One of the most fascinating things about railways in Europe is how trains move from one country to another, from one national Rail network to another in such a seamless fashion. This requires standardization and co-ordination at so many levels- from rolling stock to tracks, from locomotives to crew, from signalling to maintenance practices (not to mention finance and revenue sharing). The express trains that move through two or more countries are called EuroCity (EC) trains.
The overnight sleeper car trains are called EuroNight (EN). In international traffic, the night trains feature direct cars (coaches). In practice this means that certain cars are uncoupled from the given train at a given station, and are coupled to another train that takes them to another destination. So the passengers do not have to change trains. Each EC train is operated by more than one EU (or Swiss)-based rail company, under a multilateral co-operative arrangement.
My experience is based on the journey through Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic on the EuroCity Hungaria (EC 172) operated by the Hungarian State Railway (MÁV),Czech Railways (ČD), Slovakian Railways (ZSSK) and German Railways (DB). The rolling stock and locomotive, however, belongs to MÁV. From Prague, it is hauled by České dráhy (ČD) locomotive.
Hungarian State Railway (MÁV)
Magyar Államvasutak is the Hungarian national rail company which operate
s passenger services in Hungary with connections to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Freight services in Hungary are now owned by the Austrian Federal Railway (ÖBB). Hungary has a very dense and extensive rail network of 7,606 track kilometers on standard gauge. It has a very rich history with stations like Budapest Keleti and Nyugati dating back to 1884 and 1877 respectively.
EC 172 departs from Budapest Nyugati Pályaudvar Station with destination to Hamburg- Altona. It goes via Bratislava (Slovakia), Brno, Prague (Czech Republic) and Dresden, Berlin (Germany). I de-boarded in Prague at Praha Hlavní nádraží station undertaking the 610 km long journey from Budapest which took a little over 6 hours.
With a maximum speed of 200 Kmph, it is divided into two classes- First and second. Second class is very affordable even with dynamic fares. Three weeks before the journey, second class tickets for Budapest-Prague journey cost 520 CZK (~ EUR 20) on the Czech Railway website.
The EC is operated by the National Railways of the country through which it passes. Tickets are checked whenever trains cross the international borders. For instance, going from Budapest to Prague, tickets are checked after departure from Budapest, then in Slovakia and later in Czech Republic. Ticket checkers usually don’t check passports of passengers.
Two types of second class cars are available. Both with similar back support but one having more head support than the other. They were reasonably comfortable but not as much as the seats in OBB Railjet’s economy class. The ride, however, was very smooth! The train also consists of a restaurant car with a reasonably priced menu.
The train takes you through the beautiful Slovak and Czech countryside. With green fields, water bodies and mountains in the distance, it is a treat to the eyes. On the day of my journey it was raining, which added to the natural beauty of the surrounding environment.
Tip: One can experience window trailing by going at the end of the last coach! As there is no brake van/ SLR which is present at the end of Indian trains. Here’s a video of it!
Unlike Austria and Czech Republic, stations like Keleti and Nyugati in Budapest lack proper information systems. Whilst they do have screens displaying various trains on different platforms like on Indian stations, they do not show coach positions on platforms.
In on board information as well, Austrian Railways is miles ahead. In EC Hungaria, there were no screens giving information on the route or speed of train. There was an announcement system in two languages- English and Hungarian/Slovak.
Another aspect in which the EC lagged behind was punctuality. By the time it reached Prague, it was 15 minutes late. Which is not much but not quite up to the standards expected from European trains. However, despite of 11 stoppages it maintains pretty decent average speed.
While the EC lagged in few aspects of information and punctuality, it still provides wonderful travel experience. The 6 hour train ride through 3 different countries, each providing a peek into it’s nature, countryside, historic cities and train stations is the best way to travel completely unmatched by a flight. For those who already love trains, this is a journey that cannot be missed!
(Written by Siddhartha Verma, IRTS)
(Watch out for articles on Czech Railways (České dráhy) and Deutsche Bahn (DB) in the near future!)