A little "training" in Europe

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Joined
Feb 27, 2019
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Back in Southern Ontario
As I posted elsewhere here yesterday, my wife and I are currently in Europe with a Eurail pass in-hand and hotel points to burn. In addition to several long-distance trains we're also sampling some local ones along the way. The choice of beginning and end points for the trip was based solely on getting flights available for the lowest number of frequent flyer miles, then connecting the dots with rail travel.

Day 1 featured a bumpy but otherwise uneventful flight from Toronto's Pearson airport to Vienna Schwechat, where we landed in heavy rain. Fortunately one does not need to go outside to connect to downtown using their handy CAT or City Airport Train - a bright green double-decker EMU set:

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During the 20-minute run into town we passed several other trains, including a couple of other CATs, OBB City Jets and the snazzy looking Railjet long distance trains. Here's one at the airport while waiting for the CAT:

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The Hilton hotel is directly across from Wien Mette - a commuter station where the CAT arrives. The modern station also contains shopping and various other services, including a supermarket:

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Vienna is a city of contrasts, with historic buildings seen with many construction cranes in the background:

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The picture quality suffered due to the dark and dismal weather. Tomorrow off to Frankfurt, Germany.
 
"Danke" for writing from one of my favorite cities, capital of the empire where my grandmother was born in a remote Silesian spa town in 1894 and where she worked as a governess to a wealthy family, shuttling between Vienna and Budapest, before the outbreak of war. (Did they travel by rail? Probably.)

This gives me an excuse to plug a favorite book. A Nervous Splendor, by Frederic Morton, is a portrait of the city over just 10 months in 1888-89. The central event is the double suicide, more likely murder-suicide, of the Crown Prince and his mistress at Mayerling; the canvas expands to include dozens of royals, aristocrats, bureaucrats, artists, composers, playwrights, journalists, dissidents, ordinary and desperately poor Viennese. Don't buy it at Amazon, instead find an inexpensive copy at thriftbooks.com, my favorite used-book aggregator.

A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 book by Frederic Morton
 
Day 2: No train pictures today; well maybe one of a OBB City Jet while waiting for the CAT back to the airport:

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Due to a complicated situation we wound up flying to Frankfurt this afternoon instead of on a DB train tomorrow. Checked into the Sheraton (Marriott) here in the airport, which I'd recommend to anyone needing an inexpensive stopover whether flying or training. I asked for an airport view (yes, I'm also a plane geek), but instead got one overlooking the DB station here in the airport. As I write this an ICE-3 just whizzed by before I could grab a camera. Much to my wife's amusement I'll probably remain glued to the window for the next hour or so.

Tomorrow: Nuremberg on DB.
 
And I didn't have to wait long - eastbound ICE leaving FRA Flughafen Fernbf (= airport long-distance station):

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There are other tracks for regional trains between those and the highway in the concrete "ditch", but mostly blocked from my hotel window so that all can be seen are the tops passing by.

16-car (2x8) ICE departing FRA airport station. It looks like a spaceship, with the lowest two levels being the parking garage.

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Day 3: Walked over to the "spaceship" station this morning - about 5 minutes from the joint Marriott/Sheraton complex at Frankfurt airport. Although I've been here before I didn't appreciate the beauty of this place, and again failed to get a picture since I was toting luggage.:( The top floor features a glass domed roof and contains all the services typical of German rail stations - ticketing, convenience shopping and food. They even have a DB first class lounge here. Multiple escalators and elevators take you down to the island style platforms, which host trains in either direction at any time. You need to keep your wits about you and remember that, unlike North America, trains arrive and depart at very short intervals. Here is the platform view:

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Large electronic signs tell you which train is arriving, to and from where, and how specific cars will be spotted. There are corresponding location markers on the platform and several staff to assist if needed. In the 10 minutes prior to our train a two-train set arrived on our platform from the west, then was split into two with the first half leaving for Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the second half being shut down and deadheaded to the huge yard east of the station. The disconnection process is something to see for a railfan, taking only seconds. The deadhead set sat for several minutes awaiting a driver, then departed with its nose-cone still open. Less than 1 minute later our train arrived from Dortmund and was continuing all the way to Vienna:

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This is a newer ICE-T set (not to be confused with the rapper turned actor), based on the ICE-3 with the ability to Tilt into curves - hence the T designation. Some of these sets were originally ordered with diesel engines in addition to straight electrics, but I believe DB sold them and all remaining are electric only. They are slower than most ICE's, with a top speed of "only" 230km/h. We topped out at 209, but staff advised a nearby passenger that top speed would be reached later in the route. They're very nice inside - at least in First Class:

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The train was very full, with several announcements about the need to not occupy seats with luggage, coats, etc. There were definitely standees in coach in spite of this. Staff were so busy we didn't even get our tickets checked until the final stop before ours. Complimentary cookies were also distributed. We arrived at Nurnberg (Nuremberg) HBF on-time

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I have not been to Nuremberg before and it's a rail hot spot, with dozens of trains of all types coming and going continuously. Our hotel is the Sheraton Carlton - a block from the west entrance of the HBF. (I love being able to access decent hotels close to rail stations - something not often possible in North America.) As luck would have it, our room has a railfan window:

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The hotel also features a rooftop patio with excellent views:

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I was hoping to head to the DB museum around the corner, but the weather is not great and I'd have been going by myself.;)

Tomorrow another train - this time 5 1/2 hours to Hamburg.
 
Day 4 starts with a couple more shots from Nuremberg, starting with a private operator with some colorful rolling stock:

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Nuremberg also featured several trains of older loco-hauled ICE trains, such as these:

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Some of these from the ICE-1 series were refurbished with upscale interiors for use in a north-south premium service that never caught on, so can be found on much more pedestrian runs now. No such luck for us however... here comes our ICE-4:

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The ICE-4 sets are somewhat controversial here, since people think DB skimped on quality. I guess they are a little less "plush" than their predecessors, but for a North American visitor they're just fine. Very comfortable, with a light wood "IKEA" vibe inside, lots of glass panels and no problem rocketing along at top speed where permitted. Despite a couple of enroute delays, we arrived bang on-time in Hamburg. At seat service was provided on this route (wife liked their cappuccino, as recommended in several reviews), although most brought their own food even in First. Once again the train was packed, although significantly emptied at Hannover - a major connection point. A couple of railfan observations: 1) There are a lot of trains here - way more than a few years ago when I last visited. Taking the train is absolutely a way of life, DB has greatly increased frequency on many routes and the trains are full. That's why DB has un-retired and refurbished older sets for lesser routes. "If you build it they will come" should be the motto at Amtrak and VIA. 2) There is freight train interference here - we stopped twice for them on a 5.5 hour trip, as well as several pauses to let other passenger trains by in either direction on bottleneck track. The system is not perfect but we still arrived on time. 3) There are a lot more level crossings than one would expect and yet people seem to get that "Train time is anytime".

After a hectic couple of days precipitated by a last-minute flight change, we're now back on schedule to enjoy a couple of days in Hamburg. I'll resume the report next week from London.
 
The coin-operated model railroad brings back memories of being a teenager in the 1980s.

At that time you could find such a railroad at every major station in Germany. They must have been mass produced as they were all pretty much identical except for small details, which were often customized to their location. I didn't realize any of these models still survived.

The one in the photo looks updated and modernized somewhat, compared to the ones I remember, but still retains that unmistakable period vibe.
 
The coin-operated model railroad brings back memories of being a teenager in the 1980s.

At that time you could find such a railroad at every major station in Germany. They must have been mass produced as they were all pretty much identical except for small details, which were often customized to their location. I didn't realize any of these models still survived.

The one in the photo looks updated and modernized somewhat, compared to the ones I remember, but still retains that unmistakable period vibe.
If you like model trains like this, wait until I post pics of Minatur Wunderland. ;)
 
"It's a train and it's purple" was how one reviewer first described the Elizabeth Line here in London. What it really offers is a convenient way to get through central London with fewer stops than the Underground, and especially access to Heathrow airport at reasonable cost or the hassles of dragging luggage onto the Tube. Here's a first look as we board at Heathrow:

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As you can see from the pictures, it's pretty much everything you want a city train to be - clean, modern, well-lit, wide-open and with excellent signage. The cost is less than half the Heathrow Express and much further distances are possible. However there are also some drawbacks. There is no luggage storage - an odd thing for a train serving the airport. Perhaps this is not its primary role, but by the second station east of Heathrow the train was absolutely rammed with people and luggage. The aisles were full of standees and stacked luggage. It was so bad that no one could move towards the doors to leave when they wanted to. Some had to ride all the way to Paddington - a major change point, then double-back. (Fortunately we were continuing further and had seats.) The stops are too short for the crowds - both disembarking and boarding - and at some stations not all of the 9 cars had opening doors due to platform length. This was announced about 1 minute to arrival, with passengers told to move to the first 6 cars. As mentioned, this was somewhere between difficult and impossible if you were in the last 3.

I've spent a lot of time in London over the years and this is the greatest addition to London transit. Maybe it just has some "teething pains" that will be overcome in short order - perhaps with more frequencies? I'd welcome hearing from some of our local members here with their thoughts on the line, and to correct any errors or omissions I may have made.
 
I will be taking it in about a month from now, from Heathrow to Paddington. Most cleverly I am using a hotel adjacent to Paddington Station as my base in UK this time. There will be many day trips from starting from said hotel, though some of the trips will involve getting to Euston or Kings Cross St. Pancras, all easily reached by the Circle Line.
 
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I will be taking it in about a month from now, from Heathrow to Paddington. Most cleverly I am using a hotel adjacent to Paddington Station as my base i UK this time. There will be many day trips from starting from said hotel, though some of the trips will involve getting to Euston or Kings Cross St. Pancras, all easily reached by the Circle Line.
The Hilton? I'd say to say hello to Paddington Bear on your way but the Elizabeth Line doesn't use the same part of the station as the HEX and GWR.;) There was about a 30% turnover of passengers at Paddington.
 
The Hilton? I'd say to say hello to Paddington Bear on your way but the Elizabeth Line doesn't use the same part of the station as the HEX and GWR.;) There was about a 30% turnover of passengers at Paddington.
Not the Hilton, but the Mercure next door. Hilton's rates are eye-watering, to put it mildly :)
 
Today was DLR (Docklands Light Railway) day.

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The DLR has grown from a simple connector to a much more complex network. New construction meshes with repurposed heavy rail infrastructure abandoned over the years. We went to Stratford and back today, and it's easy to see both new and old along the way. At one point a winding single track emerges to join no less than 10 other parallel rail lines just before Stratford:

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These carry everything from the London Overground, the Tube, Greater Anglia:

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and even a branch of the Elizabeth Line - seen here at Stratford station:

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So today, as our trip nears its end, we find ourselves back in Germany. Getting here was a rather intense day of travel, involving the DLR, London Underground, Eurostar and DB - who had been on strike earlier in the day. No Eurostar trip would be complete without a look around spectacular St. Pancras station:

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This beautiful station was restored after extensive efforts by Sir John Betjeman, who has his own statue on display:

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Several Eurostars awaiting departure:

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The Eurostar journey itself was aboard one of their older E300 units that has been nicely refurbished. These trains are 18 cars long and absolutely packed. We travelled in Standard Premier class - one above basic - which gets 2-1 seating like First (Business Premier) and a light meal served shortly after departing London. The journey was uneventful, with a slight delay at the intermediate stop of Lille Europe making us a few minutes late into Brussels. This caused quite the panic as rail connections here can be tight and, like us, many were connecting to the ICE-3 on the next track. Unfortunately the connection passage was closed during Covid and has not reopened, forcing everyone through the tight corridor to the main concourse at Bruxelles-Midi. We made the DB train with seconds to spare, boarding the closest car. Fortunately, the train which was supposed to be fully booked had many no-shows - presumably due to the strike that had just ended a couple of hours earlier. We proceeded towards the front of the train where our reserved seats were located, but unknown to us was that it had arrived in the reverse direction from both the schedule and the DB app. Finding two seats marked Bruxelles-Koln (our endpoints) in Second Class we settled in for a pleasant journey. Second Class is in a 2-2 configuration, as opposed to the 2-1 in First, and there is no at-seat service, but the seats are very comfortable and there is ample luggage storage. The train was significantly delayed enroute due to interference from other (passenger) trains and trackwork between Langerwehe (a suburban station where we waited several minutes) and Koln HBF, arriving 40 minutes late. After a long day it was ideal to crash at the Cologne Marriott - a familiar and welcoming place just over a block from the station.
 
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Just a few additional shots of a beautiful day here in Koln (Cologne), Germany, starting with the view down the Rhine river:

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The bridge carries both trains and pedestrians, and is known for people attaching locks to it. We've been here before so did not walk over this time, but believe me - there are thousands of them of all shapes and descriptions. Next is the Cologne HBF (central train station) with the world-famous DOM (Cologne Cathedral) in the background. You simply walk through the station to get to it. The station is great for a wide variety of shops, services and eating places.

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According to my DB app, we'll be departing from Platform 7 tomorrow morning. They certainly are organized! Here's a couple of views of the historic cathedral, that has been under renovation for as long as we've been coming here. :)

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And finally, this part of Germany is noted for its river cruises:

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We'll be doing the land-based version down the Rhine towards Switzerland on a train tomorrow.
 
I hope you get to ride the classic line (not the new line) along the Rhine through Mainz and Koblenz. It is very pretty with many castles big and small along the river and such.
Yes. Tourists sometimes miss this beautiful detail. When a colleague flying via Frankfurt to Siberia wanted to take a side trip from Rhein/Main Airport to Köln, I typed up a bureaucratic letter in German on our transit system's letterhead (and checked it with someone who really knows the language). It explained that she was a transportation professional and wished to ride the Rhein locals, not the high speed line. Furthermore, it asked that she have an overnight in Boppard and then river steamer travel between Boppard and Köln on the DB's ticket honoring tariff. The whole experience went well for her and her daughter. Their friends in Köln were amazed that this was possible.
 
Before leaving Cologne there was time for a few shots on the platform of the HBF. The quantity and variety of trains on a "quiet Sunday" is astounding. There is literally something arriving or leaving every 5 minutes. Here are a few of the more interesting:

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Sidebar memo to Toronto's GO Transit: Yes, you could put a coffee and pastry kiosk on every platform and make your commuters very happy:

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Our last day of train travel, as @jis correctly observed, was down the west bank of the Rhine. This used to be the main route to Switzerland until the new high-speed line on the other side, which takes a less scenic, more easterly route. Many trains still use our route however, including lots of freight, a few ICEs and commuter trains and our ride (which has been on my bucket list for several years) - the famous EuroCity 9 and its Swiss equivalent of an Amtrak Sightseer called the Panorama Lounge. And here it comes now:

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A lengthy locomotive-hauled conventional consist for the 5 1/2 hours to Zurich. Seating and windows were great:

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Despite the great seats and view, the other features of the train were a bit of letdown to those familiar with the usually impressive and consistent ICEs of DB. First, all but one of the FC lavatories (spread over 3 coaches) were out of service until the Swiss border, where they miraculously all started working again.:rolleyes: Due to "staffing issues" there were no attendants in any of the First Class cars to take orders and bring the heavily promoted food and beverages. Although there was a full dining car on the train, several coach passengers staked out space in it along with all their luggage and remained there for the entire trip. To further complicate things, the diner staff of 3 was only one person today doing the jobs of cook, waiter and cashier. To say he was overwhelmed would be an understatement, but he managed to remain positive and conduct a brisk takeout business with his other duties. Food is outrageously expensive (nearly double the ICE) - we split a cheese sandwich, I had a Coke and my wife a glass of wine for 34 Euros (approx. $37.50USD) and ate at our seats. (For perspective, a draft beer in a chilled glass and a wine nets change from 10 Euro on the ICE and you don't have to go and get it.) There were a few interesting passengers, including more than a couple of self-upgraders and two badly-behaved pre-teen boys, who seemed to have the run of the train without intervention from staff or their adult companions. One of them took particular delight in pushing past the long line of people waiting for takeout in the hallway of the dining car - repeatedly. He passed us four times while we were in line. (One passenger joked in German that they had missed their Ritalin to significant chuckles.) The second class carriages were rammed full with people and luggage until we reached well into southern Germany.

On arrival into Basel, on the German-Swiss border, the DB locomotive was cut off in favor of a Swiss one for the rest of the journey into Zurich. The process took about 12 minutes, followed by a very slow run through the huge freight yard south of the German Basel station (Basel Bad BF). There are two stations in Basel - Badischer on the German line and the main Swiss station (Basel SBB). The latter is a stub station where our train was supposed to reverse before continuing to Zurich but, in a move that surprised a lot of passengers, they decided to skip the second stop entirely to make up time. Passengers for SBB - some of whom weren't too pleased - were told to take the connecting commuter train across the platform at Basel Bad BF. Here's the beautiful city of Basel while we were stopped there:

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The descent from Basel to Zurich is also very scenic and we arrived 30 minutes late.
 
On arrival into Basel, on the German-Swiss border, the DB locomotive was cut off in favor of a Swiss one for the rest of the journey into Zurich. The process took about 12 minutes, followed by a very slow run through the huge freight yard south of the German Basel station (Basel Bad BF). There are two stations in Basel - Badischer on the German line and the main Swiss station (Basel SBB). The latter is a stub station where our train was supposed to reverse before continuing to Zurich but, in a move that surprised a lot of passengers, they decided to skip the second stop entirely to make up time. Passengers for SBB - some of whom weren't too pleased - were told to take the connecting commuter train across the platform at Basel Bad BF.
Yes, normally the engine change would happen at Basel SBB where the train also reverses.

In the situation you describe, which happens here and there (but is actually quite unusual) the train takes a different (and much shorter) line by-passing Basel SBB entirely. This line is usually used only by freights and is hence not maintained to passenger speeds, which would explain the slow speed you report. As most freights would typically be stopped at Muttenz freight yard for customs inspection or crew changing, this is often a congestion point. Your passenger train might also have been held there while waiting for a suitable slot on the very busy line to Olten and then on to Zürich.

The two main Basel stations are actually not as far apart as the length of the train ride might suggest. The train line actually follows a balloon shaped itinerary out of the city and back in on the other side. There are plans to build a rail tunnel under Basel which would greatly reduce the length of the line and also obviate the need to reverse direction at Basel SBB. A new underground station would also be added as part of this project to serve the center of downtown Basel. I'm not sure if the line would just be for commuter trains or if inter city trains would use it too.
 
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