What ticketing platform can you recommend for cross-border railway bookings, Jon?” is a question I receive quite often. And the answer, rather disappointingly, is “It depends where you’re going.

Or – put that another way – I can give none of the third party privately owned booking platforms a universal recommendation.

The answer, I think, lies in the question these platforms are trying to answer and that, at heart, the question I am trying to answer is slightly different.

The third party platforms are answering the question: “Is there a train (or multiple trains) from A to B, and can we sell tickets for those?

The question I am trying to answer is: “I want to go from A to B, how do I do that?

Let me illustrate this with a classic case – Biarritz to Donostia / San Sebastián. France to Spain at the Atlantic coast, under 40km as the crow flies. And – importantly – if you know what you are doing, eminently doable by train.

So what do Trainline, Rail Europe and Omio serve up? Buses, or nothing. Click to enlarge the image

If you put Irún as your destination – the first station in Spain – Trainline and Omio fare a little better, because they do know Hendaye (the last station in France) is walking distance to Irún. Again, click to enlarge

So what’s the answer? Euskotren runs every 30 minutes from Hendaye to Irún (and even onwards to Donostia / San Sebastián) – you can find the timetables here. So change from SNCF to Euskotren in Hendaye and hey presto, you can do the trip by train.

So what’s going on?

First of all, timetable data for Euskotren is not in UIC Merits, the database that most state owned railways’ travel planners use. Even Deutsche Bahn’s timetable search cannot show you anything for the connection. And secondly, there seems to be no ticketing API for Euskotren that any third party platform could use for ticket sales (if indeed eTickets are even possible).

So that means the answer from Trainline, Raileurope and Omio is 🤷‍♂️

We can’t sell it, so why should we care?

Which, as businesses that want to make a profit, is their prerogative.

But a reminder of my own question above: “I want to go from A to B, how do I do that?

A good third party platform that I would want to use and to recommend would tell me how to do that. Something along the lines of “Take the SNCF train Biarritz – Hendaye (book online), then the Euskotren Hendaye – Donostia, but the ticket for the Hendaye – Donostia leg you need to buy on the spot.

Also please do not tell me here that the border at Hendaye-Irún is irrelevant. The next France-Spain border with a rail service – Latour de Carol-Puigcerdà – is more than 300km away. And anyone from western France, or visiting northern Spain would pass here. So there would be a case for facilitating trips here, but it is obviously not something important enough for these platforms.

Now there is one platform that puts the emphasis on the cross-border and claims they do care – All Aboard. And they even have a blog post about the problems with Euskotren. So how do they do?

There is a connection… (click to enlarge)

But when you get to the detail they’re just basically expecting you to walk from Hendaye to Irún, not telling you purchasing Euskotren on the spot would be an option. Oh and why are they only selling TGV and not TER tickets for the bit in France? So sorry, that’s not a recommendation either.

And this then brings me back to the crucial problem.

If we want passengers to take trains cross-border, this is not good enough. Planning a trip, booking it, and once it is booked knowing if a train will run on time have to be seamless, at every border. Yet here we are, at a major France-Spain border crossing, and none of the major third party platforms have even done the basic work to even tell passengers what is going on.

How, I wonder, do we solve this?

I have sketched out some ideas here – were the data better, it might mean that some of these third party platforms would, without changing anything themselves, actually then be able to sell more connections, but I wonder about the extent to which the lobby associations to which they belong (Allrail and EU Travel Tech) have filling these data gaps as their main concerns? Or could some new ticketing platform master this – by setting themselves the question “I want to go from A to B, how do I do that?” and perhaps finding a way to do that profitably?

But until either of these things happen, this is why I cannot recommend any third party ticket booking platform universally – because none of them are good enough.


  1. Looks like Rome2Rio satisfies the Biarritz to Donostia / San Sebastián criterion:

    • Which – given Omio owns Rome2Rio – makes Omio’s failure here even weirder. Although of course Rome2Rio shows no price for the Euskotren part.

  2. Sébastien FERENCZI

    As professionals are failing, I think you should recommend the amateur seat61.com, on which it is relatively easy to find all details on using Euskotren

    • No I shouldn’t. Because that is a guide and not a travel planner. I have nothing against Seat61, but it is not the same thing. Oh and Mark makes a lot of money from that site – it is not an amateur endeavour 🙂

  3. Brian Gilmore

    I note that Google Maps tells you about the train, although that won’t sell you tickets.

    I had the same trouble with finding out about a simple journey in spain (barcelona to tarragona) because the tickets are not available online.

  4. Laurent

    Apple map and Google maps give the right answer immediately. Why bother for ticket sellers ?

  5. I think the first order would be that the EU makes laws requiring all public transport operators to put their timetable in “a publicly accessible database/datafeed” and require their booking options to be open (with the exception for operators that only sell on-vehicle or on-station)
    If that happens, commercial planning and booking platforms will quicly spring up.

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