Train Late? No Problem. Just Take Her Cross-Country to Catch Up.

TUES., OCT. 15 — I’m in luck. This train has wi-fi (pronounced WEE-fee here) and, while it’s quite slow, it is getting the job done. Train 40473 is a City Night Line train operated by Deutsche Bahn. It’s taking me overnight from Copenhagen to Cologne, where I’ll connect with a high-speed Thalys train to Paris. One night there, then it’s American Airlines back to New York City and an overnight Amtrak ride to Jacksonville for a semi-annual meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, better and certainly more easily known as NARP.

As even semi-regulars here know by now, NARP’s mission is to be an advocate for more and better and faster trains in the U.S. My experience over the last two-and-a-half weeks here on French, Swiss, German and Norwegian trains confirms what we already knew: When it comes to passenger rail, the U.S. has a helluva long way to go!

For example, earlier tonight, while waiting for this train on the platform at the central station in Copenhagen, in a bit less than a half hour, nineteen trains arrived or departed. Some were short-haul trains serving the surrounding areas, but most were heading to or coming from cities 100 kilometers away or more. Sometimes a lot more. 

Basically, Europeans can go from almost anywhere to almost anywhere by rail. And they can almost always do it quickly, conveniently and inexpensively.  

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WED., OCT 16 — Well! Because of “signal problems”, my Copenhagen-Cologne train was running late, so while I was asleep, it was decided they would simply by-pass Cologne and Dusseldorf and go straight to Amsterdam. 

(Wow! That’s like Amtrak saying there’s been a washout of track east of Spokane, so they’re going to re-route the Empire Builder directly to Emeryville and send all the passengers back up to Seattle on the Coast Starlight!) 

“Ziss iss nut ein problem,” said our car attendant. Those of us connecting to other trains in Cologne and Dusseldorf should get off in Dortmund and board local trains there which, we were assured, would get us to either of those two cities in time to make our original connections. 

And indeed they were right. At this very moment, I’m sitting in my funky-but-somehow-charming room in a small Parisian hotel with two thoughts on my mind: (1) Damn! This is my last night in Europe and (2) I’ll bet the food is good in that little bistro on the corner.