My parents live in Newport in South Wales. I live in Berlin. I am going home for Christmas, and so – on 27th December – I want to return to Berlin. All in one day. By train.
If I wanted to do this in a few weeks’ time, it would look like this:
But for 27th December, basically forget it.
Let’s look at it leg by leg.
Trainline.com‘s e-mail notification told me that tickets for the Newport – London leg are now available for 27th December. The earliest train is 0709, but – due to engineering works – it only runs as far as Ealing Broadway. So I’d have to change onto the tube there and go on to St Pancras. The cheapest ticket is £39.70 – presumably because everyone else is trying to flee their parents’ places in South Wales on that day.
The Eurostar London-Brussels I can book on its own – timetables are available for that, and the 1104 departure gets me to Brussels at 1405. Cost is £56.00. The problem is that I cannot book a Newport – Brussels through ticket as the engineering works mentioned above mean Eurostar’s website can’t find me a connection the whole way. Splitting these tickets (booking with Trainline and Eurostar separately) means that if something goes wrong between Newport and London I might not have the rights to get on the next train if I miss my Eurostar.
Then if and when I actually get to Brussels I have a further problem. Timetables for the ICE trains onwards to Germany for dates after 11.12.2016 are not even available in public yet – those will only be known on 18th October. And, as World Carfree Network points out, it is rumoured that there will be 6 rather than 4 ICEs a day on the Brussels-Frankfurt route from December. So I do not know when in the day these will run. So if I book today as far as Brussels I could then find myself without a suitable connection on to Germany, because the timetables for that section are not known. Out of experience, and booking with a BahnCard 25 as far ahead of time as possible, a London – Berlin ticket from DB is never less than €54.00, or only for Brussels – Berlin €29.00 is sometimes possible.
Putting all that together is going to give me a ticket price of €43.71 + €54 = €97.71 at the very minimum, and contingent on the right trains running on 27th December from Brussels to Köln and onwards to Berlin, and that I can book so quickly I can get myself a London Spezial ticket on one. If London Spezial is not available from DB I am looking at costs above €150, possibly closer to €200.
I could of course just go to Easyjet and book myself a flight Bristol to Berlin Schönefeld (currently £58, and about £68 including luggage), and pay £9 to get myself to the airport by coach from Newport. I’d save myself hours of time, and a whole load of insecurity not knowing whether the right trains would run, and I would also avoid having to book three separate tickets for each part of the trip.
Remarkable that people fly, rather than taking trains, eh?
I don’t think that’s an entirely fair criticism. You wouldn’t normally expect trains and planes to compete over that distance. Even London-Berlin is at the very limit of the train’s competitive range, particularly because of the sea that’s in the way.
Intermodal competition between trains and planes normally works at distances like Paris-Marseilles, Geneva-Barcelona, etc. Much further than that and the train will always lose. Even going skiing from the Netherlands (no need to carry the skis) it’s cheaper and faster to fly these days, and that’s coming from the wrong end of the Netherlands.
Can’t you book a ticket from Newport to ‘London International CIV’ somehow? If you book a ticket to ‘London International CIV’, then the ticket is supposed to provide protection in the event of broken connections between the British train and Eurostar or the Harwich-Hoek van Holland ferry, provided that you plan for sufficient connection time. However, these tickets can’t be booked everywhere.
At nmbs.be, you can buy a ticket from London to Cologne on 27 December for 49 euros, but the train departs at 9 AM which may be too early for your British connection. Later departures cost around twice as much, and the website only shows Eurostar and Thalys, but Thalys trains only cost 19 euros if booked separately. Eurostar prices seem to depend too much on which site you book them on, and also on which country you select at eurostar.com.
I have a similar problem. At about the same time as your trip, I’m travelling from Sweden to Jutland, but SJ’s night train between Stockholm and Malmö does not run for a few days around Christmas, so I had to find another solution. Also, Danish time tables are not available beyond 21 December 2016. In the end, I chose to transit through Norway, taking a train to Oslo and then the overnight ferry to Frederikshavn, and then continue with DSB. Stupid detour, but it was the best I could find.
Another bad thing is that ATOC left the agreements with the railways on the continent, so since last December DB cannot sell tickets for your Newport to London leg. Last year you could have bought a Newport to London CIV ticket and a London to Berlin Spezial ticket at least at DB’ counters or agencies (at least if there hadn’t been the timetable change problem). If you bought those tickets at the same time, it would have probably counted as one ticket regarding passenger rights.
Well, in a not so distant past, people did travel that far by train, heck, people are still travelling by train over such distances, if you can get the tickets. And while Newport-Berlin might be a bit far, Newport-Bruges might be an attractive trip to some, or Southampton-Amsterdam…
By the way, you probably already got your tickets, but did you consider an overnight trip by ferry? I can find a Sparpreis Europa from Hoek van Holland to Berlin from €39 the 28th, and it should be possible to get to Harwich from about £25, with a cabin on the night ferry should be available at £38. I have to admit, the British part includes 5 different changes, some on a bus…