10

Sometimes, it is desirable to identify a particular train rather than just finding any train that travels to a given destination. For instance, discounted train tickets in Germany are usually valid only on a particular train.

Train station display various information on scheduled trains, and my questions refers to that information. I would like to identify the information relevant for my particular train on such displays. This question is not about how to recognize the train when it is already waiting at the platform (as it might be too late then and I like to wait on the platform before the train arrives).

When travelling by train in e.g. Germany and France, information on trains is displayed along with the unique (per day) number of the train (cf. e.g. this display from Germany, or this one from France).

However, in Switzerland and in Austria, the train number seems to be missing (cf. e.g. the first photo in this article from Switzerland, or this photo from Austria, or this one, also from Austria*).

Now, I might be able to figure out which one is my train (even though it still seems risky to me, if an earlier train to the same destination happens to be delayed) if I know its departure time and its destination. However, especially for the destination, this is unlikely - unless I happen to ride that train all the way until its final destination, neither am I interested in where the train travels to after I got out, nor do I usually even know (at least German online tickets for trains do not indicate the final destination of the booked trains, I would have to specifically retrieve that information from the online itinerary system).

Practical example: When taking an IC train from Mannheim (blue marker in the map below) to Mainz (green marker), depending on the exact time of travel, the final destinations of these trains (red/orange markers) are Düsseldorf, Greifswald, Hamburg-Altona, Magdeburg, Münster, Dortmund, Cologne, and Mainz itself. While many of these are at least roughly on route when extrapolating the path from Mannheim to Mainz, it is, for instance, geographically rather counterintuitive to travel toward Magdeburg or Greifswald (orange markers) when one wants to go to Mainz:

Route from Mannheim to Mainz and some final destinations of trains that you can use for that route

So, even if you know where the final destination displayed for a train is, it is by no means guaranteed you could, without any further info, use that information to determine which train is yours.

Therefore, my primary question is: How are travellers "officially" supposed to identify one's train on such displays in Austria and Switzerland; what's the idea on how to use the information displays there when the train number is not visible?

A secondary question, which is kind-of contained in the above (only if someone happens to know; I think it would improve the answer), is why train numbers are not displayed as well in Austria and Switzerland, as internally, surely they must exist (obviously so for e.g. publicly numbered German trains that cross the border).

*Interestingly, the source page of that Austrian photo also shows various displays from Austria that do show train numbers. So, in Austria, the issue I observed only seems to apply to some stations.

EDIT: While Swiss and Austrian railways may not offer any tickets bound to specific trains, German railways sells such tickets for trips to and through Austria and/or Switzerland. As such, it is usually necessary at some point to identify a particular German train in a Swiss or Austrian station.

EDIT2: Another use case would be travelling in a group where some people board a train at a later time than the others. In such a case, they would need to make sure they are referring to the exactly same train, not just a train around a certain time towards a given place.

  • 4
    Don´t know about Switzerland, but at least in Austria, every station has it´s complete schedule on paper (too), hanging at the wall, and there are all train numbers too. If the display doesn´t show enough, look around a bit and you´ll find it. Displays and print version are usually near each other. – deviantfan Jul 5 '15 at 4:12
  • 1
    @pnuts: "you might be allowed some leeway" - while I have not tried, I would somehow expect to be treated exactly the same as someone who does not have a ticket at all. "a late arrival - if that is possible in Germany!" - while overall, most trains are roughly on time, in most large hubs, you will be able to find at least one or two with a significant delay, and on days when there is some serious issue on any route (happens regularly - damaged train, suicide, landslide, ...), displayed delays of 60 or 80 minutes on those particular routes are not at all unusual. – O. R. Mapper Jul 5 '15 at 9:20
  • 1
    @pnuts At least for Germany that is not true. If you booked a ticket for a train which is on time you are not allowed to take another delayed train on the same route even if it departs at a similar time. – neo Jul 5 '15 at 11:57
  • 2
    @pnuts If you are clearly confused rather than trying to bend to rules almost all DB conductors give you the benefit of the doubt, often even more than officially allowed. – neo Jul 5 '15 at 12:05
  • 1
    @OP A note to your edit: Actually, the Austrian railway company does sell tickets that are limited to be used on one specific train. The offer is called "Sparschiene" and is interesting for travellers as well, as the tickets can be bought online and then be collected from the vending machine right before departure (when starting the journey in Austria) – DCTLib Jul 5 '15 at 12:28
9

The railway structure both in terms of pricing and network is very different in the Alpine countries than in Germany. Broadly speaking in these countries, it's expected that passengers will not plan their journey based on price, but that they'll just show up when they want to travel and take the next appropriate train.

While there is some tariff discretion and there are some discount advance purchase tickets tied to specific trains, these forms play a much smaller role and passengers are allowed to take most any train that is getting them to their destination with most any ticket. Hence the system expects customers to look at the board and find the highest speed train that will get them to their destination. It's expected that customers know the hierarchy (Austria) of fastest to slowest trains and choose accordingly (depending on which are departing next). So the type S, R, RJ, ICE, etc. is deemed more important than the train number. You can read about the Austrian fare exceptions that do require you to take a specific train under the same link.

It's expected that customers generally know routes of trains (likely because there are fewer lines), or can figure out which departure they need based on time since there are fewer major stations, and most of the major stations are terminuses. Otherwise as these railways are generally better staffed than in Germany it's expected that there is staff to help customers find the correct train.

The train numbers ultimately are usually on the train doors, although that might be a bit late if you realize you're in the wrong spot to board a train a short stop in a intermediate station. enter image description here

  • There's a pic. I'm more farmiliar with Austria, can only think of there being an seasonal second R on the line from Linz to Vienna along the Donau instead of the usual route. There are some other examples of the slower trains taking a bit of a detour, but not when there are also more direct trains going to the final destination at the same time of day afaik. – Carl Jul 5 '15 at 0:28
  • This answer is probably as concretely helpful as it will get, even though "that they'll just show up when they want to travel and take the next appropriate train" does not help much when trying to find a specific train to Germany with a ticket already bought in Germany while at a Swiss or Austrian station (see my edit to the question). Nonetheless, the hint that more staff are available at Swiss and Austrian stations is helpful. As usual, I will wait a bit before accepting an answer to see whether anyone else comes up with an even better answer, +1 for now. – O. R. Mapper Jul 5 '15 at 8:50
  • Absolutely, just ask if you're in doubt. Its common for passengers to ask passengers on the platform if they're in the right place, too. – Carl Jul 5 '15 at 15:09
6

While the previous answers justify the reason for it not being there, you can find it. At least for ÖBB trains, head over to the Fahrplan (i.e. the Timetable). These can typically be found around the stations or on the platforms. You will find that every train, even the S-Bahn, has a unique Zug-Nummer (Train Number).

enter image description here

Source (Ignore the yellow circle. It just indicates the train does not operate on a certain day)

  • Nice find, the image – deviantfan Jul 5 '15 at 15:02
5

If you know the type of the train, the departure time and the destination you can uniquely identify a train — I don't know of a single case where two trains to the same destination via different routes depart at the same time. In those cases, the platform is always shown in electronic journey planners (and often on your ticket). If the scheduled platform is changed that is clearly shown at the displays in the station.

Also the displays show all important stops on the way (especially those where you usually change trains), so knowing the destination is usually not needed.

The listed departure times in the station are always the scheduled ones. For delayed trains they add an additional note about the delay but keep the original time.

Additionally, at least for all DB tickets you are never bound to a specific train while inside Switzerland or Austria. You are only required to take that train from the border station on to Germany. But SBB and ÖBB do sell tickets that are bound to a train in their respective countries.

You might also note that at least for Germany, your assertion that the train number is always listed on the departure board is not correct. Your example photo shows multiple such instances, e.g. "S 1" is not the correct number for that train. But in Germany that only happens for trains for which no bounded tickets are sold.

  • "I don't know of a single case ..." - while that may be the case, I think the issue with this kind of reasoning is that as a traveller, I would have to analyse the entire existing schedule to ensure that at any time, not a single such situation exists, including any future versions of the schedule. I usually do assume such situations don't exist, but would I be convinced enough of that guess to risk being fined for travelling on the wrong train, if, contrary to my assumption, there is such a one-off case after all? That's why I'm wondering wheter there is a more definitive indicator. – O. R. Mapper Jul 5 '15 at 12:22
  • 2
    Nonetheless, your remark that DB tickets are not bound to specific trains while in Switzerland or Austria is an important one; you may want to add a reference (such as this one) for that statement to further improve the answer. – O. R. Mapper Jul 5 '15 at 12:31
  • @O.R.Mapper You would see if such situation occurs when looking at the schedule for your specific time and day, so would know before boarding a train. – neo Jul 5 '15 at 12:53
  • @O.R.Mapper I would add a reference if there is an official one but I have never found one. The DB Facebook team is sometimes wrong in edge cases (so I don't like linking them) and the official terms only say something like "You are bound to trains written on your ticket." However, the catch is that they don't sell tickets where a train is written on it in those countries (but only the route). While this is well-known they make no official statement of that kind. – neo Jul 5 '15 at 12:56
  • "they don't sell tickets where a train is written on it in those countries (but only the route)" - that is not quite true; for instance, I am looking at a DB online ticket I once bought that explicitly lists a train number for a EuroCity from Zürich to Italy. The ticket does say (translated): "DB: only valid for listed trains and dates", though without the info from here that Zugbindung does not apply to trains in Switzerland and Austria, I would not have interpreted that statement to have that meaning (I always understood it as: "This DB ticket is only valid ..., regardless of country."). – O. R. Mapper Aug 8 '15 at 10:42
4

At Swiss train stations, there are blue information tables on the platforms that tell, for each long distance train, the train number in addition to the exact composition. They're usually located next to the yellow time tables (apologies for potato quality): enter image description here

Of course, you also find the information in paper timetables, the online timetable and mobile apps, as well as on the trains themselves, as indicated by @Carl.

  • 2
    No need to apologise, that's a lovely potato. – nekomatic Jul 25 '16 at 12:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.