My wife and I had booked a 1 month holiday to visit Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic staying in 10 towns/cities and in varied types of accommodation.

Firstly, we had to travel via the “human zoo” which is Eurostar’s check in at St Pancras allowing 77 minutes for the process.

  • Stage 1: Join the huge queue snaking back and forth across the concourse to validate our tickets.
  • Stage 2: Join next queue to pass through the over-thorough security process.
  • Stage 3: Join queue for the British border force check.
  • Stage 4: Join queue for the EU immigration and passport stamp.
  • Stage 5: At last, we reach the crowded waiting area – where thankfully we get a seat.
  • Stage 6: Join the final queue to board the train.

The Eurostar journey was uneventful and we arrived in Brussels on time at 12.05. But, as the escalators to the connecting subway were closed off for “work”, we had to join the huge throng leaving the platform and go through the busy part of the station. We still managed to catch our DB connection which was due to depart at 12.25. It was then delayed by 20 minutes to deal with a trespasser on the tracks ahead. Although we reached Frankfurt Flughafen 20 minutes late this was still ok for our 44 minute onward connection to Passau, due to arrive there at 20.26. All went well until Nurnberg where we waited for an overdue connection off a train from Berlin due to a probable suicide on that route. The connection from Berlin was held as our train was the last one on to Vienna. We eventually departed 80 minutes late; although it was clear we would also be delayed further, as we were then diverted via Ingolstadt on the Munich route, due to some unstated problem on the line ahead around Regensburg. We finally reached our destination at Passau at 23.00, 154 minutes late.

Our next journey to Melk and on to Vienna was fine, where the 72 hour and 24 hour travel passes were excellent value for money.

Leaving Vienna the CD local train from Vienna Floridsdorf was already in the platform well before departure time and empty. The driver confirmed it was starting from there as the previous part of its journey was cancelled due to train failure. We then reached Znojmo on time. Our next journeys from Znojmo to Jihlava and onto Telc were all ok and on time. Surprisingly, there were no buses or taxis available at Telc to take you into the town centre or nearby.

Disaster Then Struck

On the next day, 28th June, while emerging from a restaurant in Telc I fell badly, broke my left arm and injured my left leg! I was taken back to Jihlava 30 miles away by ambulance which cost me £500 cash (hoping the travel insurers pay for this!). A pity I did not fall over in Jihlava instead of in Telc! I then stayed in hospital for 5 days, (mainly free with my GHIC card, as no payment was requested except for the sturdy harness they put my arm in). My wife then visited me daily by train from Telc. The medical care was good, but the food was awful and only the doctors and the younger nurses spoke any English. I was then discharged from hospital on the 3rd of July and my wife booked us into another hotel in Jihlava, having cancelled the accommodation for our next 2 stop-overs. By the 6th July our travel insurers had confirmed that I did not need to be airlifted back to the UK. We then had to decide what to do with the rest of our holiday.

We decided to resume our two remaining booked hotels using our existing train tickets. However, we had to pay £140 for a taxi for the first leg to Ceske Budejovice £140. This was due to the near impossibility of boarding by the steep steps onto the 1960’s era coaches used on the 2-hourly Brno-Pilsen regional service! Ceske Budejovice was a lovely town, and by then I could walk 100 yards at a time with the crutch supplied by the hospital before I needed to sit down. The weather was quite hot – reaching 35 degrees C at times.

I discovered that our planned journey home on 12 July had changed considerably, due to extensive engineering works in two locations in Germany. This was from Regensburg to Nurnburg (again!) and from Koln to Aachen, and certainly not planned when I bought the tickets in March. Our intended journey on 2 ICEs from Regensburg to Brussels taking 7 hours would then be 10 hours instead! I then phoned DB and was told that the cheap advance tickets would still be valid but I would have to make new on-line seat reservations myself, and pay 9.80 E for the two of us! No, he could not do it for us!

I did this easily enough, and also changed my Eurostar booking on line too, as our 2-hour connection into the 17.51 departure was definitely no longer possible, and changed it to the 18.51, free of charge as I was giving 7 days notice.

I also used the CD, DB, and Eurostar website pages to book wheelchair assistance from Ceske Budejovice to Regensburg via Linz on 9 July, and Regensburg to London St Pancras on 12 July. I was told by CD they could not help me as they had no wheelchairs at Ceske Budejovice. I then managed to walk slowly to the platforms via the lifts. I was pleasantly surprised that wheelchairs were provided at both Linz and Regensburg, and the staff very helpful with us and our 2 suitcases.

The Nightmare Journey Home

On 12 July we arrived by taxi at Regensburg Hbf in good time for the 07.18 Regional train to Nurnberg (Very few direct trains were running due to single line working, and almost no ICE trains at all). However, every train on the departure board was late and our train eventually departed at 08.00. Station staff were helpful at both Regensburg and Nurnberg, where we then found that all ICE services were running late, in some cases by 1-2 hours. When finally boarding our 10.30 departure at 11.20, I found a DB employee who said it was all due to weather, storms with trees on tracks, and melting rails with speed limits imposed. Other passengers were complaining about DB and were clearly unhappy.

My planned connection for Brussels was going to be at Siegburg/Bonn instead of Frankfurt, due to some apparent computer preference. However the serious late running was guaranteed to miss the connection for Brussels at Siegburg, so I suggested to staff that I be helped at Koln Messe/Deutz and Koln Hbf instead. They agreed to this and re-booked assistance accordingly which all worked efficiently. Just as well as the change between ICEs and local trains at Messe/Deutz involved wheeling me out of the station, along a street and into another entrance 300 yards away! For the 2nd time I emailed Eurostar and said we would now also miss the 18.51, so could they help us and re-book us on the last train from Brussels for London at 20.56. They replied no, but said we should just present ourselves and seek further assistance in Brussels. Then at Koln Hbf, an empty ICE arrived from the sidings as the 16.37 Brussels train was shown running later and later and was possibly stuck somewhere. DB are not very good at admitting the real reasons for these delays. We were then deposited in 1st class, with others who just grabbed any vacant seats. This train finally left at 17.10 with an hour-long diversion, reversing at Rheydt before reaching Aachen.

Having reached Brussels at 20.10, staff were urging passengers for Eurostar to hurry up but with no wheelchair waiting for me! Our original 7-hour schedule for this journey from Regensburg, then rescheduled for 10 hours had eventually taken 13 hours. We met a lovely Danish/Polish family (resident in Brussels) who boarded at Aachen, one of whom was a rail devotee. At Brussels they offered to push our luggage trolleys and helped me to reach check-in, by 20.20 or so. Eurostar were not busy and we were with the last few to be checked-in. A wheelchair was then provided, and with new boarding cards we were whisked through the usual obstacle course and waiting passengers and were first on the train at around 20.35! At St Pancras we arrived on time at 21.58 and were met with wheelchair assistance for the tortuous route out of the area and fortunately no one else needed the sole lift available.

Having reached the South Eastern HS platforms by 22.10, their barrier staff borrowed the Eurostar wheelchair to put us in the rear coach of the 22.20 to Ramsgate. As there is no late connection for Maidstone West off this train at Strood, I asked to be put off at Chatham instead, where there is a taxi rank outside. The conductor helped to offload us at Chatham, where we were met with a ramp (clearly they thought I had my own wheelchair), but carried our cases instead and reached the taxi rank before I managed to limp there. We were then loaded into a taxi for the £27 ride to Maidstone, finally getting home at 23.50!

Some Conclusions

While this was a nightmarish journey even without any injuries, I must say the staff of OBB, DB, Eurostar and SE Trains were helpful throughout and could not do enough for us.

On my return, I looked at the DB timetable for that week, with most of the engineering works completed, and almost all the trains running on time. Had I done the same journey a month later and not had an accident, the journey might have been more according to our plan.

German Railways once had a good reputation for punctuality. During the last decade there were cuts to the budget for maintenance of the infrastructure, which led to a “crumbling edge of quality”. Long distance trains then struggled to keep to time due to more speed restrictions and equipment failures along their route. During the past few years they have been playing” catch-up” and are now having to spend a lot more on extensive repairs and renewals to return the network up to a decent standard.

Ian McDonald