In the Northeast United States, I frequently travel by train. Amtrak offers an efficient service between many cities in New England and the mid-Atlantic. But, passenger rail in the United States does not compare to the options available to citizens and travelers in Europe. Europe has an extensive rail network, an infrastructure that is reliable and effective.
In my travels between European cities and countries, I often prefer to make the commute by air. In keeping with the mission of this website, I have started to open my perspective to the breadth of rail options in the EU. Just last month, in June 2015, I took the Deutsche Bahn Intercity train between Amsterdam and Berlin. IC 145. Here, I will review that experience and offer tips to make your travels in a wheelchair less stressful.
It is also important to note a major benefit of travel by rail in continental Europe is the open borders within the Schengen Area. If you are traveling between Schengen countries and have a route entirely within the Schengen Area, you won’t need to pass through security, customs or passport control. While travel by rail may take longer, it comes with less hassle and an oftentimes lower price tag.
Booking and Reservation
I made a standard booking on the DB Bahn website, at bahn.de. The website offers an English translation. My fare was € 44,00. This was for a seat in the coach/economy class cabin. With flight costs ranging from $100 to $400 USD, I felt that 44 Euros for a 6-hour train ride was quite a bargain.
Requesting Wheelchair Assistance
A few days prior to my departure, I sent an e-mail to the Deutsche Bahn Mobility Service Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. I requested a ramp and assistance boarding and alighting the train with my power wheelchair. I also requested a wheelchair seating space.
I received a prompt response confirming that my requests had been reserved, with the exception of the wheelchair space. Seat reservations require payment of an additional € 4,50. You would think that reserving such a space would be free for a wheelchair user, but the fee is only waived for riders who have a German ID or pass verifying their disability. Showing up in wheelchair is not proof enough!
I paid the additional fee and my seat was confirmed. It was good I did this, as the other wheelchair spaces on the train had already been reserved.
At the station
When I made the request for wheelchair service on my departure from Amsterdam, I was asked where I would prefer to meet the assistance staff. The choices were at the service center or on the platform. I chose the platform. The assistance staff was there when I arrived, already prepared with the wheelchair ramp.
Boarding was easy and I was offered assistance with stowing my bags.
On the train
The train was easily accessible. My car featured space for two wheelchairs. Both spaces were occupied. The other wheelchair passenger got off the train prior to the final stop in Berlin, so I was able to sit in both spaces. Each had table access, and one a seat nearby that could be transferred into horizontally. This is great for those who just want to be out of their wheelchair for a time.
The restroom was wheelchair accessible, though cramped. This was to be expected and is true of most trains.
The cafe car could not be accessed by wheelchair, but train staff were more than happy to fetch something for me. If you’ll want something to eat or drink onboard, you may prefer to purchase it in the train station beforehand.
The wheelchair ramp was waiting on the platform for my arrival in Berlin. As is standard with air travel, I was last to alight. From arrival to being off the train was less than 5 minutes.
There were information desks in the terminal to assist passengers in planning continued travel. Since I am familiar with the area, I exited the terminal and rolled to my hotel on Potsdamer Platz.
For more information, or to book rail travel in Europe, visit RailEurope.