I have a reputation as a blogger that gets things done – I don’t just have opinions on things, I try to transform my thoughts into practical action. Campaigns such as Gender Balanced Commission and the Atheist Bus Campaign have grown from posts on this blog.
So when @kattebel stated in a tweet that it was time for a campaign to do with Europe’s railways it got me thinking… for essentially I have been doing plenty of ranting about the state of train travel, but have not turned any of this into practical action. I also know quite a bit about railways, which should help.
But what should I actually do?
That’s where it gets really complex. No immediate, one-off, amusing or populist web initiative springs to mind here. For this is much more difficult. There needs to be a coherent voice for Europe’s rail passengers, an organisation that can stand up for passengers on international routes when things go wrong, and can advocate pro-passenger policies. There is the need for an organisation that can make the case for cross-border passenger transport from a citizen perspective and – importantly – not from the perspective of the rail companies (who want to defend their market positions) or from the trade unions or member state governments (who want to defend the numbers of people employed on the railways). The failure of Railteam is surely enough to demonstrate that company led approaches don’t work – a single booking system would aid passengers, but who actually argued for that forcefully?
I’ve done a little research about the organisations in the sector, and have come across the European Passengers’ Federation. Problem is that it’s not a federation of passengers, but a federation of national organisations. It seems to have one employee based in Gent, and the organisation has a completely uninformative website. The German organisation ProBahn might be a model to follow – you can become an individual member of the organisation, but once more its website is quite horrid. Best seems to be the Allianz pro Schiene whose website is comprehensive and informative, and even has a good page on Europe-wide travel, but this is essentially a German organisation.
Do I have the energy, as a simple rail passenger with a blog, to get myself involved in any of this?
One very rough idea… some system to aggregate Tweets about the state of the railways, on the rough outline of NBC’s Winter Olympics tracker? Size of the blocks shows more or less where the issues are?
A few more ideas via Twitter – to do EU versions of BahnTweets, and the delay system from das Bahnblog, maybe mapping all of it in the same way as #uksnow Map? In the meantime I have registered railrights.eu to use as the domain name for whatever this project becomes… In the meantime I’ve also checked BEUC’s page about rail travel rights – no update since November 2006! A friend has also suggested that I network together as many people I can find that use BahnCard 100s.
For me, the single most important issue is a simple, unified booking system for European trains. It is nearly impossible (even for people at the ticket desks) to find for example the cheapest train ticket from Brussels to Warsaw, Vienna or Rome within a specified time period (say “the cheapest ticket during during week of Easter”)
@James – good points, and a focus on London – Paris – Brussels – Köln – Amsterdam – Frankfurt makes sense as there’s such a large amount of international traffic on those routes.
@Brad – I’m not opposed to that in principle. Just depends on how much work would be entailed in all of this!
Interesting post – but does any of it apply to Poland, where I am? My impression of old
EU to new EU rail services is “discombobulated”. I’d take the trail out of
Poland if I knew it wouldn’t be a huge headache…
Jon, some ideas…
You could focus your own site, at least from the start, on international services on the PKBAL lines. After all, those services are the ones most likely to be used regularly by your existing readers. Tweets from users would highlight delays in realtime, and once you have a critical mass you could also aggregate the figures like on bahnblog. That way you could highlight particular trains which are regularly late, to discourage people from relying on them. The site would also provide an instant service for passengers on thalys, eurostar, etc. services, and those meeting people off them.
Link in to existing national stuff, because the more such sites become known, the more will be set up and the stronger they’ll get. Some of the German ones you’ve already got. In Belgium sites like navetteurs.be are already providing alternative punctuality stats based on passengers’ info, unlike the SNCB ones. TreinTramBus.be and ACTP.be also run their own surveys of passenger views. In the UK, there’s uktra.in plus official equivalents.
Then, most important, a ‘what to do when things go wrong’ advice section. Clear info on how to get compensation (EU, national and operator systems), who to go to, where to find info, and suggest some diy work-arounds for those who have to travel during disruption. Highlight the dodges rail companies employ to avoid paying compensation to forewarn people.
There could also be a method to collect fare information to help users find cheaper tickets, although I’m not sure how to do that without a broad-ranging survey.
As mentioned early on Twitter we shouldn’t forget to aggregate experiences with the various trains around Europe. At least in Germany I’m a sad user of the #bahnfail (#trainfail) hashtag. And it seems that I’m not alone there.