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Thomas Cook Is Killing Its 140-Year-Old European Train Guide

Aug 30, 2013 7:06 am

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End of an era, surely, but there’s nothing that can quite take the place of print for browsing and unexpected discoveries.

— Jason Clampet

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Four members of the Scot's Guards pose for a photograph next to a new Eurostar train, during a media event in central London. Andrew Winning / Reuters


After 140 years, the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable – the so-called “bible of train travel” – is no more. The August 2013 edition (the 1,526th in its long history) is the last, as the travel company withdraws from guidebook publish to “concentrate on its core products”.

Many train travellers will feel the loss. Nothing beats flicking through those printed pages, enjoying the feeling that you could just put a pin in any one of them and head off. Train specialist Mark Smith, of Seat61.com, says current online journey planners can’t replace the comprehensive printed version. “The Thomas Cook timetable lays out the whole train service on each route, much as a map lays out the landscape. Using an online journey planner is like looking at that map through a keyhole,” he says. “You can easily find the thrice-weekly Paris-Moscow Express in the ‘Cook Book’, for example, but without already knowing on which days it runs, you’ve only a three in seven chance of finding it using a journey planner.”

There is talk of resurrecting the printed format – with the current compliers possibly setting up their own company to take it forward – but, what other alternatives does a train traveller have? Here are three other ways to check train timetable information in Europe. You can share your own preferred methods below by adding a comment. And let us know if you will you miss the guide, or have you already moved on to another format.

Check Bahn.de

A vital online resource for train travel in Europe is German Railways site bahn.de/en, where you can check timetables for trains running across the continent. Note that you will have to use local European spelling of place names (Wien for Vienna for example). Further tips on how to use the site can be found on Seat61.com and RickSteves.com. German Railways also has an app, DB Navigator.

Try the Eurail app

Designed for InterRail and Eurail Pass holders, the free Rail Planner app (iPhone/Android) has been downloaded 30,000 times since launching in February, meaning it is reaching 25% of pass holders, with customers from the United Kingdom, Germany and Norway being the biggest users. The app includes timetable information for trains across Europe and, most importantly, works offline, so users can turn off roaming and relax, without fears of running up a huge mobile bill. While it does have limitations, it covers more routes than the company’s printed booklet.

Individual websites and PDFs

Head to the train company’s website: Tren Italia, Swiss rail etc. Some sites, including France’s SNCF, allow you to print PDFs. You can also get printed timetables from timetables.ch, although some companies are phasing these out.

Capitaine Train and Loco2

It’s early days but French start-up Capitaine Train has recently secured extra funding and is moving forward in its quest to be the leading train-booking site in Europe. It’s already built up a fanbase by being more user-friendly than SNCF (which also has an annoying tendency to automatically redirect UK users to Rail Europe). It is built as a journey planner, however, so you have to enter your proposed trip dates, rather than being able to simply browse reams of timetables. It currently only sells tickets for a limited number of companies (including SNCF), but it could be one to watch. UK-based Loco2.com is also riding the same wave; both companies have been able to build their services after the EU took action to allow more competition in the European rail market.

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

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