Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tips for taking the IC or ICE trains

The IC and ICE trains are amazing.

A typical main train station (Hauptbahnhof).

They take you from city to city, state to state, country to country, and in a surprisingly frequent manner. The timing is also pretty flexible. For a long trip you can pick the night train where you can sleep through, for a short trip you can choose the day train to admire the scenery.

However there are a few tips that one should take heed of.

1. Make sure you are in the right track (gleis)
A typical main station can easily have >10 tracks. Although your ticket will tell you which track your train would be, check the overhead display to verify that. There are chances that your train will stop at some other track. The safest way would be using the train number (e.g. ICE 1234) and check it against the display. And you can double verify that on the display at the side of the train before you get on board.

2. Make sure you are in the right section of the train
Even you are at the right track, when you are taking an ICE train, there are chances that half of the train will stop or head to somewhere else before arriving at your destination. I have a friend who took a night train and went to another part of the train for washroom. But when she got out she was left in the half heading towards another place. Fortunately both halves were waiting to depart so she got back to the right half just in time.

Look for a board like this and check which part of the train you should get onto.

To make sure you don't get into that kind of trouble, look for a board shown in the photo above. It should be around the middle of the track.

3. To get out, press the button to open the door
Doors of the trains are semi-automatic. You have to press a button nearby so it opens. So I heard.

4. Rest assured there are toilets in both IC and ICE trains
I always wonder for long train trips how would people handle their "calls of nature". Will the train make frequent stops at station so people can relieve themselves and hop back it? Turns out all the trains have toilets near the door. Silly but vital information.

5. Find un-reserved seats
You can actually reserve a seat when you buy the tickets, for a few euros. This might be good if you are taking a train that is estimated to have a lot of passengers, as you might end up with just a standing place (though not likely). If you don't have a reservation, just walk along the train and check the window. If someone has reserved that seat there will be a note there. Otherwise you can seat wherever you want.

6. Get a Bahn card (in Germany) and remember to cancel it
In Germany, you can buy a Bahn card to get 25% off (or even 50%) from regular price. You can even get this online.  The best option is to get a "Probe Bahn card" which is good for 4 months of trial for 25euro. However, there are 2 catches. One, you have to take the trains shown on your ticket, it's not as flexible as regular tickets that they are good for the day. Two, you have to cancel the card 6 weeks ahead, otherwise they will automatically "upgrade" you to the regular Bahn card when it expires. You can find a template of the cancelation email online.

It's actually pretty fun to take the train, especially the ICE. It feels like taking a plane but with more leg space and you can see the scenery (mostly fields). I personally like finding a spot with a table so I can put my book and my food on.


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