London to Groningen – across Europe by Train

Putting my bum where my mouth is, when invited to speak on arts and sustainability at the opening of the Noorderzon Festival in Groningen, I though I’d better go by train rather than plane. NB I didn’t look at a map before making this decision…. Groningen is a long way from London

Here is how it went:

From: London, South East UK
To: Groningen, North Netherlands
Distance: 500km approx
When: August 2009.
Via: Eurostar to Brussels then Intercity.
Alternative: Train to a London airport, flight to Amsterdam, train to Groningen

Summary: Train takes about twice as long (all day), costs about the same or less (EUR107 first class eachway) but is more pleasant and productive.

Details: The conclusion of my experiment is that it is fully possible to productively travel across Europe on business by train but that it requires careful planning and if planning for someone else very clear instructions – train systems are optimised for national rather than international travellers and are less accomodating of ignorance than airports.

Some notes:
1. The subtle changes in the way that platforms are arranged and information presented (particularly related to changes in schedules) across Europe make it difficult for unfamiliar travellers to quickly identify which train to take.

2. A simple google map of the route with changes marked and key city names highlighted makes understanding staff, friendly passengers and announcements much easier (google maps application for Blackberry is great)

3. The ability to use of a first class Eurostar ticket to travel first class on any (non-thalys) train makes an incredible difference – first class is quiet and comfortable and not needing to purchase individual tickets eliminates much hassle.

4. Travelling by train requires some thinking and planning of the route as well as the destination. Unlike plane travel which is point to point, train travel remains more like the ‘real’ travelling we used to do. This is the ‘price’ paid for avoiding all of the horrible waiting, queues, metal detectors and fear found in airports.

5. Interesting to note that we are willing to knowingly wait hours, find and pay for transfers and taxis in airports but get impatient in train stations.

6. Ability to remain in phone contact on trains is a great benefit. Lack of internet on many trains (like planes) is unfortunate but likely to be quickly remedied through proliferation of internet connected phones –
resulting in almost uninterupted business productivity throughout the journey (unlike on planes).

Specific to Noorderzon:
From Groningen to Rotterdam takes 3 hours even with perfect connections. Rotterdam to Brussels is 1h45 and the connection v.tight (I missed it and had to wait one hour) thus the non-eurostar part of the journey is a minimum of 5 hours and probably 6 hours (everyone I spoke to the night before it was 4 hours)

Post image is of the freak storm which caused the closing of the first night of the Festival (I did my presentation in the pub)… an example of the imact of climate change on arts?

Go to Arcola Energy