Last month, I traveled from The Netherlands 🇳🇱 to Switzerland 🇨🇭 by train. More specifically, I traveled from Eindhoven to Engelberg, which is a small alpine town in the centre of Switzerland. When I wrote this post for the first time, it was mostly a rant, but now that some time has passed, I decided to rewrite it and finally publish it.
On the 10th of January, I left Eindhoven earlier than what my ticket suggested. In the original planning, I would only have 10 minutes ⏰ to change to an international train in Utrecht and I was afraid I would miss the connection. I am glad I arrived on the train earlier because the train I was supposed to catch was, indeed, around 10 minutes late.
In Utrecht I hopped into an ICE train from DB which runs from Amsterdam to Basel SBB, in Switzerland. Apparently, there are two Basel stations: one in Germany and one in Switzerland. Who knew? It was all fine, until some “fire” allegedly occurred in some station and our train had to be diverted to some other line.
Just like our train, many others had to be diverted through a very congested line where some sections had one track only. A few hours later, DB decides to cancel the ICE after Freiburg and tells us to take the next ICE in Freiburg with direction to Basel SBB. That train never arrived and it looked like it was also canceled so we just hopped on a regional train to Basel SBB.
Now in Basel, two hours after planed, I got a Swiss train and arrived at my destination. The Swiss rails never cease to amaze me with their amazing punctuality and the fact that you can very easily make 5 minute connections without any issues.
Time has passed, and on the 16th I had to come back. Well, I thought I had experienced the worst, but let me tell you: during the trip back I genuinely thought I would have to sleep in this random town in Germany where no one seemed to be able to answer my questions.
I got the train from Engelberg to Basel and it was all fine. In Basel I took the ICE, on time. This time, the train was not going to the Netherlands, so my plan was to change in Düsseldorf for a regional train to Venlo and from there to Eindhoven. The ICE arrived on time in Düsseldorf, which was fine, and then the problems began. The connection to Venlo was, for some reason, not working.
So I used the DB Navigator which told me to go to Mönchengladbach and then get some bus. I arrived at Mönchengladbach, I went outside. No signs, nothing saying where to get the bus. There was a bus station indeed, but nothing about replacement buses. I asked around 5 people: most ignored me, one said “I don’t have money” and the other one said “I don’t work for Deutsche Bahn”. Very useful people. The DB Navigator app was also very confused: the app said to get a train through this track but then it also said no trains were running there. Go figure.
After ranting a bit too much to Martin, he helped me figure out which train to get. This took well over an hour and I honestly thought I would have to stay there for the night. Apparently, the train passing through the non-working track was actually running, somehow. I enter the train and I saw someone looking at the Dutch Railways app. Then we started chatting and figured out where to go from there. We still had to change once more before going to Venlo. But we arrived in Venlo, 2 hours after expected.
The funniest part of all this is the guy that I met had gotten the same train as me from Basel and was as confused as me. On top of that, he had also gone to Basel the week before in the same train as me. How big of a coincidence is that.
Would I do it again? Definitely! The ICE trains are extremely comfortable and the Internet was the most reliable I have ever had in a train with speeds way faster than I’ve ever experienced in my hometown in Portugal.
The only issue I had with the Internet was that it was not working initially. Then, I found out it was because I had custom DNS servers set up on my laptop. So don’t forget: if the Internet is not working properly on a train, bus, or somewhere else, it may be because the captive portal is under some non-existent domain name and you need to be using the network’s DNS server for it to be resolved.
In general, I really enjoy train travel and I think it is the future and that governments should invest more in the train tracks. Perhaps even more important is to ensure that the EU is able to coordinate investment between countries for international connections. For example: here in The Netherlands, I have to go to Utrecht to be able to go to Germany, when I already live closer to Germany. In Portugal, there is only one extremely bad rail connection to Spain through the northernmost border, which is absolutely crazy.
On this topic, I would recommend following Jon Worth, who has just recently traveled across all international borders in the EU with train in order to understand where are the biggest pain points.