Guide author Steves gives tips for riding the rails in Europe

NEW YORK -The following tips for train travelers in Europe are provided by Rick Steves, author of numerous travel guides, including "Rick Steves' Guide to European Railpasses":

A dining car on a Swiss scenic train.

  • Learn how to use the 24-hour clock in European train timetables. After noon, the Europeans keep going: 13:00, 14:00 and so on. To convert to the 12-hour clock, subtract 12 and add p.m. For example, 16:00 is 4 p.m.
  • European train schedules are free with your rail pass and at most European train stations.
  • They can be purchased inexpensively at some newsstands (in Italy, ask for the orario ferroviario, $5). Schedules also can be obtained on line at

  • Wrestling with the difference between first and second class? Remember, the first and second class cars of any train go at precisely the same speed and arrive at the same time.
  • Confirm your plans in writing with the train station's information desk (for example, write "Torino-Milano 8:50- 10:40; Milano-Verona 13:05- 14:27). Written communication shrinks the language barrier.
  • Ask which train station your train will depart from. Many cities have more than one train station. Paris has six, Brussels has three and even Switzerland's little Interlaken has two.
  • Never assume the whole train is going where you are. Each car is labeled separately because cars are often added and dropped along the journey. Be sure that the city on your car's nameplate is your destination. The nameplate lists the final stop and some -- but not all -- of the stops in between.
  • Clip your luggage to the overhead rack to foil thieves.
  • For safety and comfort on overnight trains, get a couchette -- a berth in a sleeping compartment monitored by an attendant.
  • Reserve a couchette at least a day or two in advance from a local travel agency or any train station. If there are any available, you also can purchase a spot in a couchette from the conductor on the train.

    For about $25, you'll get a pillow, a sheet, a blanket, a berth in a compartment with three to five other people and a decent night's sleep.

  • Europe's most popular point-to-point ride is probably the sleek Eurostar, connecting London and Paris (or Brussels) in three hours.
  • Eurostar's best deal is the second class Leisure Ticket for $119 (50% refundable up to three days before departure). Railpass holders get discounts on Eurostar tickets.

    Call (800) EUROSTAR at Rail Europe or (800) 782-2424 at DER Travel.

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