German rail website has better UK train info than Railtrack's

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The Independent Online

Passengers for trains at platforms 1-9 should please consult the Germans.

Passengers for trains at platforms 1-9 should please consult the Germans.

Frustrated by the rattles and shakes of Railtrack's internet timetable, hundreds of regular travellers have turned to a superior service - the website run by German State Railways.

If the much-criticised Railtrack equivalent is a narrow-gauge local, the Deutsche Bahn site is a sleek transcontinental express.

If you were travelling by train from Bradford Forster Square to Canterbury East, via Leeds, how long should you allow for the Tube journey from London King's Cross to Victoria?

The answer is 25 minutes, and for rail-sleuths in the know, finding out is as easy as ein-zwei-drei.

Want to get from Darlington to Chester-le-Street in time for lunch? In a matter of seconds you will not only have a choice of departure times (the 10.38, the 11.30 via Newcastle and the 12.24), but the duration of your journey and the date on which the timetable will cease to apply.

London commuters can locate the timings of any one of the thousands of trains entering or leaving the capital each morning. They can track the best routes from Oban to Truro, and full details of Eurostar as well as services in every corner of Western Europe.

On-screen, Liverpool Lime Street to Naples takes no longer than Lime Street to Warrington. Four different options emerge, with full details of where to change.

Now try Railtrack's website. Liverpool to Naples, via Milan, comes up as Liverpool to Staples via Langley Mill. You can see how it happens: Naples - Staples; Mill - Milan.

France's SNCF rail site is worse than its German rival on travel within the UK, but will still give you details of, say, Manchester to Birmingham, or Edinburgh to York.

To SNCF surfers, London to Brussels is a doddle. But try keying in Brussels to Paris on the Railtrack site. The travell-er, instead of being advised to catch the high-speed Thalys Express, is exhorted to take the Eurostar to Ashford, Kent, and then wait around for the best part of two hours before catching the outgoing Paris Eurostar from London back across the Channel. Journey time? Five hours, 27 minutes.

Railtrack, while admitting that the German and French sites are "fascinating" said: "We keep it as simple as possible to encourage as many users as possible. We don't want to scare people off."

Following a lengthy and occasionally hot-tempered campaign by rail users, the Railtrack site has improved considerably this summer and could now be described as adequate for UK internal travel. It is also updated regularly to take account of weekend engineering works - a peculiarly British phenomenon - whereas the DB site is changed just twice a year, to take account of the summer and winter timetables.

The best entry site for European railway timetables, including Railtrack, DB and SNCF, is: www.mercurio.iet.unipi.it/misc.timetabl.html

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