Railpass roundup 2004

By Jay Brunhouse

by Jay Brunhouse

The early news was that 2004 Eurail products and France Railpasses held their 2003 prices despite depreciation of the dollar against the euro and, in addition, some BritRail prices were slightly down, but late results were disappointing. Single-country passes showed substantial price increases and once again demonstrated the importance of plotting your train travel carefully.

GermanRail’s bullet-nosed ICE 3 trains provide lounges at each end, allowing passengers to watch over drivers’ shoulders. Photo courtesy of DB

Look for new-in-2004 BritRail England Passes costing 80% of the price of full BritRail Passes and new 2-country railpasses combining travel in Switzerland with France or Austria, Germany with Benelux, and Romania with Hungary. Further, Eurail Select Pass coverage has been extended to cover Romania when Austria and Hungary are also selected.

It is true that when you pay for all your transportation in one lump sum, railpasses seem like a lot of money, but. . .

• They are cheap when the dollar is weak vs. the euro. You pay in low-inflation dollars. Railpass prices reflect last year’s exchange rates and protect you from creeping dollar devaluation.

• They are convenient. By buying railpasses before leaving home, you avoid standing in lines at counters you sometimes can’t find to purchase tickets or surcharge coupons in unfamiliar currencies from foreign agents who often do not speak English (this problem is acute in Eastern Europe). This frees you to board almost any train you choose, making it easier for you to travel on impulse, especially on the more popular lines with trains departing half-hourly.

• They are easy to use. You don’t have to sort through stapled and loose tickets and coupons to show the conductor. Just flash your pass.

• You can change your mind. When an acquaintance convinces you to go to Rome instead of Vienna, just board the next train. When it’s flooding in Venice, get off the train in sunny Salzburg.

• You pay at home and know in advance nearly to the cent how much your transportation will cost. Railpasses cover fast-train surcharges, so you will only need to consider meal surcharges on only a few trains and reservation fees, if required, as well as the cost of a couchette or sleeping compartment on an overnight train. You are secure in having locked in dollar prices before departure. If the dollar sags, wheezes or does a loop-the-loop, you have no worry.

• Free train travel information gives you a planning edge. Maps and pocket timetables guide you through Europe.

The just-released sixth edition of Brunhouse’s “Traveling the Eurail Express” contains tips for using railpasses to best advantage. Published by Pelican, it is available at travel and online bookshops.