This website may not have the detail of Google Maps or Google Earth, but it is specifically designed for tracking (no pun intended) down railway lines. Below is a screen grab of the area around Augsburg, Germany. Note the legend at the left that provides detailed information on the types of lines via color coding in the map. The most useful, disused and abandoned lines, help railfans avoid camping out at locations where the change of seeing a train pass are, well, zero.
The next time you take a trip to Europe that allows for some railfanning, be sure to check out OpenRailwayMap.org before you go. You just might find a new favorite railfanning location!
Crack open any one of several older Marklin catalogs and the pages are adorned with pictures of a plethora of trains crisscrossing a layout which, in some cases, is also featured in the catalog’s center, complete with track plan. The same can be said for the European manufacturers’ presentation layouts at events and exhibits. Generally these layouts exist, as a primary purpose, to showcase the model trains the manufacturers have produced. In other words, they are train layouts, relying less on scenery and more on tracks and trains. Sure, there are buildings and mountains, but generally they are secondary to the trains themselves. On the other hand a model railroad defines itself by reproducing the railroad prototype in miniature. There is nothing wrong with wanting to run as many trains simultaneously as possible- it is what train layouts are designed for. But for those who are in the planning stages of a layout and who are struggling to be less train layout and more model railroad, read on for a few suggestions to keep in mind for designing a dream layout while still following a “less-is-more” philosophy.
Our hobby, like so many others, is an evolution. The more we do, the more mistakes we make, the more we learn. Unfortunately this isn’t like knitting, where we can try over and over again to ‘get it right’. But with every trip to Europe or every episode of ‘Eisenbahnromantik’ I watch on Youtube I get just a little bit smarter on the minutiae of European railroads. Unfortunately that leads to new ideas and new desires when it comes to replicating those into a smaller scale. With these tips hopefully you can join me in making sure that at least at the track planning stage the result is a little more ‘railway’ and a little less ‘train’…
When I think back on preparations for travel to Europe just a couple of decades ago (before the Internet) I am amazed at how little could be done in advance. Aside from having a thick book of train schedules and flipping through it for hours to try and figure out connections, there as little a traveler could do in advance of setting foot in a train station in Europe.
Thankfully the Internet has changed all that, and it is possible to set a schedule, buy tickets, and make reservations all well in advance of your journey, and with most countries in Europe now mimicking the airlines by offering cheaper advanced fares, it's not only easier to plan in advance, but cheaper as well. Here are a few of my "go to" websites for trip planning, along with some other websites I tend to check before travel to Europe:
Do you have other websites that you consider "must haves" when planning a trip to Europe that involves trains? If so, share them! Add a comment to this post and share your URLs with other European train lovers!
On the platforms of most larger train stations in Europe sits a rather nondescript display case with an unusual poster inside. In French it is the ‘Tableau de Composition des Trains’. Germans call it the ‘Wagenstandanzeiger’. In Britain it is referred to as a ‘Carriage Position Indicator’. In short, it tells you what coach sits where for every train coming and going, and is an extremely valuable tool to minimize dragging your luggage through a crowded Eurocity train at rush hour. Let’s look at how it works.
When traveling through Europe, especially at peak times, it’s not a bad idea to get a seat reservation. It insures that you won’t be standing for your entire journey due to an overcrowded train and also allows you to pick a favored place to sit, whether by a window to enjoy alpine scenery, or near the restaurant car to easily grab a refill on your German beer. Some countries allow you to reserve seats as late as the night before your train trip and offer the convenience of on-line reservation booking, which combine to make seat reservations easy to get on all but the most flexible travel schedules. A graphic representation of the coach showing the layout and available seats (below) makes selecting the perfect seat online easy and painless.
When your reservation comes through (whether on paper or digitally) it will contain both a coach number and a seat number. Here is an example from the German Railways:
Note that on the right side next to each connection/train there is a ‘Reservierung (Reservation)’ section which features a ‘Wagen’ (coach) number and a ‘Platz’ (seat) number. Those are your seat assignments for the journey. The next question is “How on earth do I find my seat when the train arrives?” Most tourists to Europe will wait on the platform for the train to arrive, climb aboard the nearest coach, and then start hunting for the right coach and the right seat. But not you.
The image above shows a Romanian 'Coach Arrangement in Trains' board for a particular track in Bucharest Station. It contains several very important pieces of information. First, it shows all trains expected to arrive at this platform and on this track (in this case, track 3). On the left it shows the train number, the major destinations, and the departure time in a simple table. Next to it is a graphical representation of the makeup of the train, including where the locomotive will be. Each coach is numbered and the color displays the type of coach it is (class, compartment or open seating, dining car or sleeper, etc). Simply by finding your train and the number of your coach you will know roughly where it will be in relation to the front of the train, and you’ll be able to wait in close proximity to your coach for your train to arrive.
The German ‘Wagenstandanzeiger’ for track 5 shown above is similar. On the left it shows the departure time, the train type and number, and the major stops. Again we have visual representations of the trains and all their coaches. This board contains a few additional pieces of information that the Romanian display did not. First, a small arrow shows the outbound direction of train travel. This is helpful for anyone (without reservations) who likes to sit in the direction of travel or who prefers to sit at the front or rear of the train. Remember, the train may not leave in the direction it arrived, so this arrow is certainly not redundant. The second and decidedly more important additional bit of information can be found at the top and bottom of the poster, namely the platform section, shown as letters ‘A’ through ‘G’ (see my previous post on what those mean in another post in this section of the website). By using this information you can pinpoint where your coach will stop, and while others scramble along the platform or stumble down narrow aisles dragging their luggage behind them looking for their seats you’ll already have climbed aboard and will be sitting comfortably as the train glides out of the station…
No, it's not a weird new version of Monopoly, but an opportunity to enjoy the ETE Great Lakes modular HO scale European themed Marklin model train layout. Member Matt Moore brought a tiny HD video camera to the National Train Show which took a trip around the layout. Here is the result:
In April 2016 a foursome of ETEGL members took a whirlwind ten-day trip through Germany and Switzerland to attend some major train- and model-train-related events and visit some European railway venues. Below is a trip report of their exploits written by the trip's organizer, Carsten Ramcke...
There are many, many reasons to travel by train in Germany and Europe. It is cheaper, more comfortable, and sometimes more practical than driving and finding a place to park. That said, there are other moments which arise that really hit home. Here is one such example.
I was travelling in Germany with a group of my students in June of 2014. We had just finished three days in the Berlin-Potsdam area and were now on our way to the Dresden area for four days. It was Sunday evening, and we had elected to take the regional trains (RegioBahn) rather than the speed trains (IC/ICE). It would give us a chance to relax and rest on a quieter trip after all the walking and fast-paced visiting of Germany’s capital. This was my first trip through the old areas of the DDR (East Germany), outside of the yearly rides to Berlin via Bremen. Occasionally we passed towns with mixed Prussian and Czech or Polish names, but the real thing was the amount of, as Joyce put it, “undeveloped” land. Definitely the population density was much lower in this part of Germany than elsewhere.
Somewhere along the route between the towns and station of Grossenhain-Cottbus and Priestewitz, our train had to halt and allow a transport train to come through. We stopped a mile or so from Priestewitz, and one of my students, Jacob Anderson, called we over to where he was sitting and pointed out his window and asked “what is that?” He was pointing to an old farmstead… 5 buildings- a house, a barn, two tool sheds, and a garage/mechanic shop. All were overgrown and severely damaged. “Is that from the war,” he asked. It was clear that the place had been a family home destroyed during the Russian push to Berlin. It looked like a scene from the old classic war movies, but it was real. I confirmed his suspicions, and other students quickly came over as the train started to move again. The students remarked how it was amazing that 70 years after the war it was still there, neither re-built nor torn down. They expressed wonder and what had happened. It allowed me to explain how the family probably fled (or were killed) and no one came back.
My students were deeply touched by this frozen moment in time, and wondered about the family, its history, and if they survived, do they even know their old home is still there. We discussed the population shift to the West both during and after the war, and how these areas were completely depopulated. As we started to roll on, we saw land which was once cultivated but now returned to the wild. My wife Joyce was able to point out the former field lines and crop areas, so subtly different that other wild areas, and the students quickly seized on this knowledge. Long discussions and questions about the war in Germany and the struggles of East Germany ensued. The students spent the last hour of the ride to Dresden looking and hoping to find more poignant moments trapped in time.
Such events, I have learned over the years, occur much more often and more deeply on trains than travelling in a car or even a bus tour. In a car you focus on the destination and trivial moments of chat. On a bus, you are packed and cramped, and some even have video to watch. On a train, you can read a book, put on headphones, or even do a crossword puzzle book, but your eyes are always drawn out the window. There is something magnetic to the passing scenery that interrupts your attempts at distraction and take your eyes and thoughts to the world just beyond the glass. Add to that the ability to have a group discussion session all at once when a topic arises, and you understand just one of the reasons trains are so amazing to ride on.
Over the course of the next few articles I will try familiarize everyone with how to use the displays and signage on train station platforms in Europe to allow you to look like a pro when your train pulls into the station...
Today we'll take a look at the letters and numbers generally mounted above and next to the tracks on passenger platforms and how they show passengers where to be to catch their train. The first part, the number, is fairly self-explanatory. It represents the track next to it as a number in ascending order from the station. So track 1 would be closest to the station building, track 2 would be next to it, etc. Note, however, that in some cases a very high number, like track 21, might actually be closer to the station building than 21 tracks out, but we'll stick with the most common situations for the purpose of these articles.
The station departure board above lists only the track / platform for the first two trains. Why is that? In some countries and/or stations the track number isn't shown until shortly before the train arrives. That's to allow just about any train to leave from any track. In some countries and/or stations the same trains always leave from the same track, so it's not necessary to hold off on showing the track number. But in either case if a track number is showing it's a safe bet that's where your train will be departing from. Okay, so now that we know which platform to be on for the track, let's take a look at the other half of the signage in the first image of this article, the letter.
The letters that appear above the platform represent different segments of the platform that help passengers know roughly where to stand when the train rolls in. Today I'll explain how to know roughly where to stand if you are in first class or second class, and where to stand if you'd like a cold, refreshing beer from the dining car for the start of your journey. In a future article I'll explain how to identify where a particular coach will stop if you've made reservations. But for now we'll just get you to the right part of the train...
Near the track number and platform segment display is usually a flip-type or digital display board that provides information on the next train coming in on that platform. This is where we'll identify where to be when the train comes to a stop to quickly get on board and not have to drag luggage the length of the train to find an open seat in the right class. An insider tip: it also shows us where the end of the train will be, and as a pro will tell you, the ends of the train are where the coaches are the emptiest!
There are a few items of interest on the board to note. First is the train number and train type. This display shows a French TGV (France's high-speed train) with train number 9576. Its final destination is Paris Est, and it's making intermediate stops in Karlsruhe and Strasbourg. Not all stops will be displayed, usually only a couple. Now note the small symbol above and to the left of 'Paris Est'. This actually tells you where the train will be situated on the platform. It looks like this TGV will be stopping between sections D and G. Looking very closely at the display (it's hard to read in the image above) one can ascertain the number '2' underneath the 'E' and the number '1' underneath the 'G'. This tells us that second class will be located in sectors 'D' and 'E' and first class will be in sector 'G'. The dining car, which can be designated by the letter 'R' or sometimes as an icon of a coffee cup, sits between the two in section 'F'. Now imagine if you were waiting in section 'A' when this train pulled in for its 2-minute stop...
The destination board here provides information on a longer train. It shows a first class coach or two in sector 'B', it shows us that limited food service (in this case a 'Bord Bistro') is located in section 'C' and also shows that bicycles (or other larger equipment like wheelchairs) can be stored in a car in sector 'F'.
Here is one final destination board that will save you a world of grief if you know how to read it. Although fairly unusual, there are times when trains will take part of a journey coupled together, then split up at a particular station to continue to individual destinations. This is done most commonly on heavily trafficked lines where train density is high. When the train above pulls out at 19:10 it will run as one unit, but in Duisburg the train will split, with part of it headed west to Amsterdam and another part headed north to Dortmund. Thanks to your new knowledge, you should now be able to get into the right train to make it to either destination!