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Rail Europe Website Blues...

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

I'm traveling to Europe in late May ('19) for about 18 days and wish to travel via rail for the majority of my travel. Therefore, I stumbled upon Rail Europe to help me gain a better understanding of the cost of individual tickets versus a pass, what trains require reservations and which routes are not covered by a rail pass. Over the past few weeks, I've visited the site 6 or so times. For all but one visit, I was asked to spend a little time completing a survey. If I agree, they instruct me to 'keep that particular window open' so the survey can be completed once I'm finished using their site. Anyway, I thought it was quite unusual to be asked to complete a survey after almost every visit. After about 4 visits, I agreed to provide my input once.

In terms of the survey feedback, I was somewhat critical of how their site was designed and often found it challenging to find accurate and complete information. For example, when reviewing train schedules, with or without a pass, why does it always default to adult? Why not youth or senior or no default at all? In addition, the site sometimes hiccups, one train schedule provides information and another may not. Through chat, I was told by the agent to clear away my temporary internet files to address the issue which had no effect on my results.

My other main concern about the site is receiving accurate information. After I was asked to complete the survey, the site offers you the option to chat with one of their professionals. Earlier this week, I chatted on Monday and Tuesday with Victor and Tony respectively. However, several of their answers to my questions conflicted with one another. For example, Victor said having a Global Pass (through Rail Europe) would require an additional fee traveling on the Golden Pass in Switzerland. However, Tony said the Global Pass does cover the Golden Pass. What's the value of chat if your questions are not answered thoroughly and correctly?

The site is certainly not new as it's been around for more than several years. In other words, in today's marketplace, most companies could not exist without an online presence. Regardless, it's frustrating to peruse and figure out what I need to do to secure the information I'm after. Is it safe to assume that as websites age, it typically improves in terms of usability? So has it improved over the last few years? Either through incremental improvements and/or based on customer feedback? If not, why not? Is Rail Europe seriously interested in the survey data it collects in terms of the layout and design? A skeptic may conclude the sales department requires the customer service department to survey site visitors but little is done with this potentially valuable input.

If you have doubts about my experience, please don't take my word for it. Read the Google Reviews (and other online reviews) which allows readers to rate the Rail Europe site and provide additional information and context to help other travelers. Many of the reviews are unfavorable. Some of the complaints include poor site design, lack of accurate information, and very challenging service regarding booking questions and disputes. In addition, if you review the sites' forums, you will quickly realize many visitors to Rail Europe have many questions about planning their rail travel in Europe. I've realized rail travel in Europe is more complicated than it was 25 years ago but there are hundreds of separate travel forums on site to read. Often, each individual forum contains many questions and responses. It leads me to believe the site needs work if Rail Europe needs to heavily rely on forums and chats to clarify information and answer questions.

In addition, my friend is also planning a rail trip to Europe this summer and also spent hours on this site trying to secure critical information about his trip and had minimal success. It was like two steps forward and one back. For some who may think this might be user error, this individual is bright and quite adept at reading and reviewing websites as a critical part of his profession which includes understanding corporate policies and practices, 401K information and other complex financial information.

For any doubters who don't think a survey is a usual occurrence on this site, access Rail Europe and peruse it for 5 or so minutes to see if the survey message appears. There's a strong chance it will appear, if not the first visit then definitely on the second and so on and so on.

To summarize, this site does provide some useful information on rail travel in Europe. Without the ability to call Rail Europe with questions, the online version is the place to start while chats and forums may help too. However, be forewarned that perusing the site to obtain the information you need will often be time-consuming and challenging. And once you obtain that information, confirm it is correct before making a big purchase.


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