European Rail Travel: Online Ticketing Experiences

Francesco writes in to compare his experiences of buying online rail tickets in Italy and The Netherlands and makes suggestions which could make the services easier to use.

Hi to all you Navigators,

I would bring to your attention a missing piece of the Dutch railway company.
First of all let me tell you that, since I am Italian, I really appreciate the railway service over year. In Italy the only train feature you can rely on is that they are constantly late, that is somehow not so disappointing once you get used :P
That aside.. I don’t have so much experience about rail travelling but I think the Dutch system is pretty ok but for one aspect (always according to my experience): the electronic ticket purchase (ARGH)
So far the mechanism is the following:
– you go on
– you chose your trip
– you decide to buy the ticket
– you pay it … and now comes the annoying thing

Except for the not ecological approach of the matter, that is anyway important, what if that very night (01:00 am) you buy your ticket the printer decide she doesn’t want to work?
or… since you are not warned about the matter you need to print it (or you didn’t pay attention to that before) and you realise that just after you made your purchase.

I think that there is room to improve this aspect, I actually have an idea, based on the Italian Railway system. I am going to tell you:

– you go on or
– you chose your trip… and then come the nice dummy-proof workaround
– you decide which kind of ticket you want

Basically you can decide to print your e-ticket but what is important, at this stage, is not the evidence of a piece of paper but a code that the system give to you for your trip, and that is the actual evidence you paid and you have the right to travel.

You can receive your code on the email/printable paper, indeed,
You can take note of it on the cheeseburger paper that left from you lunch (won’t smell so good though)
you can receive an SMS on your mobile with the code and the travel details.

As soon the conductor bump in to you have 2 options to prove your right to have that sit:
– you can give him the email or the cheeseburger paper
– you can communicate verbally your code and your name

At this point he check on his palm if the data matches and it print a kind of receipt, like the one you get from the grocery stores.


At this point I don’t really know how happen the synchronization of the travellers data with the palm of the conductor, probably it happen in realtime thanks to a communication system between train and database and the between train and conductor’s palm; still, I think that if we Italian people (whom don’t see a train arrive in time since 1943) achieved that it could be at the level of every one with a little effort.

I hope this post can be useful and help the ns to improve it’s service and make us travellers happier.



*** Opinions and comments made in this article are not necessarily those of Sight of the Navigator ***

One Response to “European Rail Travel: Online Ticketing Experiences”

  1. chris January 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Francesco, you are absolutely right. This should be done and will draw more people to using the e-tickets.
    It was possible to do this on busses a while ago, but i forgot if they still have that system. Basically you get a SMS with a code or icon and the driver just needs to scan it. Works a treat!

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