing. Felt more like extended commuter trains (which they probably were) then proper passenger rail. It was somewhere between Italy and Amtrak in terms of comfort, but more towards the Amtrak side in terms of desirability.


My experience was the opposite. I've done various shorter and longer Amtrak trips on my various visits to the US. I've done Raleigh NC - Philadelphia - Pittsburgh - Dallas, which is really just a concatenation of some shorter and some longer legs. I've also done Chicago - San Francisco, which is a really long trip (two mights and more than two days), plus I did Chicago - Albuquerque which is about 24 hours. The latter two lines pass some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen from a train. I was never bored at all on any of these trips. I rode in sleeper for which all meals are included as is free coffee whenever you want it. Although not top notch 5 star cuisine, the dining car was definitely on par with the best I've seen on any European train in recent years. And yes, it was a real dining car with table linen and all the niceties, not the airplane style gunk on a diminutive plastic tray that is sadly becoming more and more common on European trains too. Then there was an observation lounge with extra large windows so you could take in the scenery or chat to random people who for some reason were all the most fascinating bunch of individuals you could imagine. Then there was also a bar car where you could hang around if you craved for a drink in between somethings. Besides the usual drinks there were even craft beers and other local specialities of the areas we passed through. The staff were absolutely fantastic and always answered questions courteously and had some nice stories and anecdotes to tell. The worst part of those trips was actually arriving as I didn't want it to be over.


When people compare train travel in the US to Europe, they tend to forget the huge differences in distance. Washington, DC to Miami is five times the distance as Rome to Florence.

Trains are a better value than flying when the difference between the two trips is only an hour or two, so that the advantage of not having to go through security and getting dropped off downtown actually pays off. For longer trips, the fast that a plane travels five to ten times faster really shows.

That's why the North East Regional service, especially the shorter routes (i.e. DC to New York or New York to Boston, and points in between) is much more effective than flying. They also have free WiFi (with middling reliability), more comfortable seats, and outlets in every row.

As an addition, I've also found that most people overlook how convenient, affordable, and quick intercity bus service is in the US. On most routes, a bus will offer more departures for about 1/5 the cost of the train and 1/10 the cost of flying. The seats aren't as comfortable, but for short routes, it's only a little bit slower.


I think outside of the Big Northeast cities, train travel in the U.S. is problematic because of the distance to stations and the lack of facilities at those stations to handle long-term parking. Other transit options aren't much help as well. Buses don't cut it for most of the U.S. outside of urban and semi-urban centers for similar reasons (transit to/from the stations). Taxis "work" to fill this in, but are very expensive.

To give an idea in my area, I live about 35 miles from D.C. in a pretty normal suburb (no boondocks). I have a commuter bus I can take at 5:30am that's not far from my house (about 3 miles and semi-walkable but there's no way I can take luggage). On the return trip, if I don't make it back to the commuter stop by 4:30pm I have to spend the night in the city or take a taxi (very expensive).

Driving takes about 2-3 hours in traffic, and there's no long-term parking at reasonable rates (parking is available near the station at about $27 a day).

A taxi would work, but it's the same distance as driving and probably north of $100-150 for the trip each way.

There are two Amtrak stations a bit closer than the city, but not much and the transit options are either drive and have no place to park at all or taxi.

Even if I moved in closer to the city, unless I'm within walking distance to one of the D.C. metro I'm still largely in the same boat with slightly less time and money penalties.

So even if I wanted to take the train on a trip that had comperable time to air travel (say to New York on the Accella), the time and cost involved make it far less convenient.

I have taken intercity bus services before because the cost is remarkably cheaper. D.C. to NYC for <$50 in about 4.5 hours. But still with the same issues as the train.


That speaks to the problem of train travel on the opposite end: it's really only feasible in the half-dozen or so American cities that have highly reliable, built-out intra-city public transportation. If you need a car when you get there, the train doesn't work. That's one of the reasons I'm so skeptical about any high speed rail that terminates in LA.

Many of the inter-city buses also stop at Park-and-Rides outside of the downtown cores, so that people can both drop off their cars and get picked up by people who have them.


California is a very strange place to consider for rail, especially an LA<->SF line. LA is a car focused mess with useless public transport and huge sprawling connected cities and SF, though better downtown, has a huge Bay Area with similarly craptastic public transport (though not quite as bad as LA).


Some years ago I took Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle, and then down the coast to SF and LA. It was a slow trip, but very enjoyable. In particular the spectacular scenery in the Rockies viewable from the observation cars (I traveled during fall). I would thoroughly recommend it!


i.e. competition changes markets.


Very little railroading in Europe have anything to do with markets and competition. Most rail companies are either state monopolies, or state-endorsed almost-monopolies. Replacing a cheap option by an expensive and just slightly better option is very typical monopolist behaviour, and that's what this article is about.


Or the UK's disastrous worst of all worlds system, of which the best run piece is run by the State! [1]

Unless you're willing to build redundant train routes between cities it's not really possible to have competition for train journeys.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22700805


Although, often in perverse ways; if you are running the premium (high speed) service and the slower one, why not push everyone onto the premium service.

Well, it might be really expensive for most consumers, perhaps they should be protected from this sort of thing - since the market inherently has no idea of morals or what is best for people, maybe we should decide ourselves.


I like trains. Really! But maybe the proper question is not, "Why build high-speed rail?" but "Why travel at all?"

Especially the example given about those who live in Barcelona and commute to London by air. Probably not just because it's cheaper -- I'm sure the differences in weather had a minor influence too.

But you might have heard about this thing we have in Bonerland called the Internet. Al Gore invented it, so it has to be green. Maybe you Euro-peons should check it out.


Realy - you have been drinking the video conferencing salesmans cool aid FTF beats the internet hands down for 90% of all workers


Anecdote: In France, the system sold me a ticket for a non-existent day. I knew I was returning to Paris on a Saturday, so to buy my ticket I clicked on Saturday the 24th of May on one of those typical select-a-date web map UIs you've all seen. Except that the 24th of May was Sunday - I didn't double check my purchase against a calendar.

So on "Saturday," ticket in hand, I was evacuated from my seat and had to stand for a couple of hours - of course everyone pretended not to speak English - and I suppose I should be grateful I wasn't defenestrated into the French countryside.

Earlier, at the small station, I had let a woman who was obviously in a hurry pass ahead of me to buy a ticket. She said to me "obviously you are not a French man." :-)




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