Archive for the ‘Railways’ Category

On buying tickets

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

I like to travel around, usually by railway — it’s the most comfortable means of transportation (unless you’re talking about Ukrainian trains or French TGV). And the fastest one for short to long distances (planes are technically faster but consider time getting to the airport, from the airport, security checks…).

So to travel around you need to buy tickets (I’m not made of money to afford some magic “travel anywhere, pay monthly through nose” card) and that’s what I’m complaining about. My requirements are rather easy: you should not need to interact with people and you should be able to see what are the possibilities for the travel.

France. Le facepaume. Ticket vending machines there reflect national spirit frighteningly perfect.

Ticket vending machines.

That picture was taken in one French town near the border. There are two vending machines. To the right is French one. Here’s a short comparison with its neighbour:

  • Languages — half a dozen for one, French for another.
  • Controls — touch screen for one, weird knob with a button in centre (and you cannot change audio tracks with it).
  • Destinations — countrywide and beyond in one case, one region in the other case.

To be fair there are SNCF ticket vending machines that should offer countrywide destinations and I heard you can even get e-ticket from them and they even support other languages than French (which is the hardest to believe). The only problem that you should handle them politely (i.e. point and stick you finger as hard as possible) and I rather value my fingers.

Germany. Three years ago it was a bit quirky but they’ve upgraded vending machines software and now it’s almost perfect. Half a dozen of possible languages, rather intuitive interface, some additional features. And you can buy a ticket to the destinations in neighboring civilised countries (Switzerland and Netherlands) not served by Deutsche Bahn directly. The main WTF is that sometimes you see the trains but you cannot buy a ticket for them there (probably some special trains?).

Netherlands. I’ve used it only once but I remember it being pretty decent.

Sweden. Pretty decent ticket vending machines, I like the additional features like printing bought e-ticket (and you can get it in many other places too). Also I like the fact they have both touch screen and real keyboard and trackball. The only downsides are that it’s a bit slow and that it does not deal with cash and accepts only cards. Sweden is an advanced country after all, you can pay with card almost everywhere but it sucks to be foreigner from a mostly cash-based country (i.e. me few years ago).

Switzerland. Simply WTFiest ticket vending machines. They might be the reason most people buy rail pass instead. You can buy a ticket but it will ask you which route you prefer and it’s not optional. But it’s compensated by the fact it does not offer you any information on trains. You bought your ticket from A to B via C, now go and find what train goes that way in some other place.

Ukraine. In my opinion it should just give up that automated system for ticket sales (made in Soviet times) and cashier should write tickets by hand. Then it will be perfect stone age. I heard there are some advancements in that area: you can now buy e-ticket (but you still need to go to the ticket office where they print it out) and there are talks about removing the requirement to show your ID during ticket purchase. And if you don’t speak Russian you’d better not try buying tickets at all.

German Transport

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Looks like people expect rants about transport from me. OK, here’s what should be the last in that series — regional and urban rail transport.

There are several types of rail transport:

  • Trams (Strassenbahn)
  • Commuter trains (S-Bahn)
  • Underground (U-Bahn)

In theory, trams go in cities on the ground, U-Bahn goes under the ground and S-Bahn goes to suburbs and S-Bahn trains look like this.

But during my travels I’ve seen it’s not completely true.


This city has a proper system with all three components, nothing peculiar at all.


Proper trams and S-Bahn, nothing peculiar. But Neckar valley views are impressive.


Proper S-Bahn but their U-Bahn reminds me of trams for some reason. They have underground trains with maximum of two carriages (or one articulated) with third rail between usual two. I heard they’re better at cars though.


This is rather small city so they have only one proper S-Bahn route — to Heidelberg and Mannheim, the rest of S-Bahn routes are served by trams, the same trams serve internal routes. Yet this network is quite extensive, I’d never believe that I can visit famous Russian resort (Baden-Baden) by tram — and that’s in 30 kilometres from Karlsruhe!


I visited Berlin to attend live IRC chat (aka LinuxTag) yet I’ve tried to look at local transport system.

U-Bahn is curious, they have two kinds of trains: narrow and not so narrow. Both seem to have the same types of trains in two different sizes though. A pleasant surprise is that it actually works even at night, not all of the lines though.

S-Bahn is actually can be described as “U-Bahn that shares some tracks with railroad”. Honestly, it’s the same third rail system as any underground and if not for the line naming (S1, S2, … versus U1, U2, …) you cannot distinguish them; even the trains are similar. And I have an impression that it does not serve much of the suburbs either.

I heard they also have trams but never seen those.

Some Observations on Transport Infrastructure

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Today I’d like to rant about the ways transport is organised in different places I’ve visited so far.