Short haul European flights are often affected by weather in the winter months. On a recent trip, it was essential to arrive in the Swiss Alps on time; therefore, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience making the journey by rail and see how easy it is to travel beyond the core high speed network that Eurostar connects to.
My journey took me from London to the Swiss town of Verbier.
It turns out that it’s not as easy as you may think to arrange, unless you have a bit of extra help from Google, Loco2 and a friendly, Swiss train conductor.
Planning Hurdle 1: Verbier doesn’t have train station.
I’m a transport planner so I did what a transport planner does – I looked on Google Maps for the nearest station, Le Châble it turns out, down in the valley below Verbier.
Planning Hurdle 2: Google Maps doesn’t know about TGV Lyria.
Unfortunately, when I asked Google Maps the way to Le Châble, it routed me on an overnight train journey through Germany. This didn’t seem right, luckily I knew that TGV Lyria operated from Paris so I looked again, this time on Loco2.com and found the route that I wanted, during the day, to Le Châble.
Clicking to buy the ticket, I progressed with great satisfaction to the next stage in the booking process only to be told that the tickets I wanted could not be confirmed and that I should choose a different ticket or a different date of travel – so I gave up and went to Eurostar.
Planning Hurdle 3: Eurostar doesn’t sell tickets to Le Châble. This journey is doomed…
Deciding that it must be impossible to buy a through ticket, I decided to split the journey and buy the high speed tickets online whilst they were available. I was now the proud owner or a Eurostar ticket from London to Paris (Gare du Nord) and a TGV Lyria ticket from Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Lausanne. I had spent too long looking at train websites so I just took a risk and assumed that I could buy the Swiss domestic tickets whilst on the journey – I’m just that sort of transport daredevil.
Planning Hurdle 4: Getting across Paris.
Despite having a through ticket to Lausanne, via Paris, the ticket doesn’t cover the connection across the city. Only by searching for the small print on Eurostar will you find that you need to buy a ticket for the Parisian RER. I still don’t understand why this very simple add-on isn’t included in the ticket or why Eurostar can’t stretch to including an RER token with the journey. Having paid £236 for my journey to Lausanne, this just seems rather cheap: you can buy the ticket on the train but this is not the integrated experience advertised.
Planning Hurdle 5: These Swiss domestic tickets.
Once onboard the TGV Lyria, after a truly ridiculous episode finding our seats, I looked at the options for tickets beyond Lausanne. At this point I looked closely and realised that I had 8 minutes to change trains at Lausanne. As luck would have it, the conductor entered the carriage and looked to be carrying a fancy machine – he must be able to sell me a ticket! He sure could: 1 ticket from Lausanne to Le Châble for £25-ish, he even confidently told me the platform my connection would depart from (read my blog about introducing Swiss timetabling in Britain here).
Planning Hurdle 6: Getting up the hill to Verbier.
Having just made the connection at Lausanne, I checked the onward journey from Le Châble to Verbier. For a moment I was excited when Google Maps told me I could take a cable car straight up from Le Châble to Verbier – what more fitting a way to end a blog on passenger experience than to sail up the valley on the cable car, seeing Verbier approach over the tree tops? Well, sadly it was closed when the train pulled in, so I got the bus, for another £4.30-ish.
Looking back over this process, it does seem a shame that it is not possible to book a simple trip online. There may be vendors out there that I don’t know of that can sell a through ticket in Europe; and I do know that Deutsche Bahn would have probably planned me a route from my local station to Verbier with ease; however, most passengers attempting to book this journey would not be familiar with these options and would rely on these British sources. Until the only operator of trains from London to continental Europe is able to sell you a ticket to where you actually want to travel to, the average passenger will struggle through this process and then just book a flight.
As for the journey, stand by for the next blog.
Author: Liam Henderson