Finding and boarding your train
Can I print my train ticket at the station?
The answer is…maybe. Some but not all train tickets can be printed at the station in Europe. Once you’ve selected a particular train ticket and begin checkout, all your delivery options will be displayed on the “Delivery" page. You will then be able to select, if offered, “Print at the Station e-ticket”.
Currently, e-tickets are only offered on Eurostar, French, Spanish, British and some Italian routes. But you can look forward to this type of ticketing on other routes in the near future.
How much luggage can I take on the train?
Theoretically, you’re not restricted. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to carry your bags through the train station and onto the train. Once on board you’ll need to find a place to put your bag(s). Small and medium sized bags typically fit on racks located above the seats. Larger suitcases and such can be stored in luggage racks found near the train door entrance. Be aware that you are responsible for your luggage. The railways assume no responsibility in case of loss or theft of baggage carried on board.
If you’re traveling on a Eurostar, Thalys or TGV train, you are limited to two large items per traveler (one large item per child on Eurostar trains), maximum 85cm (33 inches) in any one dimension, plus one small item of hand luggage. On most high-speed trains there’s room for luggage on the racks above the seats and at the end of each coach for larger items.
Be advised that when traveling on Eurostar, Thalys, or any French you must properly label your bag(s) with your first and last name. In general, it’s a good idea to keep luggage tags on your baggage for easy identification.
Bottom line: we suggest traveling light!
When I board the train, can I sit anywhere I want?
If you’ve purchased a reservation for a specific train, you’ll have a designated car and seat number. You’ll need to locate your seat in the car you’re reserved in. If your ticket includes a reserved seat, the details will indicate the seat and car number.
If you don’t have a reservation and the train you’re traveling on either doesn’t accept reservations or reservations are not mandatory, then you’ll be able to get on board and look for an available seat in the class of service you purchased. Keep in mind that during the train ride, if another traveler gets on board and has reserved the seat you’re occupying, you will need to move.
Local commuter trains generally do not accept reservations. During peak hours (typically before 9am and in the evening between 5-7pm) the trains are used by locals going to work and tend to be a bit more crowded. This may make it more difficult to find an available seat.
Is there a fee to take luggage on a train?
In general, there are no luggage fees when traveling by train, however, some rail carriers do restrict the amount of luggage a traveler is allowed to bring.
On Eurostar, you’re permitted to carry two large bags and one small piece of hand luggage. If you have more than this, an additional fee may be necessary to pay locally.
Can I bring my pet on board?
Generally, cats and dogs are allowed on trains, though they may need to be contained in a pet carrier or wear a muzzle or leash. Pets are not allowed on some trains in Great Britain, Spain, Ireland, Norway, and Finland. Currently the only animals that are permitted to travel on Eurostar are guide dogs for the visually impaired.
Some trains require advance reservations for pets. Unfortunately, Rail Europe cannot make reservations for your pet. This will need to be done locally. In general, dogs normally travel at half the fare of a second class ticket, payable directly to the conductor. We encourage you to visit the individual train pages for further details.
Can I bring my bike on board?
In general, bicycles can be taken with you as carry-on luggage, free of charge on just about any national or international train- if you put it in a bike bag. In the bike bag, the wheels, pedals and handlebars must be removed. You should decide if carrying a bike bag and having to reassemble the bike is outweighed by the joy of having it with you throughout Europe.
In addition, many European trains allow bikes in a special bike compartment for free or a small fee. If there is a fee, it’s typically about 5-15 Euros per journey. Bikes are generally permitted on local & regional trains in most countries, at least outside peak hours.
Many inter-city trains also take bikes, however not in Spain. And in France only a few French TGVs take bikes that aren’t in a bike bag. City Night Line sleeper trains allow bikes for a small fee (paid locally) and the bike is placed in a special bike compartment on routes such as Paris-Berlin, Paris-Munich, Amsterdam-Prague, Amsterdam-Copenhagen. Some TGV-Lyria trains between Paris & Switzerland also take bikes. Paris-Madrid & Paris-Barcelona night trains only take bikes if they’re in a bike bag and if you & your fellow travelers occupy the entire sleeper compartment. Overnight Thello sleeper trains & daytime TGV trains between Paris & Italy only allow bikes in a bike bag. Thalys trains between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam & Cologne only allow bikes in bike bags. Long-distance trains into Eastern Europe such as Cologne-Moscow, Bucharest-Istanbul or Budapest-Sofia only allow bikes in bike bags, primarily because these trains don’t have luggage compartments.
Lastly, some trains, primarily in the UK, will require advance reservations for bicycles. These reservations will need to be made locally at the station.
How early should I arrive at the train station?
We advise travelers to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure. This allows you time to clear any security checks and locate the platform where your train will be departing. If you are departing from a larger train station (typically a city’s main station) and need to activate your rail pass prior to boarding, you will want to arrive even earlier to make sure you have enough time to get your rail pass activated and avoid doing a luggage-hauling sprint through the station.
Do I need to do anything with my rail pass before boarding the train?
Yes. You will need to visit the ticket window at the train station before boarding your first train to activate your rail pass. A railroad official will enter the first and last day of validity on your rail pass and stamp your rail pass. You will have to show your passport, and the name on your rail pass will need to match it. Then, in case of a flexi-pass, for each day you use your rail pass you will need to enter the date in the designated travel calendar box on your rail pass. If you board a train and have not entered the date, when the conductor comes around to check your travel documents you may be subject to a fine and the payment of full fare ticket that will need to be paid in local currency directly to the conductor. Be sure to read all documentation that accompanies your rail pass prior to departure. The more you know about your rail pass, the more likely you are to avoid issues onboard the train.
Do I need to do anything to my train ticket before boarding the train?
If you purchased and received a paper train ticket in the mail, there is nothing further you need to do.
If you purchased a print at home e-ticket, be sure to print your ticket before you leave home and keep your train ticket safe and secure. For Italo tickets, just print your Rail Europe email confirmation which includes your unique e-ticket confirmation code(s). This e-ticket confirmation code along with your photo i.d. will be checked when on the Italo train.
If you purchased a print at the station e-ticket, you’ll need to visit a self-service kiosk to print your train ticket (remember, you’ll need the e-ticket confirmation code included on your invoice). When retrieving your e-ticket in France at a SNCF kiosk, you will need to “stamp your ticket” (composter votre ticket as French say) prior to board the train. Would you have any problem to do so, just ask the conductor of the train to do it for you when you board the train.
If I arrive at the station early, will I be able to board my train?
Yes, you may be able to board the train early, but it depends on a few things…
First, early boarding may possible if you are boarding the train in the city from which it originates. If you are boarding a train on one of the stops along its routes, then the train won’t be in the station until a few minutes before the time indicated on your ticket.
Even if you are boarding in the very first city from which your train departs, the platform may only be indicated 15 minutes or so before departure. Though early, you may find yourself in the train station with no information as to which platform the train is located.
In any event, we typically advise you get to the station at least 30 minutes prior to departure. This way when your train is ready to board, you can hop on and take your seat without having to rush through the station.
How do I find my train?
Finding your train is fairly simple. You’ll see large Departure and Arrival boards located in the center of most stations. Some stations also have TV monitors listing upcoming departing trains.
If you have a ticket or pass with a reservation, simply match the train number and departure time on your reservation or ticket to the train number on the departure board. The platform number where you should go will be listed right next to it. Sometimes, the platform number is only shown 15 minutes or so prior to the train’s departure. Once on the platform you’ll notice that each car (also known as a coach) has a clear identification number on its side. Your reservation/ticket will list your car/coach number and your class of service. Once onboard the proper car, you’ll find clearly labeled seat numbers. Simply match the seat number on your reservation/ticket. Of course, the station staff can always help point you in the right direction.
If you’re traveling with open train tickets or a rail pass and no reservation, then you don’t have a specific train and seat assigned to you. If you’ve done your research in advance, you probably already know the time and train number of the train you want to take, so just look for it on the board. If you decided to show up at the station with the intention of taking the first train departing for where you want, make sure to check with a station agent and find out if that train requires a reservation.
Once on the train platform, how can I find my car? Is there a difference between where first- and second-class carriages are located or how they look on the outside?
Typically you will see a (1) or a (2) or the words “First” or “Second” or a combination of both on the outside of the train car indicating First or Second class. Once you board the train, you’ll notice that some trains have inside indicators for first or second class. Some high-speed trains have headrest covers that state the class of service.
For certain high speed trains such as the Thalys, the TGV or the Eurostar, you’ll also find displays right on the platform indicating where each car of the train will be located for boarding. You can use this chart to find the mark on the platform corresponding to the car you would like to board. It is a good rule of thumb to arrive at the station early so that you can find the train and the right car matching the class of service on your pass or ticket.
And of course, you can always ask a railway official or conductor for assistance.
Will there be someone to help me find my reserved seat on the train?
Generally speaking, train cars and seats are prominently marked. If you have any trouble finding your reserved seat, one of the conductors on the platform or onboard the train will be able to assist you.
Do I need to show my passport to board the train?
If you’re traveling with a rail pass and this is your very first train trip, you’ll need to present your passport to the railway official at the ticket window to validate your pass, before you board the train.
Please note that there will be no passport control (day or night) when traveling between countries that signed the Schengen Treaty. Not all countries belonging to the EU are part of the Schengen Treaty (e.g. Great Britain, Ireland). On the flip side, some countries that are not part of the EU are part of the Schengen Treaty (e.g. Switzerland, Norway).