Coping with train delays and cancellations: Zug – Antwerp when everything goes wrong

My sister lives ten minutes by foot from Zug Railway Station in Switzerland. I live ten minutes by foot from Antwerp-Central Railway Station in Belgium. I work on trains, changing trains doesn’t intimidate me. I like train travel. So I always go by train. But often, it doesn’t go smooth in spite of Deutsche Bahn‘s and SBB-CFF-FFS‘ good reputations. In fact, it can really go wrong.

As happened a while ago, in December 2020

My schedule was straightforward. IR 70 from Zug to Zurich HB. ICE 74 to Frankfurt Main Hbf. ICE 14 to Brussels-North, IC 4516 to Antwerp-Central.

But that didn’t happen. IR 70 got delayed due to damage to the tracks so I missed ICE 74. Which turned out not to exist and only depart from Freiburg in Germany (not Fribourg in Switzerland). I by then I also knew ICE 14 cancelled its Frankfurt stops and started in Cologne

So I looked on the apps. I could wait two hours in Zurich for the next same itinerary. But I decided I wanted to move. 

I also decided I wanted to reach Aachen as soon as possible. There I could take or an ICE to Brussels, or the local NMBS / SNCB train to Verviers and then onwards to Leuven or Brussels and to Antwerp. Or, perhaps, a Thalys, if the train manager feels like it. Because he or she isn’t obliged to take me on board, as we learned with the ÖBB Nightjet incident.

So I started with IC 280 to Stuttgart. There, the DB suggested three options.

  1. Travelling via Dortmund, Venlo, Eindhoven and Breda.
  2. Travelling via Cologne.
  3. Changing in Frankfurt and hop on the ICE 12 to Brussels.

I chose 2, the closer to home, the better. 

Karma’s a b*tch

Bút! The ICE 518 was cancelled and replaced by ICE 2912. Luckily with the same stops and the same schedule. But yet again a cancelled train. 

In Cologne I could take a regional train to Aachen and wait there, but I decided to wait in Köln and have stroll there. 

I waited for ICE 12. In Cologne Main Station ICE 12 divides itself into the ICE 12 to Brussels and the ICE 122 (12-2, clever huh?) to Amsterdam. 

The ICE 12 was already delayed because the train from Basel SBB was delayed.

Sidenote: I should have researched that option. The decoupling of the train caused some issue and delayed the ICE 12 with extra delay. I regretted not travelling to Aachen, Welkenraedt and so further on. 

But okay, we left. With 30 minutes delay. 

What to do in such cases?

Delays and cancellations happen. Problems with the tracks, the overhead contact lines, the rolling stock.

Danny and I work on trains and we are big advocates of train travel. But we do realize it’s not always easy. Not only ticketing, as Danny made a case, but also while travelling.

So what to do? How to react?

Firstly prepare your voyage.

  1. Have an idea where you’re travelling to, geographically. Places are more than names on a ticket, they’re actual locations. It’s the same with a road trip. GPS (sat nav) is fine, but knowing where you’re going, which major cities you’re passing is better. Open Railway Map is an open source zoomable railway map of the world.
  2. Start your journey with a fully charged phone. Have a charger  or – better – a power bank with you. Also know your priorities. Perhaps it is not the time to watch something you downloaded from Netflix.
  3. Have mobile internet. Don’t rely on free wifi, have mobile internet. Maybe that means having a local sim card.  
  4. Have the apps of the train operators on your phone. I wouldn’t have had the information I had without the DB Navigator app and the SBB app. That helped the decision making. 
  5. Dare to make decisions. Option A, or option B? Perhaps option C. Make a choice.
  6. Obviously don’t panic. It doesn’t help. Don’t be a tortoise on its back. Gather the information and work with it. Know your priorities. Getting to your destination. Not that refund. That’s something for later. 
  7. Be nice to people. Any train or rail staff can’t undo the calamities. They can only help you with travel alternatives. Or they can’t help you. Don’t expect them to know what happened to you before you tell them. They can’t perform miracles.
  8. You won’t be at your destination as scheduled. So let go of that idea. And wait for complaints about refunds to when you can reach the customer service. 

Epilogue

It should have been a journey of some 8.30 hours, from 9.29 AM to 6.05 PM. It was 11 hours. I was home just before 9PM. Urgh. Not fun. 

I travelled first class as usual when I visit my sister. It gives me rest, it gives me comfort and I trust the passengers more when I go to the loo or the Bordbistro. Now it ensured I always had a seat. Corona related travel restrictions helped too for having a seat. 

Previously on this trip

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