European Rail

Monday, July 15, 2013

We’ve about reached the end of our stay here in Riva San Vitale. It’s hard to believe how quickly our stay passed when compared to how much we travelled, learned, and enjoyed ourselves. The module of transportation has come to us at a time when we truly have taken notice of the great accomplishments, and downfalls, of European transport systems. As we learned in class public transport and intercity rail systems can be a fast, reliable, and energy efficient means of transportation. Moreover, rail systems in cities use less space than highways and parking for cars. However, the management and customer information are very important, as we experienced during a weekend trip to Cinque Terre, Italy. Our group quickly learned of some real disadvantages of rail systems.

We got off to a rough start as soon as we booked our train tickets when we found that our group had to travel in two different trains, because one train had sold out. Our trip to Milan was pretty uninterrupted, as Swiss railways are probably some of the most efficient in the world. Once we arrived in Milan, we boarded our train to Cinque Terre. However, we were asked to get off and Italian Railways announced a two hour delay with no real explanation why. We decided to spend the time in the station’s food court, as we had no choice but to wait (or spend additional money) for a bus ticket. Some of us then decided to leave the train station to see Milan. When we returned to the station we found that the train was gone. At that moment, we learned something pretty important about Italian trains –a two-hour delay could actually be just one hour. After extensive negotiations with customer service, we managed to have our tickets validated for a train that was leaving at noon (although we were now 4 hours behind schedule). I was surprised at how easily you can change travel plans with just a quick stamp on your ticket.  Moreover, it seemed common for people to board different trains in order to transcend obstacles that interfere with you getting from point A to point B. Apparently most train tickets stay valid for 4 hours, at least for TrainItalia, so although we were behind schedule we did not have to spend any more money.

For me, it’s a love/hate relationship with the rail travel in Europe. The ease of travel between larger distances, like our trips to Venice and Basel, were made much easier than they would have been if we were driving a car. However, the lack of freedom and the strict compliance with departure times is something with which a car dependent American has difficulty dealing.

We all have had a wonderful time in Riva, and it’s going to be a new adventure with our short stay in Freiburg. It’s been interesting to see how the people of Switzerland and Italy go about travelling, so now it’s time to see the German side of transportation.

Guest Contributor:  Charles Cubberly

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