A Guide to Czech Trains

One major change to my lifestyle in the Czech Republic has been the use of public transportation.  As the time approached to come here, I was making frequent journeys back and forth between Iowa and Minnesota by car to see friends and family.  The excessive heat warnings and lack of air-conditioning made the ride uncomfortable, and the gas prices were a bit rough on my pocketbook.  Moreover, I couldn't help but feel twinges of guilt at my use of resources and petrol.  I looked forward to the Czech Republic's public transport as a sort of holiday from my car.

At first, I had to go through the learning phase of public transport, gaining knowledge of  timetables, tickets or long-term transit passes, purchasing train-tickets face-to-face in Czech.  For the most part, this learning was harmless, though I did a good job of intimidating myself at times.  Now, At my half-way point in my time here, I write this from the comfort of a RegioJet train, owned by Student Agency, at peace and comfortable in my roomy cabin with leather seats and wi-fi.  Not all train rides are so comfortable and glorious, but perhaps we can take this opportunity to examine train opportunities in the Czech Republic.

The publicly owned train system in the Czech Republic is Český Drahy, shortened to ČD.  This system has old trains, which run regularly and through both the smallest villages and largest cities in the Czech Republic.  You don't need to purchase a seat reservation on these trains, but you can.  The risk you run is that your ride will be standing room only, and you will end up in the narrow corridor outside the train cabins or standing in the awkward bathroom and door space at the ends of the railroad cars.  These locations are crowded, cold, and noisy.  Typically the space in the cars is narrow, and it feels a bit dingy overall.  You must be alert when riding these trains, because if the stops are announced, it's in Czech, and often the speakers in the cabins are defunct.  I recommend looking up the arrival time, because trains only stop for about 2 minutes, and there's no guarantee of an English speaker on board.  With my In-Karta, the price of these rides are about the same as with Student Agency, as long as I'm traveling in country.  If you buy tickets in groups, the prices are reduced.  When purchasing a ticket, the price is based on distance and a ticket can be used at any time for that route.  The main advantage of this system is its large network and number of trains which provides flexible arrival and departure times.  Cost to Prague without In Karta: 432 kč [$22.73].*  Cost to Prague with In-Karta: 265 kč [$13.95].

Two newer options to hit the market are Pendolino and Student Agency.  Pendolino trains are fast trains.  In going from Ostrava to Prague, my 3.5 hour trip can be shortened to about 3.  You must purchase a seat reservation, making it instantly more expensive.  When you board the train, you first search out your seat, and soon a steward or stewardess brings you a complimentary bottle of water.  If you want food or drink, you can travel to the dining car.  The environment is clean, comfortable, and contemporary, but the extra cost doesn't seem justified by such few advantages as a little bit more comfort and a little saved time. Cost to Prague (train ticket plus seat reservation): 638 kč [$33.58].

That brings me to Student Agency.  This is a newer company and it services trains, buses, and flights (I'm not sure if they own their own planes or not).  To purchase the tickets, you can either find a Student Agency window at a train station, or purchase online.  The online system is a little bit tricky, because you have to use the equivalent of PayPal to first purchase credit for your account and then you can buy tickets.  Instead of this, I opt to buy open tickets at a Student Agency window in my city's train station, which gives me the same price I would get online; then I must go online and use the code to choose a seat reservation and print my own ticket.  Today, before boarding the train, a steward greeted me and picked up my luggage for me.  I easily found my cabin, which I inhabit alone at this time, and soon a stewardess came and gave me a complimentary bottle of water.  I turned down the offer of a free magazine or paper, but accepted the offer of free coffee and now I have singed taste-buds from being too eager to try my cappuccino.  Not only is their menu broad (it includes sushi, and you can buy cake for about 50 cents), but they also take your orders from the cabin.  Cost to Prague: 295 kč [$15.53]. 

So, for a mere extra $1.50, I enjoy a guaranteed seat, a quiet and warm cabin, a leather seat, free coffee, free wi-fi, a bathroom which plays music and has a fake flower, and assistance by English-speaking stewardesses. 

*conversions based on 19 kč = 1 USD


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