In continuing my series on the accessibility of European train systems, I take a look at my recent trip aboard the wheelchair accessible ALEX train between Munich, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic.
One of the major benefits of European rail for wheelchair users is the fact that trains operate from city center to city center. Air travel requires commuting to/from the airports, which can be costly and time consuming.
On December 31, New Year’s Eve, I traveled with my sister on a train company I’d never heard of: ALEX. I had planned to take the German national rail, Deutsche Bahn, but quickly learned that they do not offer service between Bavaria and the Czech Republic. That left the private ALEX train as the only option, unless I wanted to ride a bus or fly. We chose the train, and it worked out extremely well – even with my power wheelchair.
Since both Germany and the Czech Republic are members of the open-border Schengen Area, there was no need to go through any type of passport control or security at either end of the journey. This made the trip much easier and less stressful.
At the Station: Booking and Boarding Assistance
We made a standard booking at the main ticket counter at the Munich Central Station, or Hauptbahnhof, on the day before our trip. The ticket we were sold was valid for any of the four departure times available on December 31. The total cost for the two of us, including any discounts applicable because of my disability, was around $80 USD. There is a website where you can book tickets, but there is no English version available. I also prefer to purchase tickets and make reservations for wheelchair boarding assistance at the station itself. This helps me reduce the chance of surprises on the day of travel.
Immediately after purchasing the tickets, we stopped by the information desk (pictured above) to arrange for assistance boarding the train. We were told to arrive at the station one hour before our departure time to request the assistance. The next day, we arrived about 45 minutes before departure, and the assistance was provided – no problem.
Boarding of the train was conducted through a dedicated wheelchair door, and via a mechanical lift. The station attendants were incredibly helpful, and I was able to board the train safely and without issue.
Onboard the Train
Just inside and to the left of the wheelchair entrance was this enclosed, “private” cabin. The glass door could be closed shut and its opening was wide enough for my wheelchair to enter. In the photo above, you’ll see the door opening and three standard seats. My sister and I placed out luggage beneath those seats.
The cabin also featured two spaces for wheelchairs. I parked my chair in this space. There was a seatbelt mechanism available in each space, but I decided not to use it, since my wheelchair is heavy and there was no way to secure the chair to the floor. In my opinion, these seatbelts would be safer for passengers using a manual wheelchair.
The cabin was small, but there was space to park my chair against the wall, without interfering with my sister’s space in front of the standard seating area. I was even able to recline my chair back and take a nap for part of the 5 hour, 45 minute journey.
Directly next to my seating area was the wheelchair accessible bathroom (pictured above). There was space next to the toilet for a wheelchair, and a grab bar along the wall. The sink is small, but I was able to roll my wheelchair beneath it. This photo was taken at the end of the journey, and it was definitely trashed, but still functional.
We arrived on-time to Prague’s Hlavni Nadrazi Central train station. Assistance with getting me and my wheelchair off the train was available within a few minutes, after the other passengers had disembarked. This was accomplished with a wheelchair ramp, and we used the elevator to get into the station’s main concourse (pictured above). The station is an interesting mix of modern and run-down. It provides wheelchair accessible connections to the Prague public transportation system – buses, trams and the metro subway. Wheelchair accessible taxis can also be ordered, but reservations should be made in advance. Since our hotel (the Prague Marriott) was not far away, we elected to walk from the station.
The trip was an enjoyable and comfortable one. We used the time on the train to rest and prepare for the New Year’s Eve festivities in Prague, which were pretty incredible. A six-hour train journey isn’t something I would try on a regular basis, as sitting for extended periods of time is difficult, but it was OK. The private compartment allowed my sister and I some quiet time, and we certainly made the most of it by getting some sleep. Wheelchair assistance was prompt and courteous in both Munich and Prague, and I’d be happy to ride on the ALEX train again.