If you, an enlightened and far-sighted human being of the 21st century, want to go on vacation by train instead of by plane, you may face inexplicable obstacles. So far, so known.
Nevertheless, it makes me angry that now, at the beginning of February, it is apparently not yet possible to book a night train from Vienna to Brussels. We would even pay immediately. We just want to plan the trip, book accommodations, etc.
Both online, by telephone and at the counter, the friendly ÖBB staff explained that they had no access to the necessary informations. Three countries are involved, one of which is Germany (the desperado among european railway countries). They would have to release all the routes first, which takes time. There might be construction sites, diversions – everything not yet clear. They tell me just to check the website every week. I ask them: can't I at least reserve the seats in advance, as they are limited? Do I get a notification email? Is there a waiting list when all of a sudden the trains appear? No, that is not possible.
Honestly, that can't be true.
Should we really wait for the day X to come? What if that doesn't work, if we get no beds? Then all the further planning and reservations that we would have had to make in advance will be obsolete.
Is this the sad truth of European rail transport nowadays?
We've been so much further! Train travel in the 80s was way easier. And now as we have an EU, a Schengen area, a common currency, that shouldn't be possible anymore? How should we convince hundreds of thousands of travelers of the possibility, even necessity, of traveling by train instead of a car or plane if this fails already at the first hurdle: information?
The rail companies and national governments must be forced by the EU to cooperate, otherwise they could face penalties including license revocation. They must ensure that their services work and can be accessed transparently. It cannot be the case that major events such as the European Championships in Germany or the Olympics in Paris (as the ÖBB employee put forward as justification) make a public European transport network unpredictable.
It is unacceptable that we as paying customers and taxpaying system maintainers do not have the opportunity to use this system as it is offered and promised to us.
Once and for all: We urgently and finally need a functioning, reliable reservation and booking system across Europe, otherwise I see no future for the promised developments towards Green Deal, sustainable travel by rail and deceleration. I already described this about our trip to Bucharest in November (see precedent posts), which in a way was too grotesque not to be funny.
But now I'm really angry. We are left with only two alternatives: fly to Brussels or go somewhere else. A flight to Indonesia, for example. is easier to book. And maybe even cheaper.