I’m no expert on traveling by train in Europe. I have to tell you that I’m not a fan of trains. I remember a bad experience as a kid traveling cross country and ever since I really avoid trains as much as possible. I also traveled by train when I was in the service and we had to ride in special cars on the train for service men only. We weren’t allowed to travel with the civilian people.
Having said that I have traveled around Germany by train and I must say I’m a bit less apprehensive about taking the train than before.
You’ll have to determine your own travel needs. I’d recommend that you check out the web sites for Eurail http://www.eurail.com/home and whichever country you planning to travel in. In Germany that would be http://www.bahn.com/i/view/index.shtml pick your language and check them out. I set up an account with Deutsche Bahn then I saved some train schedules between places I was going. I figured that I could retrieve that info on any computer.
Be aware also that you can catch the train at the airport. You may have to catch a shuttle train there but it is free so that works out pretty well. You purchase your ticket and you are on your way. Most of the people in the major areas speak several languages so buying a ticket is pretty painless.
If you know where you are going then train travel is pretty easy. We used the I.C.E. train. Americans call this the Ice train but Germans use the letter pronunciation and it is an E Say Ah train.
In the major towns trains arrive at the same Main Train Station I.C.E. trains arrive usually on the main concourse. S-Bahn and U-Bahn may arrive at different sometime lower level.
You can purchase train tickets on line in Germany, though you’ll need a printer to print the tickets out. The ticket people won’t accept looking at your computer screen copy. This is written in several languages so you won’t make that mistake.
You can also purchase tickets at a kiosk or an automat. I prefer the kiosk because when you purchase tickets out of the automat it gives your change back in ten and twenty penny pieces. I learned to save all my small change and when I had more than I wanted I used it all to purchase tickets out of the automat instead of the kiosk.
For me I found that purchasing tickets at hub or main station a couple days early will save you about € 40 per person. You also get the added benefit of having the schedule of the train you will need to ride. If you reserve seats then this will cost about € 5. In some cases you won’t need to reserve a seat. I only reserved seats when I wanted to make sure I got to Frankfurt a.m Main to catch the plane.
When you are at the train station waiting for your train after you’ve located the correct track you’ll see the arrival and departure times of the train posted on an electronic sign. There will be letters following the train number A. B. C. You’ll need to look at the ground and see that there are corresponding letters painted along the rail. You’ll need to stand in one of those letter spaces as this lets you know where the train will be stopping. In Germany passenger cars are added and taken away during the peak hours.
I now have a smart phone and there is a free app for München transportation. Maybe not the best app around but for my needs it will help me remember which train line I’m on. If you are staying locally and travel back and forth into the city you need to check the names of towns near the end of that route. If your example you are riding on the S-3 train you’ll find that there are usually two trains that travel on that line but they have different towns that they terminate in. If train station is before either of those end towns then you can ride either train. The trains usually arrive about twenty minutes apart.
You will have to take notice of your ticket. There are trains where you need to be in the front or back portion of it as the train will separate along the trip and one part will go to one place and the other will go to another. If you’ve boarded the wrong portion of the train you’ll end up in the wrong place.
The ticket checkers will tell you if you are on the wrong portion of the train.
If you are traveling locally the ticket checkers will check to see if you have a ticket. They won’t check if you are on the right train. Tickets are purchased for zones so the ticket people just make sure you have a ticket.
The police will sometimes board trains in mass. Two or more police will board the train for each car. They will show you their identity card and you need to show them you have a ticket. There is a € 40 fine for not having a stamped ticket. You need to validate your ticket before you board the train. There are little meters everywhere for you to do this.
If you aren’t use to riding backwards then you may want to wait and see which way the train is going to go before sitting down. The seats face both ways on the I.C.E. Trains as well as on the local trains. On the I.C.E. train you can store your luggage between the front and rear facing seats. I travel with camera gear and that is always someplace very close to me. I also keep all my important papers on my person when I travel on the I.C.E. Trains. These trains are the high speed trains across Germany so you may be on them for a few hours at a time. On local trains I keep my camera gear in a non descript bag. I don’t usually take it out on the train. I keep a small point and shoot in a pocket and take photos and sound bites with that camera.
I was fortunate enough to have a motel that was only a block or so from the train station. It was an easy walk to the train and a short ride into München. Also I was fortunate in the fact that the train station was the last town in Zone 1 for travel. That meant I didn’t have to pay extra money to ride into town.