Monday, September 7, 2009

Riding the rails

Meetings in Rotterdam today, since I'm sans-auto it was a good chance to try out the new train pass and make the appointments by rail and public transport.
Journey planning starts with the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) Rail website, determining the best way to get from Maastricht up to Rotterdam (a two-hour car drive). The query engine is straightforward but was broken this morning, returning "No route found" to all proposals. No matter, there are only two main rail junctions to the north, and the information kiosk at the main station confirmed one change at Eindhoven. They said the train left at 8:37, and it was already 8:33, so I did a (slow) sprint over to Track 3, only to find an empty train that didn't leave until 8:54.
Launch errors aside, I enjoy taking the blue and yellow Dutch trains. The Sneltreins and InterCity coaches run fast and on-time, and the connections are always impressively coordinated. I generally find that I only need to walk across the platform to find the next train waiting for me. The trains are quiet (electric) and smooth, so I catch up on writing, typing, or reading with little difficulty. The cabins are clean and moderately full of students and older commuters, surging on and off at major stops. The round-trip fare, 25 euro at 40% discount, was reasonable considering the total four-hour trip out and back. The discount is supposedly good Off-Peak hours only, but nobody has been able to tell me what that includes yet. The platform helpers tell me that there are no "peak hours" in summer, but that almost every weekday minutes is a peak hour in winter. I'll find out soon.

Once I arrived at Rotterdam Centraal, the next jump was to Erasmus MC. Not physically far on a map, but there are a bewildering number of options to get to the institution. Metro, tram, bus, are all outlined on the Rotterdamse Elektrische Tram (RET) website.
Local transit uses strippenkarten for access, but they are encouraging use of the new OV-chipkaart. I got a yellow OV-Kaart from NS, but it didn't look like the blue RET-style one that I needed. Further, it turned out that my Maastricht strippenkart wasn't transferable to Rotterdam's local system. Although tram 8 looked like the best bet, I arrived in the city center with only ten minutes to spare before the scheduled meeting and I could have spent an hour figuring out the last bit. So, regretfully I cheated and flagged a taxi for the last leg (10 euro).
Nonetheless, an encouraging trip, and it will get better with practice. And I managed to stay on the correct side of the train-split in Sittard, avoiding the side trip to Heerlen. 'A good day, overall.


gvg said...

40% discount during off-peak periods:
•On weekdays, you receive a 40% discount on train fare for journeys made after 9.00 in the morning.
•At weekends and in the months of July and August, you are entitled to the 40% train fare discount all day.
•On the following days in 2009 the 40% discount also applies before 9.00 a.m.: 25 december t/m 1 januari 2010
•You receive the 40% discount on Singles, Day Returns, Weekend Returns, Day Travel Cards and 5 Return tickets.
•The 40% fare discount applies to both 1st and 2nd class.

On your way before 9.00 a.m.?
•You then buy two tickets: one for the standard fare valid to the first station from which the train departs after 9.00 a.m. And one ticket which is valid from this station with the usual 40% reduction.

All from the NS site with some additions from the Dutch NS site as the English part listed 2008 dates for the holidays when the discount-pass is also valid.

Dave Hampton said...

That's just what I was looking for, thanks! I'm surprised that 5 pm late-afternoon rush hour times are not excluded, but I'll probably not be traveling between 7 and 9 much except to catch an early plane.

I didn't consider taking 1st class, I got a "Silent" second class car that was nice for reading and writing and need to assess what I'd get for the extra fare.

Thanks again, this was a great help!

gvg said...

You get more (leg)room in 1st class.

Besides that it depends on the carriage you're in. The NS has about 3 different carriages (from 3 different era. 80's, 90's and 00's) They are all different. So on some you get seats that you can tilt backwards a tiny bit (80's and 90's). On others (the 00's) there are 220V wall sockets you can plug your phone or laptop into.

As far as I know it's anyone's guess which carriage type (it's always one type) the train consists of.

Dave Hampton said...

Someone said that you might get internet access on some trains? Unless I get peanuts, though, leg room just isn't enough...

gvg said...

Last I heard internet should be available from the beginning of 2010, but knowing ProRail and the NS that probably means at the end of 2010 if we're lucky.

It's still unclear if it will be a 'free' service (and if it is, I'm sure the ticket price will rise accordingly).