The Interrail trip that didn’t come off

Adventure could start!
A French friend and I decided in May to do an Interrail trip with her two daughters to Bulgaria and the Black sea coast. On our way there, we planned to stop by in Vienna, Salzburg and maybe Croatia or Slovakia.

In course of time we discovered however that our trip risked being both more expensive and more laborious than we had dared to imagine. We chose between the 10 days within 22 days pass for 374 € per adult and the 22 days continuous pass for 484 € per adult. In addition to that, one needs to pay 50% of regular price of a ticket to and from the border of the own country, just like it has always been.

Judging from the information at www.interrail.eu we had started to plan our trip a bit too late as only a certain amount of interrailers are accepted on some of the trains in France and that reservation fees therefore needs to be payed as far in advance as possible.

Region trains are a cheaper alternative as reservations aren’t needed and this was an option I explored with as much joy as frustration. On the one hand, it could be nice to stay overnight in a small town I never had considered visiting or even heard about. On the other hand I felt worried that we would spend most of our vacation in the trains rather than on the different destinations. There were times I had the feeling of planning an escape out of an occupied France and that all what mattered was to reach the border as soon as possible…

Maybe it was when starting looking for the trains to Paris that I realized that the railway, nowadays exposed to competition and deregulations, would offer a very different situation of travelling from what the Government-owned railway did that 1982 brought me on my first trip to France and some years later on a few Interrail trips in the 80’s and 90’s. At this time the route Stockholm – Paris took about 25 hours with one change in Copenhagen.

2015, a railway trip from Stockholm to Paris offers two alternatives:

  1. With reservation fees for about 45 €, the trip takes 21, 5 to 25 hours with 3-6 changes.
  2. To travel with a train where no reservation fee is needed takes 29 to 42 hours with 7-14 changes of trains.

The doubts of our vacation adventure increased by the hours spent on the internet looking for information and in my growing frustration of how much the circumstances had changed for an Interrail trip since the 90’s, I borrowed a book called The Great Train Robbery by Swedish free-lance journalist Mikael Nyberg. The book is not translated to English but there is a short summary on the authors web page: http://mikaelnyberg.nu/english/

The Great Train Robbery is a book telling the story of how the railway, exposed to competition and deregulations, suffers from neglected maintenance as the different companies compete in offering the cheapest bid in the pursuit of new or prolonged contracts.  One of the last chapters, The land of the pawned welfare, describes how the economy In Sweden is divided into two parts: A minority of the population can get big bank loans to provide capital for investments such as real estate and shares meanwhile the majority of the population are the ones to take responsibilities for the finances of the State as increase of wages and expenses of the public sector have been held down.

The arguments for deregulations and exposing to competition use to be that it improves service and quality to a lower price for customers as companies competes. When the Swedish television now in August has reported about the risk for trains to derail due to rotten sleepers and rails cracked on the length [1], I have great difficulties to see those promised improvements. Instead, it is like reading a sequel to The Great Train Robbery. While planning the Interrail trip that didn’t come off, I believe having seen the result of exposure to competition and deregulations also for the European railways, among other things in the expensive reservation fees.

One of the reasons the Interrail trip did not come off was the fact that a missed connection due to train delays means buying another reservation. Having to buy new reservations for the four of us for about 160 € for a part of the trip was not at all attracting. Doubting how the text on the website was to be interpreted, I sent the question to the intterrail.eu support that confirmed:  ”If you miss a train for which you paid a reservation fee because of a delay, unfortunately, you would need to buy a new reservation for a later train. Normally reservations are non-refundable and non-changeable”. If a train in the 80’s or 90’s were so much delayed that a following connection was missed, it used to be possible to get on the following train once you had an already paid reservation even though it maybe meant having to stand on your own two feet for the rest of the trip. It was also possible to drop by the closest railway station to change a ticket for another day if your plans had changed.

It is however possible to apply for compensations to the Eurrail Group IF one has got into at least 3 delays on 60 minutes each, that the value per day of the Interrail card is at least 32,5 €, that at least 3 of the delays have occurred within EU countries and that at not more than 6 months has passed since the card expired. If those requirements are not met, one is asked not to send in the application for compensation [2].

Something else that can be costly for an interrailer is to mistakenly enter a wrong date in the travel report. On a pass with limited travel dates, a whole day will be lost as one has to enter the correct date in the field for the next travel day. To change a date will be viewed as an attempt at fraud and one might end up having to pay both for a fine and a regular ticket [3].

In the 80’s and 90’s I stack my Interrail passes on to my photo albums. The dates, departures and destinations are all in the table of my travel report and in the very right column is the ticket collectors date stamp, confirming each of my travel dates, which I believe, could avoid the risk that someone would use a very same travel date twice.

Maybe we just worried without cause about possible difficulties on the Interrail trip that didn’t come off. The concern of imaginable Interrail hardships cannot nevertheless be measured with how I feel after having read The Great Train Robbery. If I remember correctly, it has been said that we all need to contribute in practicing economy to afford the continuous welfare of our country. Is it however the case that our common savings rather is providing capital for speculations on the real estate and share markets while our welfare is being sold out?

[1] http://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/ny-skandal-pa-jarnvagen
(Only in Swedish)
http://www.svt.se/nyheter/regionalt/orebro/tag-kor-pa-utdomd-rals-1
(Only in Swedish)

[2] http://www.eurailgroup.org/compensation.aspx

[3] http://www.interrail.eu/terms-and-conditions/conditions-use
(paragraph 4.)

Instead of the Interrail trip we spent some days in Germany, Switzerland and Austria around the Lake Constance
Instead of the Interrail trip we spent some days in Germany, Switzerland and Austria around the Lake Constance. This photo is taken in Lech in Austria.

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