Benelux by train

Beneluxtrain icon Belgium The Netherlands Luxembourg

Between late March and late May, a minimal train schedule was run in Benelux due to the COVID-19 pandemic. See this page on maps of the situation then. Non-high-speed services within Benelux have largely been restored in early June, and most international services are resuming in June and July. However, some seasonal services are not resuming; check with the train service providers. Currently it is mandatory to wear face covering of some sort in public transport; check with the various governments and train service providers, as the legal requirements for face-covering, and the current health risk situation, are different in different countries, and sometimes different regions of a country. The rest of this page reflects the situation in January and February 2020 before the pandemic. By July the level of train services has largely returned to the February level.

Travelling around Benelux by train: general tips

Greetings! Here are some tips on train travel in/to/from/through Benelux. Belgium opened the first steam passenger railway in Continental Europe in 1835, followed by the Netherlands in 1839, and Luxembourg in 1845. The three countries have well developed railway networks, connecting the vast majority of towns and cities. Within Benelux, rail is the fastest – and certainly the most convenient – way to travel between many larger cities.

Included in this page are tips on train travel in Benelux in general, and also some tips on neighbouring France and Germany. There are also separate pages for country-specific tips on the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, which can be accessed via the menu buttons. Below are network maps I have drawn for the regular passenger train services in Benelux and Nord-Pas-de-Calais (Far-Northern France) in 2020. Due to the complexity of the networks, especially that of Belgium, I have opted to present the Benelux network in ten separate maps instead of one. The last of these ten maps is an overview map. Thereafter the train network of Nord-Pas-de-Calais is presented in three maps. (Click on the thumbnails to open the pdf's.)

InterCity, high-speed rail, and other long-distance rail network in Benelux: (A1 portrait)

InterCity in Benelux weekdays      
weekdays
InterCity in Benelux weekends      
weekend and public holidays
     

Local train network in the Netherlands: (A1 portrait)

Local trains in Netherlands weekdays      
weekdays
Local trains in Netherlands weekends      
weekend and public holidays

Nachtnet in the Netherlands (domestic night trains between some larger cities): (A4 landscape)

Nachtnet in Netherlands

     

Regular local train network in Belgium and Luxembourg: (A1 landscape)

Regular local trains in Belux weekdays      
weekdays
Regular local trains in Belux weekends
weekend and public holidays

     

Supplementary train network in Belgium: (A1 landscape)

Weekday P trains in Belgium
weekday P trains
ICT and Sunday P trains in Belgium
ICT and Sunday P trains

General overview of the passenger train operators and their networks in Benelux in 2020: (A1 portrait)

Operators in Benelux

Bonus! Maps of the TER (Transport express régional) train network in the French departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais (≈ French Low Countries). See also below for some explanations. (A2 landscape)

TER in Nord Pas-de-Calais weekdays      
weekdays
TER in Nord Pas-de-Calais Saturday      
Saturday
TER in Nord Pas-de-Calais Sunday      
Sunday and public holidays

These are the timetable spreadsheets for the high-speed rail services in/to/from/through Benelux in 2020 that I have compiled. (I cannot guarentee their accuracy! Click on the tabs for the various sheets. Timetabling for high-speed rail services is often very irregular, and they often change every few months; always check their websites for the latest information.)

Here are videos of the types of passenger rail services in Benelux that I took in 2018:

中文, 日本語

The following are some notes on train travel in Benelux in general. (See also the country-specific pages!)

Ticketing matters

The national railway companies in the region

The national railway companies in Benelux:

The national railway company/organisation of countries that one can reach directly from Benelux by regular passenger rail services:

The 'domestic' sites are for train travels within their respective countries, and the 'international' sites are for international train travels. There are multiple railway companies running domestic train services in the Netherlands and Luxembourg; the domestic sites of NS and CFL can handle any regular train journeys within their countries, even on services not run by them. With international train travels, different companies can give different prices for the same international journey, so it is worth checking the booking websites of the various countries. For international journeys that involve train changes, it is worth comparing the price of making one booking for the entire journey, versus dividing the journey into various bookings.

Do I have to book early for the best price?

Domestic public transport within Luxembourg is zero-fare, except for first class train travel. Otherwise:

Also note that InterCity in Benelux has the same pricing as local trains. (This is unlike Germany and France, where Intercities have dynamic pricing like high-speed trains.)

In Benelux, other than the ICE and ICd surcharges mentioned above, the only other surcharge is the Brussels Airport Supplement (previously known as the Diabolo fee). (See the surcharges section in the Netherlands and Belgium pages.)

Seats on high-speed trains are sometimes overbooked to a small degree. However, unlike air tickets, they tell you that you're sold an overbooked ticket before you make the payment. If you agree to it and pay, your ticket has an assigned carriage, but not a seat number. Contact the train manager when you board the train: if someone in your carriage fails to turn up, you may be assigned their seat; if there are no empty seats, you sit on a folding seat / jump seat / some seat in the vestibule.

For non-high-speed rail services, the price of a return ticket is usually just the sum of the one-way journeys involved, except for a few international return deals between Belgium and Luxembourg, and Luxembourg's time-based domestic first class train tickets. (Otherwise domestic public transport in Luxembourg is free from 1 March 2020 onwards!.) Sometimes there are other special return deals.

See the pages on the individual countries for more details.

Do I have to make a seat reservation? / Do I have to catch a specific train?

If you are restricted to a specific train service, the date and the train number of that service is printed on the ticket. If you have a reservation, the carriage number and the seat number are printed on the ticket. (In Dutch/French/German, carriage/coach is Rijtuig / Voiture / Wagen, and seat is Zitplaats / Place assise / Platz. Sometimes abbreviations of these are used.)

At the platform, there are electronic or paper displays informing the passengers which carriage/coach will arrive at which section of the platform. Get there before the train arrives.


Platform display board 2nd class P_20181229_133306.jpg
Electronic display at platform 8/9, informing passengers that for the 13:37 ICE train to Frankfurt (Main) Hbf, carriages 31 to 39 correspond with sections D to K at platform 9

Platform 9 vak G P_20181229_133801.jpg
Standing at vak G at platform 9...

Rijtuig 35 P_20181229_133523.jpg
The electronic display next to the door of this carriage indicates that this is carriage 35, the train number of this service is ICE 125, and it goes from Amsterdam C. to Frankfurt(M)Hbf

Do I have to validate my ticket?

The very basics of buying tickets

Domestic public transport is free within the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, except for first class train travel. For cross-border Luxembourgish buses, fares apply outside the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. These tickets are time-based.

Elsewhere, to buy a normal ticket, input journey details like the 'from' and 'to' stations, the date, single/return, and class of travel (first vs second class). In the vast majority of cases, there is no need to buy separate tickets if you need to change trains (of the same or different companies) for a 'direct' journey (usually the shortest or fastest route between two stations).

For domestic tickets in Belgium, there is no 'via' option. If you want to make a detour (i.e. not the most direct route), in most cases you have to buy two separate tickets. If you are travelling on the shortest route, you are allowed to break your journey. (See here.)

In the Netherlands, there is no longer the option of nominating a 'via' station, for both domestic and international tickets. For domestic tickets, if NS thinks that there is more than one reasonable route for your intended journey, and if there is a price difference, the website/app/machine/ticket staff shows you the price difference, and you have to choose one of the options. A third option is also offered, which is paying the higher price, and you have a ticket which allows you to travel on either route. Breaking of journey is allowed.

When getting international tickets from Dutch ticket machines, after inputting the 'from' and 'to' stations, it shows you a 'via' railway frontier point where you cross an international border. Pressing the 'via' button often gives you a list of alternative frontier points where you can cross the border, and the price for going via that frontier point is shown.

For international travel, the price for the entire journey in one ticket, versus splitting the journey into two or more tickets, can have different prices. For country pairs without direct train connections, except for Netherlands–Luxembourg, you might want to compare the price of the entire journey in one ticket (if that company can handle tickets for that journey), versus making separate bookings for each border crossing. For instance, for train travels between Benelux and the Czech Republic, you might want to check the price between Benelux and some point in Germany, and between that point in Germany and Czech Republic, versus the price of the entire way between Benelux and Czech Republic. (Check with, e.g., České dráhy, Deutsche Bahn, and the international sites of the national railway companies in Benelux.)

Budget train services have restricted sales channels. Tickets for IZY and Ouigo are offered at their respective websites, and the SNCF website, but not from, e.g., Thalys, NMBS/SNCB International. Flixtrain tickets are sold from their own website.

DB began selling Thalys tickets again in October 2018.

Special international deals

There are a number of international train deals. The range of deals offered by country A to country B is not necessarily the same as the range of deals offered by country B to country A.

The most important of these international deals are: a) the Early Bird deal for non-high-speed rail travel between the Netherlands and Belgium, or between the Netherlands and Luxembourg via Belgium: book seven or more days ahead online and get 40% discount for Monday to Thursday departures, and 20% discount for Friday to Sunday departures; and b) between Belgium and Luxembourg, the mid-flex weekend return deal (30% discount), and the no-flex Escapade 30-day return deal (€55/77/99 for 1/2/3 people second class between any station in Belgium and any station in Luxembourg).

Between the Netherlands and Luxembourg, going through Belgium is usually faster and cheaper. However, if you have to book tickets within six days, or you cannot get an e-ticket for any reason, it is also worth looking into going through Germany instead of Belgium. This is especially the case for Dutch cities like Enschede, Arnhem, and Venlo close to the German border. Even to/from Amsterdam, a low-flex ticket through Germany can be cheaper than a full-flex ticket through Belgium (if you, e.g., missed the Early Bird deal).

Read the individual country pages for more international train deals.

German ticketing

Germany runs many train services into Benelux, and German ticketing applies to German services that go within/to/from/through Germany. Tickets for journeys that involve only Nahverkehr 'nearby traffic', i.e. local/regional trains, have fixed pricing. S-bahn, RB, RE, and IRE are examples of Nahverkehr train categories. Tickets for journeys that involve Fernverkehr 'far traffic', i.e. long-distance trains, have dynamic pricing. IC, EC, ICE, ECE are examples of Fernverkehr train categories. (This is similar to France: TER/Transilien/TERGV have fixed pricing, Intercités/TGV have dynamic pricing.) Here I will talk about some notable Nahverkehr tickets first, and then some brief notes on Fernverkehr ticketing.

Nahverkehr day tickets

There are day tickets that are valid on basically all local trains throughout each German state (usually also covering other forms of local public transport), and ones that are valid throughout the entire Germany. The tickets for the states that border Benelux cover some public transport routes into Benelux. For the Niedersachsen-Ticket, Niedersachsen-Ticket plus Groningen, and SchönerTagTicket NRW, see the Germany section in the Netherlands page. For the Rheinland-Pflaz-Ticket + Lux, see the Germany section in the Luxembourg page. (There is relatively little interactions between Belgian and German local public transport systems. Basically the only place in Belgium where ordinary German tickets are valid is bus 24 between Kelmis and Aachen; see also the Germany section in the Belgium page.)

The Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket is a day ticket that is valid on basically all local trains (e.g. S/RB/RE/IRE) throughout Germany. It costs €44/€52/€60/€68/€76 for 1/2/3/4/5 people for unlimited travel for one day (Mon-Fri from 09:00, Sat-Sun from 00:00, till 03:00 the following day) on basically all local trains in Germany, plus very short sections in Austria, Switzerland, and Poland, but none in Benelux. All local passenger trains of the DB group are included. DB IC/EC trains along two trajectories are also included: in the north (quite close to the Netherlands) Norddeich Mole/Emden Außenhafen – Bremen Hbf, and in the south Stuttgart Hbf – Konstanz Hbf. Dutch Arriva trains within Germany are included. Luxembourgish trains are included between the Igel frontier and Trier Hbf. From what I can see in the validity list, all German S-bahns are included, but only some Austrian and Swiss S-bahn lines in Germany are included. Check the validity list pdf in the German page very carefully. Unlike the state-level tickets, U-bahn/buses/trams etc. are not included in the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket.

The Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket (a better version of the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket for the weekend) has been withdrawn in Summer 2019.

See the Germany section in the Netherlands page for the concept of Verkehrsverbund 'transport authority'.

Fernverkehr ticketing

Long distance ticketing offers three levels of flexibility (since August 2018): Super Sparpreis 'Super saver fare', Sparpreis 'Saver fare', and Flexpreis 'Flexible fare'. (Elsewhere in these pages, when Sparpreis-versus-Flexpreis is discussed, Sparpreis includes Super Sparpreis, unless further qualified.) Super Sparpreis is the cheapest, but it runs out the quickest, and offers no flexibility, e.g. no refund, no change of details. Flexpreis is the most expensive, but it never runs out, and is the most flexible, e.g. it is refundable/exchangeable up to a degree even after the departure time. (Similarly, France also offers three levels of flexibility for TGV.)

Other than the price difference, one difference between Super Sparpreis and Sparpreis is that, with Sparpreis (and Flexpreis), for journeys over 100km, the City-Ticket is included: it gives free connecting public transport (within a certain area) in many cities in Germany (see the list of cities and their validity areas in the City-Ticket page). On the other hand, the Super Sparpreis does not include free city public transport, although during the booking process, an option called the City mobil is offerred for purchasing connecting city public transport tickets (which may or may not be a good deal in comparison with what is offered by the local transport authorities through their own channels).

With a Super Sparpreis or Sparpreis ticket, it is valid on the specific ICE/IC/EC trains and/or IC buses stated on the ticket. On the other hand, with the Nahverkehr (IRE/RE/RB/S) trajectories connecting to or from a ICE/IC/EC/IC bus trajectory, you are not bound to specific trains. (The date and any border crossings still have to be followed.) With a Flexpreis ticket, if it includes an ICE trajectory, any ICE/IC/EC/Nahverkehr services on that trajectory can be taken; if it includes an IC/EC trajectory, any IC/EC/Nahverkehr services on that trajectory can be taken; otherwise any Nahverkehr servies on a ticketed trajectory can be taken. (Any changed/added reservations have to be separately paid for. Some services have compulsory reservation.) A FLEXPREIS ticket is valid for 1 day for domestic (Germany) journeys 100km or shorter, 2 days (day of departure and the following day) for longer domestic journeys, and 4 days for international journeys. If the international return journey is more than 4 days after the initial departing journey, a seperate ticket is issued by DB.

(Also note that, while NS and NMBS/SNCB-issued international tickets could also have 2 or 4 days of validity, the portions within Benelux must be completed in one day. DB seems to have no such restrictions with their tickets.)

See also the Germany sections in the pages for The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

French ticketing

The SNCF (French Rail) train categories are TER/Transillien, Intercités, and TGV.

TER and TERGV

TER (Transport express régional) is the name of the regional trains in the 11 regions in Mainland France other than Île–de–France (where regional trains are called Transillien). These services are funded by the regional governments. Their tickets have fixed pricing (there can be fixed-price discounted tickets), and there is no seat reservation. Since 15 Dec 2019, TER services are classified into at least the following three types:

(All Intercités services north and east from Paris have been transferred to the regional governments and are now run as TER.)

In Benelux, SNCF runs one TER line into Luxembourg together with CFL: Nancy/Metz – Luxembourg. Within Luxembourg, Luxembourgish domestic tariff applies. Cross-border and within France, French TER tariff applies. France considers the Belgian and Luxembourgish cross-border conventional rail services to France (Belgium to Lille Flandres / Aulnoye Aymeries / Maubeuge, Luxembourg to Longwy) as TER. (France charges a lot more for the sections within Luxembourg than Luxembourg does.)

See the rail maps of Nord-Pas-de-Calais above. In Nord-Pas-de-Calais (≈ French Low Countries; now merged with Picardy to form the region of Hauts-de-France), many (but not all!) TGV services within this region are subsidised. On the following trajectories, passegners can travel on most TGV services on fixed TER prices (with no seat reservation), plus a TERGV supplement of €2 for each arrival or departure at Lille Europe. (There are also TERGV subscriptions for €12 a week or €22 a month.) If the ticket is for a direct train journey just between Lille Europe and one of the TERGV destinations, the TERGV supplement is usually already included. Check carefully whether the TERGV supplement is already included or not in any case. The TERGV trajectories are:

The TERGV supplement is also valid with first class TER tickets, but there is no seat reservation, and priority is given to passengers with existing seat reservations.

The discounted Prix Cassés tickets of TER Hauts-de-France are avaible for TERGV services. However, they run out at a different rate than the Prix Cassés tickets for the ordinary TER services.

Also notice that, while many do, not all TGV services within the region participate in the TERGV scheme. Check carefully in the journey planner or the printed timetables (make sure that they are up to date). In particular, TGV services to/from Lille Flandres do not participate in the TERGV scheme, even if it runs within the region, e.g., between Lille Flandres and Arras.

The TERGV supplement is applicable on TERGV services if you travel on the high-speed rail line to/from/through Lille Europe. For instance, the TERGV supplement is not applicable if you catch the TERGV service between Boulogne Ville and Calais Fréthun. A few Lille Europe – Arras services run via Douai, i.e. not on the high speed line between Lille Europe and Arras. Despite not running on the high speed line, the TERGV supplement is still charged between Lille Europe and Arras. (Normal TER price is charged between Douai and Arras, and tickets are seemingly not available between Lille Europe and Douai on these TERGV services.)

There are a few TGV services that run on conventional rail in this region on its way to/from Paris, and does not run through Lille Europe. These services, called TGVAUT, can be accessed with a TER ticket without TERGV supplement, only in second class with no seat reservation. Sectors with TGVAUT services are:

(The Tourcoing – Lille Flandres TGV service continues to Arras and Paris Nord; the section between Lille Flandres and Arras runs on the high speed line, is labelled as TERGV, but the TERGV surcharge is not charged.)

See also the websites of TER Hauts-de-France (far northern France) and TER Grand Est (northeastern France) for region-specific deals. See also the France sections in the Belgium and Luxembourg pages for cross-border deals with France.

Intercités and TGV

Intercités is the non-high-speed long-distance trains, and TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) is the high-speed trains of SNCF. These are primarily funded by the central government. They have dynamic pricing, i.e. the earlier you book the ticket, the better price you will get. (However, for some under-utilised Intercités lines, the price for immediate departure can still be quite cheap.)

The sleeper trains by SNCF are branded Intercités de nuit. The Intercités network is purely domestic (plus a tiny bit into Spain). Some (shorter) Intercités lines have no seat reservation possible, while seat reservation is included in other Intercités lines. There are two levels of flexibility for Intercités tickets: the mid-flex Loisir/Normal, and the full-flex Superflex.

TGV runs both domestically and internationally. In Benelux there are two stations with TGV services to/from France: Brussels-Midi/Zuid, and Luxembourg. With TGV, seat reservation is included. (If you are catching a high-speed train between France and Germany, seat reservation should be included with TGV, but not necessarily with ICE. Check carefully in both cases.) There are three levels of flexibility for TGV tickets: no-flex Prem's, mid-flex Loisir, and full-flex Pro.

See also the France sections in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg pages for long-distance international deals with France.

Rail passes, RailPlus, and other subscriptions

There are the Interrail and Eurail passes. Interrail pass is for European citizens and residents, while the Eurail pass is for other people. (See here for the eligible criteria for Interrail vs. Eurail. However, there seems to be no price difference anymore between Interrail passes and Eurail passes.) These rail passes are not the best value (for people with simple itineraries at least), but give huge flexibility. Interrail/Eurail treats Benelux as one country for their rail passes. A one-country Benelux pass can be used by people residing outside Benelux. For comparison, with a sample intinerary of Amsterdam > Brussels > Luxembourg > Amsterdam on three separate days, catching only Intercity direct and InterCity (i.e. no seat reservations), for an adult in second class (prices on 1st March 2020, second class):

Different countries offer different subsciptions (rail cards): they offer different discounts and/or other benefits for rail travel for a monthly or annual price. See the individual country pages for subscriptions offered by each country.

A RailPlus card gives 15 percent off full-fare tickets for international train travel between many European countries, on trains without compulsory reservation. However, a RailPlus card has become even less useful than before, as Belgium withdrew their recognition of RailPlus cards in late 2019, and it is also not valid in France. Given that RailPlus cards only give a discount off full-fare tickets, and the discount is now only 15% (it used to be 25% before 2018), in a lot of cases it is possible to find cheaper alternatives.

France does not participate in RailPlus. SNCF gives 25% discount for travels to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg (and also Spain for youths) with their cartes de réduction.

For people making multiple long-ish trips in Belgium, NMBS/SNCB has a Standard Multi (old name: Rail Pass) for 10 trips in a year between any two stations in Belgium (not including international frontier points) for €83 (second class). This NMBS/SNCB Standard Multi / Rail Pass can be purchased by anyone, and it can be used by multiple people travelling together. (For people 25 years old or younger there is the Youth Multi (old-name: Go Pass 10): €53 for ten domestic trips. An even crazier deal for young people is the Youth Holidays (old name: Go Unlimited); see the Belgium page.) Using a Brussels > Luxembourg trip as an example, for people with a lot of time to spare, on non-holiday weekdays, instead of catching an InterCity straight from Brussels to Luxembourg with one ticket (normal price €27.2, second class one way), you can catch an IC from Brussels to Arlon near the border, and then a weekday-only L train south to Athus (second class Brussels > Arlon or Athus is €21.3, or €8.3 with an NMBS/SNCB Standard Multi). Luxembourg extends domestic pricing to Athus on their trains/buses, i.e. free on second class trains. (Otherwise a ticket between Arlon and the Luxembourgish border is €2.5.)

People residing outside Europe+Turkey+Russia can purchase a German Rail Pass. In Benelux, it covers the Brussels – Liège – Aachen ICE line, and the DB IC Bus lines.

I boarded a train without a valid ticket

There are no ticket machines inside Dutch/Belgian/Luxembourgish trains (and only some German local trains have ticket machines inside them). If you are caught without a valid ticket on board a non-high-speed train in Benelux:

Pretending to be a 'dumb tourist' basically never works. Train conductors are authorised to check your ID and issue you a fine. If none of the ticket machines at a station works and there is no other ways of purchasing a ticket at the station, theoratically this information will show up in the train conductors' hand-held devices, and you'll not get a surcharge/fine in Belgium and the Netherlands (try to convey this information to the train conductor before boarding the train). It is also not difficult to purchase a ticket via the apps of the railway companies (familiarise yourself with these apps before getting to a station). If you lose your ticket (e.g. if your belongings are stolen), go and seek help from a train conductor, and you will not be fined if they are satisfied that your case is genuine.

Thalys allows you to buy full-fare tickets on board, with a €25 surcharge. In Germany, Flixtrain allows you to purchase full-fare tickets onboard. In all other cases, do not assume that you can purchase tickets onboard without hefty administration fees, or fines.

Other matters concerning travelling on regular trains

Special trains

Not included in the maps above are charter trains from Benelux to, e.g., ski destinations in winter, music festivals in summer. (I know of Treinreiswinkel, and Festival.Travel.) Many of these charter trains are night trains.

Starting in 2020, ÖBB (Austrian Rail)'s Nightjet runs sleeper trains between Brussels and Innsbruck / Vienna (coupled services) twice per week on most weeks. On the other days of the week, this service runs to/from Düsseldorf. This Düsseldorf service will be prolonged to Amsterdam, probably in 2021.

There are no auto-trains in Benelux; in the vicinity, the aforementioned Düsseldorf night train also includes a auto-train serivce.

Other sleeper trains and auto trains from nearby places in 2020 are:

You might also want to have a look at:

Some major developments on train travels in Benelux since 15-12-2019 are:

Disclaimer

I do this as a hobby. I am not a travel agent; while I would be interested in questions that you might have, please direct your questions to the public transport providers involved. Situations and rules can change quickly; please check with the public transport providers for the latest information. I take utter care on the accuracy of the information I provide here, but I cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies. If you see any doubtful information, comments are welcome: hilario.bambooradical gmail.

Unless otherwise stated, all diagrams, photos, and videos are work of mine. Please respect copyright. I apologise for the quality of the photos and videos; I hope that they are good enough for illustrative purposes.

Train World Brussels P_20180203_141954.jpg
Train World, Brussels
Utrecht Maliebaan P_20180609_115538.jpg
Utrecht Maliebaan station, serving the Dutch Railway Museum
CFL funicular P_20180421_200157.jpg
CFL's funicular

This page in 2019
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