On the Right Track

A Guide to Train Travel in the Czech Republic

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 12.02.2006 21:29:16 (updated on 12.02.2006) Reading time: 6 minutes

Written by Mark Kaufman
for Expats.cz

Perhaps it´s my own misplaced romanticism—or the fact that I´m more vertically gifted than others and subsequently need more leg room—but I find travelling by train to be the best way of getting around the Czech Republic. In the last few years I´ve probably traveled over 15,000 kilometers by train, and I´ve rarely had a bad experience. Although there was the time when I was coming back from Žilina in Slovakia and discovered, to my dismay, that not only my seat reservation, but indeed the carriage itself, did not exist. I spent the six-hour journey to Prague at the “bar” in the dining car, drinking warm beer and trying not to slide off my stool whenever the train rounded a corner. These things happen.

But aside from the occasional phantom seat reservation, the Czech railway network is a reliable means of transport for business or pleasure. Here are a few tips to help you on your way as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Trains, Timetables and Reservations

There are several useful websites with train information and timetables in Czech, English and German. The official Czech Railways (CD) website is at www.cd.cz. Additionally, you can compare train and bus schedules at www.vlak-bus.cz or visit the even more sophisticated transport site at www.idos.cz, which allows you to search train-boat-plane-mass urban transport connections (but not dirigible connections, sadly). All three sites use the same basic search engine for trains, so if you´re only planning a simple rail journey any of them will suffice. (Note: be sure to enter www.idos.cz rather than www.idos.com or you´ll find yourself spirited away to the International Dutch Oven Society homepage.)

Basically there are seven different types of domestic and international trains to choose from. The slower Os and Sp trains are the local yokels of the Czech railway system, connecting small towns and villages with larger transport hubs. The Os trains are often slow enough to get on and off without the train actually stopping and are frequented by weekend cyclists, grandmothers popping over to the next village for shopping and the occasional bored goat. Nevertheless, if you have some time to spare, these journeys can be quite scenic. Chugging around the Beroun valley on a sunny Saturday is a pleasant way to get out of the city for a day.

Next in the railway hierarchy come the faster R (rychlík) and Ex (express) trains connecting larger towns and cities. There usually isn´t much of a difference in speed between the two, although Ex trains are a bit more comfortable and with slightly higher quality velour.

A standard second-class ticket can be used on all of the above-mentioned trains, but if you decide to opt for a bit more speed and comfort you´ll have to pay a supplementary charge (currently 60 CZK). This applies to domestic IC (InterCity) and international EC (EuroCIty) trains. EC trains usually have a dining car where passengers can stock up on overpriced sandwiches and petrified pastries using a variety of currencies (euros are always welcome). Although you can pay the supplementary charge on the train itself, it´s advisable to plan ahead and ask for the EC (ecečka) fare when you buy your ticket. The ticket inspectors—who are often even crustier than the sandwiches—will appreciate it.

The newest recruit to the Czech railways pantheon is the fabled SC (SuperCIty) Pendolino connecting Prague and Ostrava via Pardubice and Olomouc. The Pendolino, an Italian train with state-of-the-art “tilt” technology allowing it to take curves as smoothly as a Lamborghini, was heralded by Czech railway officials as the last word in speed and luxury. However, the Pendolino came complete with an Italian work ethic, and after a highly publicized debut it promptly broke down. Only recently has the Pendolino been put back on the timetable with a limited-time 20% “sorry about that” discount. Frankly, it seems more trouble and expense than it´s worth, reaching Ostrava only thirty minutes faster than the express train. Maybe you get complimentary peanuts

Reservations are only possible on Ex, IC, EC and SC trains—available at any CD booking office or online at www.cd.cz. At weekends, the faster trains can be quite crowded, especially those heading east into Moravia, and if you don´t have a reservation you might find yourself standing next to the toilets for three hours where even complimentary peanuts aren´t much of a consolation.

One further note of caution: when you purchase a domestic train ticket the validity (platnost) period is two days, but you have to make your initial journey on the first day of validity. I once made the mistake of buying a ticket for a train that left one minute after midnight (technically the second day of validity) and subsequently had to buy a new ticket. Always read the fine—or in this case microscopic—print.

Discounts and Special Offers

Although train travel in the Czech Republic is relatively cheap (for now), there are still ways to save a few crowns here and there. Most train aficionados know that a return ticket is always cheaper than a single journey, and there are also group fares and youth discounts for passengers under 26. In addition, Czech railways offer several types of discount cards and packages. These can be bought at any CD booking office or at windows 21 and 23 at Hlavní Nadraží.

The Card-Z is the most useful discount card for the average traveler. All you need to get one is 200 CZK, a tasteful passport photo and identification. The card is valid for one year and usually amounts to a 20% discount depending on the length of the journey. For example, the EC fare for a single journey from Prague to Ostrava is currently 484 CZK, but only 320 CZK with the card. As you can see, the Card-Z pays for itself after a few journeys, and it´s worth looking into even if you´re not a regular train user.

If you travel frequently by train you might consider investing in the KMB 2000 package, a pay-in-advance “kilometer bank.” The KMB costs 1300 CZK for 2000 kilometers and is valid for six months. That works out to 0.65 CZK per kilometer—a substantial discount—but keep in mind that you can only use the KMB on journeys of 100 km or more. As an added bonus, KMB holders do not need to pay the supplementary charge on IC and EC trains.

Additionally, Czech railways offer special transferable passes valid for two days, a week, a month, or three months. A weekend pass (SONE+) is also available for unlimited travel for one day (Saturday or Sunday) on all of the Os (local) trains within the network. All of these passes can be used in Austria, Germany and Poland as well. And Czech railways will even help you rent a bicycle and have it waiting for you at your destination. Further information on all of these offers can be found on the CD website (www.cd.cz).

Even if you only use the Czech Republic as a base for international train journeys, it´s worthwhile looking into the various discounts offered. For instance, If you buy a ticket to Krakow you´ll pay quite a bit less if you have the Card-Z or KMB. More importantly, if you´re planning to buy your ticket at Hlavní Nadraží, I would advise skipping the usual international ticket windows. Instead, head upstairs and take a right to the Wasteels travel agency. It´s generally a more pleasant experience. The staff speak English and are much more helpful than their counterparts below. They even look healthier.

So pack your bags, buy some water and remember to stretch your legs. It´s time to visit that lonely castle or backwoods wine cellar you´ve heard so much about. In the words of the good folks at Czech railways: “We wish you many good kilometers!”

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