Railway horrors and hassles...

Up until now, a seemingly simple task is keeping me busy since about 6 days for about 6 hours absolute working time:

Buying a ticket from Hamburg or Saarbrücken in Germany, to Mont-de-Marsan in France, to give a talk about FAI at the RMLL free software conference.

And, believe or not - I'm NEARLY done today! Oh wait, just one little thing. The computer systems are out of service today...

What happened?

I've been searching the web system of the DB for pricing and booking info - but, you cannot get pricing information for international travels - oh, you can *book*, but they don't know the price. Yes, really, they want to sell you something without being able to tell you the price in advance!!! Lovely how these people do their business

I thought, "if I go to the site of the french railway, SNCF, I can get a good estimate of the overall price if I look at the station most near to Saarbrücken. Yes, one could think so. But it's not that SNCF points you to a single system, where you can enter start and destination, and gives you some information. Before getting travel info, they ask you, with which of the national sub-operators you want to go. Great. Where should I know that from???

So, I went to the station, to get help from a person at the counter. He could tell me the price for the smallest part of the travel - but not the rest he said the system is temporarily down. You know, from Saarbrücken to Mont-de-Marsan, a 7 hour travel, 3 different railway operators are involved, and they would be really too customer-friendly, and it's defintely technologically way too complex to build a single system for buying such tickets...

I went home, and suddenly came up with the idea that I could use the bahn.comfort hotline, because I'm a frequent customer. At first, they could only tell nothing, their systems didn't work, either. But they called me back - and then, they could tell me prices of the two missing parts - but they didn't know about the third price, which I, luckily, already had.

Lap result: with just 2 hours investment, I knew the price of the whole travel, and could start to think about if I want to travel that way (actually, I have to . flying or driving by car is out of any discussion)

Some hours later, I wanted to take the final step, and do the booking. This basically went fine. See it? This is the first thing, that went allright immediately, without complications!

Now, I had a booking number, and was supposed to go to the station and fetch the tickets at a ticket teller machine. Why? Yes, it is like that, they cannot send them by mail, because the travel is too near in the future - and, for some strange reason, they are not able to do electronic ticketing. Again, it's obviously technologically too hard to get a europe-wide e-ticket system, for railways, I guess we can all agree on that, right?!

But that would have been too easy. Yesterday morning, I got a call - my boss set an important meeting with a customer at the time when I'd be out of town already - so, I needed to change everything. This is the only thing that is, admittedly, not the railway's fault in the whole story.

So, I called them again, today. One would think, it's a matter of minutes to get (if possible) the current booking cancelled, and get a new booking, exactly one day later. One *could* think. It isn't! It took about half an hour, until I had at least a new booking for a day later. But the person on the phone couldn't find how to get the original bookings which I didn't need anymore cancelled and reimbursed - as I said, I didn't mind of the reimbursement anymore, but she said it would be reimbursed. She called me an hour later to tell me is finally went allright. She had to cancel the whole travel (which was back and forth) because cancelling one way wasn't possible, and make a whole new booking.

So, NOW, I should be able to walk to the station, and fetch my tickets.

I just did so. When I entered my card for identification, the system searched for a while, and, after aminute, told me, that no connection to the central system was possible. Other customers had the same problem. so I went to get a coffee. It's hard to imagine, that such an important central system, serving thousands of customers a minute, is oput of service for more than one minute, isn't it? Especially at a company, that raises it's prices on a nearly monthly basis (and the boss talking about this raise in the media as a new pricing structure that is much better for the customers - at least for 80 year old people travelling in company with their parents). What do they do with that money? Obviously not spending for decent systems operation...

So, we all agree, going to my favourite portuguese cafe around the corner, taking a galao and a nata, and coming back should give the DB enough time to fix their mission-critical computer systems.

Unfortunately, it doesn't. I'm now back at home, with a sum of invested time as stated above, and I have no tickets in my hands.

I'm really excited to see how this all will come to an end. I'm nearly sure, the cancelling and rebooking resulted in an error or two - so I don't expect to get tickets for the complete travel the next time I go to the stattion - but I want to have enough time to fix these errors...

Again, again, the organization of railway traffic does it's best to hinder me to save the nature and do some nice travel in the railway...