We travel by train a lot, but well do we understand why a lot of folk just find the whole process of securing tickets for international rail trips far too complicated. Last evening, we spent a solid half hour or more buying a ticket online - for a one-way journey by train from London to Berlin next month. We want to travel out with Eurostar to Brussels, continuing to Cologne for an overnight stop, before travelling up the Rhine valley to Mainz and on via Göttingen to Berlin. Yes, we managed to get what we wanted in the end, and it was a splendidly good deal. Just €49 one way. But not a lot of travellers would have had our patience (and, it has to be said, our detailed knowledge of rail routes and tariffs).
Back in the summer of 2007, a number of European rail operators founded Railteam, a promising new alliance that proudly announced that it would transform international rail ticketing in Europe - offering through fares at the press of a button between stations across Europe. Late last week, Railteam backtracked from its grand plan amid talk of integrated ticketing being much too complicated and too expensive to implement.
Meanwhile, full marks to the Deutsche Bahn for offering through fares from London to every train station in Germany, and indeed to one or two spots outside Germany too (such as Salzburg in Austria and Wissembourg in France). Those through bookings are routed with Eurostar from London to Brussels, connecting there to German ICE services for Aachen, Köln and beyond. True, the Deutsche Bahn online booking system is not the simplest, but for those with patience and some knowledge of European geography, there are some fine deals available.
Curiously, Railteam's initiative in summer 2007 came just a few weeks after Britain's participation in an earlier common ticketing scheme lapsed. Until May 2007, it was perfectly possible to buy a through ticket from London by rail and boat (using the ferry from Dover to Calais) to points on the continent. Through ticketing by Eurostar to various points in France and Switzerland is marvellous, and the Deutsche Bahn website serves the London to Germany market well. But together these initiatives do not amount to the fully integrated ticketing scheme that Railteam promised back in 2007.
Those with longer memories will look back fondly to the days when the TCV tariff allowed passengers to travel across large parts of Europe on a single ticket. TCV stands for tarif commun international pour le transport des voyageurs and the tariff can still be used for some journeys. But many premium operators of fast services (including Eurostar) have opted out of the TCV common tariff system. Railteam said it would plug the gap, in effect introducing integrated ticketing for that alliance of premium operators. Now that is not to be. Railteam's aspirations have evidently been well and truly derailed.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries