Buying train tickets on-line

So far I’ve bought on-line train tickets for journeys in Italy, Germany and France.

Purchases of the Italian tickets were straight forward. You choose the trips, confirm the details, pre-pay for them by a credit card, and then get the real tickets at the vending machines of big train stations with the reference numbers. Very convenient and reliable. However, I suspect that the system doesn’t support the sale of international tickets (at least not in 2006) as my request for a ticket from Italy to France kept being turned down.

Buying a German train ticket on-line was just as easy. The Deutsch Bahn website is so nice that it provides comprehensive train schedules of european countries so it is a very useful tool (the Austrian railway website does the same). The only strange thing was that the only option for obtaining my Poland-Germany train ticket was by mail. And I had to pay for the postage. The ticket was sent to me by air mail a few days later. Very efficient and no-nonsense, though I would have preferred a cheaper and faster electronic version of the ticket (I mean, we now use e-tickets for air journeys. Why would anyone want to send a real train ticket from Germany to me?) I guess the arrangement probably had to do with that being an international train ticket. Anyways, it was my first letter in German.

Buying SNCF tickets was less easy. I bought the tickets because I wanted to enjoy the nice TGV promo-price (19 euro vs 30+ euro). Unlike Trenitalia and Deutsch Bahn, the ticket sale function of SNCF’s English website didn’t seem to work (there is an English version but it simply didn’t work). So you either use SNCF’s international websites, which are hosted by agents and do not offer all the nice prices, or use the French website. The language was a problem for me. Without the language barrier I think it would have been just as easy. Because it involved credit card payment, I had to make sure I knew what I was doing, to the extent that I had to use an on-line translator. As regards options for ticket delivery, SNCF offers not only machine retrieval and delivery by mail but also retrieval at service counters and e-tickets. I suppose SNCF means to be nice to offer various options to users. But somehow I found it a bit troublesome and confusing.

The Spanish railway also has a nice website. But I have not bought tickets from it because Spain is such a big country that I had to fly from one city to another.

Why do on-line train tickets seem less popular than flight e-tickets? Isn’t it a bit strange?

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