Back on schedule: Europe's InterRail timetable is re-born

The timetable lists an estimated 50,000 trains across Europe

Related Stories

It helped shape the lives and travels of countless intrepid young voyagers.

Breakfast in Belgium, maybe lunch in Luxembourg, and supper in St Moritz.

But suddenly last summer, the Interrailer's bible, the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, ceased publication.

Thomas Cook wanted to concentrate on selling air holidays, not promoting train bookings.

But after 140 years, it seems you cannot keep a good timetable down.

As spring arrives and thoughts turn to travel, the familiar red European Rail Timetable is back - to be once again crammed into student backpacks and held in readiness on travel organisers' desks.

'On board'

Start Quote

John Potter

I just said to the other chaps, 'Do you want to carry on?' Most said 'Yes'”

End Quote John Potter European Rail Timetable

It is all thanks to John Potter, one of the team who previously compiled the guide for Thomas Cook.

He was so upset about losing the job he loved, he remortgaged his house and spent most of his redundancy cheque buying the rights to republish the timetables - inviting the original team to join him.

Mr Potter admits his new venture is a bit of a gamble - partly influenced by the fact that he loves his job and did not relish trying to find another one that he would enjoy as much.

"Although Thomas Cook's guidebooks were loss-making, the timetables themselves seemed to be making enough of a return for me to make a go of it," he told the BBC.

"I just said to the other chaps, 'Do you want to carry on?' Most said 'Yes', so they have come on board either full or part-time."


Pre-orders and early sales of the new edition under Mr Potter's ownership have been promising - bolstering his team's belief that there is a hard core of people who want printed timetables to scan at their leisure.

As he points out, you can go online, enter "Madrid" and "Moscow" and get train information in seconds. But some people simply find it more satisfying to work things out for themselves, with all the different options at their fingertips.

European Train timetable As many as 50,000 European train times are listed in the new timetable

Anyone who has had to change their journey plans en route will also know that without a timetable to hand, hunting for viable connections on a tiny smartphone screen on a moving train can be a nightmare.

Then there is the prohibitive cost of data roaming overseas. So you are left with the only alternative - joining the queue at a station booking office in the hope that the clerk understands and has the answers to your long list of questions.

Rumour has it there are quite a few armchair travellers who like nothing better than using the guide to plan exotic rail journeys they may never undertake.

Large scale

One man who really missed the timetable when it was away was Mark Smith.

He is a former senior manager in the rail industry who now runs - an award-winning website focusing on the many possibilities offered by train-based travel. He says that without such a ready reference, partial information gleaned from individual operators' websites can too easily lead you to wrong conclusions.

"The internet is great but the trouble is that you have to make repeated enquiries - each for specific dates," he says.

"It's like looking at a large-scale map through the wrong end of a telescope. You really need to have it all laid out in front of you in printed form."

Mr Smith cites the example of the Paris-Moscow express.

"It runs three times a week in winter, but five times a week in summer. Pretty easy to find in the book, but if you enquired online and picked the wrong day, you might not find it at all."


Running to 576 pages, the timetable lists an estimated 50,000 trains across Europe to choose from.

The compilers manually enter the times of each service, gleaned from long-standing contacts at each of the railway companies.

It seems the larger the operator, the harder it can be to get the information. It took a team of five working flat out for three months to get the first new edition ready.

John Potter grins as his computer beeps, indicating another timetable order has come in.

Within minutes, the ordered guide is in a stiff envelope and ready for posting out.

"None of us are wordsmiths, we just like numbers. I think we can make a go if it - and hopefully carry on for another 140 years."

Your Comments

Tim Kaye with his timetables Tim Kaye with his 1986 and 1990 copies of the timetable

InterRailing was great fun but hard work as I remember it.

We were in the north of Germany (Bremen) and the weather turned bad so decided to head for Italy. The flexibility of the rail pass and having the timetable meant we could easily change our plans - we ended up spending something like 15 hours on a night train to Naples.

Four years later we decided that instead of flying off for our week in the sun, we'd go by train. Hence the 1990 timetable. We weren't young enough for railcards any more so the ticket cost real money. We took it easy going down stopping off on the way. I don't remember much of the trip except it seemed to take forever coming back. The post-it notes still mark the pages including the train times from Madrid to Malaga,

Neither trip would have been possible without the timetable as you needed to plan carefully to avoid ending up sleeping overnight on a station platform - which we did once do to save money when catching an early train. Tim Kaye from Santon Downham

I InterRailed last summer, from London to Romania and back, passing through Holland, Germany, Hungary and then around Romania. The trip lasted a month and the InterRail ticket was far cheaper than buying individual tickets in each country. The journeys were sometimes long (Budapest to Bucharest is 17 hours), but far more relaxing and less crowded than flying. InterRail have a good app for train times, which is free to use and doesn't require wifi or mobile connection, but I can see the appeal of the actual train timetable book. InterRailing is great fun. I'm 48 and travelled alone. Dave Mitchell from Warwickshire

I went InterRailing in 1999 using the Thomas Cook timetable. I planned my entire route on my bedroom floor two weeks in advance. I changed my mind half way around my loop and re-planned it all in an ex Soviet era hotel youth hostel in Prague. A great, but exhausting trip that made me realise that my everyday life needed changing. Graham in Bristol

With a fellow student from Manchester University, we used InterRail in its very first year. It cost about £27. We travelled via Austria and Yugoslavia to Nauphlion in Greece where we met friends. The Thomas Cook European Timetable was our invaluable companion. Since then I have used it many times, and the International version, and confess to sometimes buying it just for the pleasure of dreaming of the rail trips I could enjoy. Well done to John Potter and his team! Graham Bolton from Tottington, Lancashire

I'm so glad to see the European Timetable continues. I used it many times in the 1970s and 1980s. It came in handy when things didn't go to plan and an alternative route or service had to be used. I still sometimes refer to my old copies of the European and the Overseas timetables - kept as treasures for many years! Paul Catchpole from Mevagissey, St. Austell, Cornwall

My wife and I InterRailed in the early 80s. We had a fantastic time around France and around south-east Europe. On our biggest trip we were involved in a minor train crash in Greece, got ripped-off by a Yugoslav couchette attendant, struggled (at times violently) to get out of Romania before our visas ran out, got frisked by the Hungarian border guards, and I was pickpocketed on a French overnight train. But it was the best holiday of my life!

Last September we went on our first international holiday by train since those days, and I planned everything by the internet. It was only a short break, so not difficult to arrange, but I wished that I had "Thomas" (as my wife and I always called it) with us. Robert Mee from West Hallam, Derbyshire

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


Business Live

    09:10: House prices
    Sale and Sold signs

    House price in February were 8.3% higher than the same month a year ago, according to the latest Halifax figures, falling back from 8.5% rise last month and a peak in July of 10.2%. Compared with January prices were 0.3% lower. The average house now costs £192,372, Halifax adds.

    08:57: Market update

    London's FTSE 100 Index is up 0.14% at 6,929 as traders wait for more details of the European Central Bank's bond-buying programme to be released later today. Aviva shares have jumped this morning after it raised the dividend by 30% on a strong set of annual results.

    08:44: Carrefour results

    Carrefour - the world's second-largest retailer after Walmart - plans to spend about €2.5bn (£1.81bn) on revamping stores in 2015 - the final leg of a three-year turnaround plan. The French group could also go ahead with an IPO of its business in Brazil - the supermarket chain's second-largest market - if conditions remain favourable. Operating profits came in at €2.38bn for 2014.

    Via Twitter Radio 5 live

    Sean Farrington tweets: On Wake Up to Money's podcast today...After 6 yrs of low interest rates, where could you have got good returns? @seanfarrington

    08:25: Virgin Money
    London marathon

    After listing in November, the challenger bank is set to be admitted to the FTSE 250 later this month. Its shares are up 13% to 327.5p, valuing it at £1.4bn. Virgin Money, which sponsors the London marathon, said today that underlying pre-tax profits rose 127% to £121.2m for 2014.

    08:23: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4

    Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, also tells Today it will take time before we will see the impact of the ECB's bond-buying programme. He expects inflation to remain low for most of this year: "Almost certainly we will see negative rates of inflation this year; we're really talking about 2016 to see the impact of this policy."

    08:12: Bupa results

    Bupa wants to capture a slice of India's fast-growing health insurance market when rules on foreign investment are relaxed. Stuart Fletcher, chief executive, says it's "still quite a nascent market - there is tonnes of headroom for growth". The private healthcare group posted annual profits up 8% to £638m today.

    SFO bank probe Robert Peston Economics editor

    Does alleged scamming of £200bn Bank of Eng scheme to rescue banks show that some bankers need psychiatric help?

    07:53: Best investments Radio 5 live

    Wake Up To Money was asking listeners earlier about the best investment they have made. For one listener it was a Lego Millennium Falcon set. Have you made a particularly canny investment? Give us your thoughts at or @bbcbusiness.

    07:42: Aviva profits

    Mr Wilson's comments came as the insurance giant Aviva reported a 6% rise in pre-tax operating profit of £2.17bn, compared with just over £2bn a year earlier. The insurer has has been going to through a strategic overhaul including the sale of its North American business last year. It also raised in annual dividend by 30%.

    07:31: Aviva profits
    Aviva stadium

    Aviva chief executive Mark Wilson says its annual results show the insurer is making "tangible progress". Aviva - sponsor of Dublin's rugby stadium - started "2015 in a position of strength", but he adds it would be "wrong to assume that our turnaround is nearing completion, as we have further to travel than the distance we have come".

    07:20: London Stock Exchange Group
    LSE Group

    Another good year for London Stock Exchange Group, with revenue up 32% to £1.28bn and adjusted pre-tax profits up 17% to £445.9m. However, on the pure pre-tax level profits slipped 5% to £284.3m. The company is worth £8.3bn and its shares have risen 18% in the past year.

    SFO Bank investigationVia Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    "Unprecedented" much over-used by us hacks, but this actually is @BBCNews SFO launches Bank of England criminal probe

    07:10: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4
    The EURO logo

    The European Central Bank reveals more details of its bond-buying programme later today - but don't expect any surprises, Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, tells Today. He says we've already seen "marked weakening" of the euro, so it will be interesting to see what impact ECB action will have.

    06:55: Drones

    The House of Lords has called for a tracking system for all drones and their users. A report by the EU Committee of the House of Lords described drones - or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, to give them their official title - as an "exciting new technology", but warned that their use poses risks to the general public and other airspace users.

    06:44: China growth BBC Radio 4

    China's 7% economic growth target for 2015 is about "sending a message" particularly to local governments, which look to Beijing for guidance in setting their own targets. But at the the same time the government is very concerned about the level of debt in the banking sector - something it is trying to address, Duncan Innes-Ker, China analyst with the Economist intelligence Unit, tells Today.

    06:30: AbbVie

    Big news from the pharma world overnight as US company AbbVie announced a deal to buy leukemia drugmaker Pharmacyclics for $21bn (£13.8bn). It appears to have won the prize from under the nose of Johnson & Johnson, which some reports say was close to a deal.

    06:20: Brazil economy Radio 5 live
    Copacabana beach

    The Brazilian currency - the real - has hit a 10-year low after the central bank raised interest rates by half a point to a stonking 12.75% overnight. The BBC's Daniel Gallas in Sao Paulo tells Wake Up to Money that the country could tip into recession this year as the government embarks on an austerity drive, raising taxes and cutting spending.

    06:11: Interest rates Radio 5 live

    It's been six whole years since the Bank of England cut the base rate to 0.5%. That's been good for borrowers, but not so great for savers - of which there are many more after all. Vivan Slattery, an independent financial adviser, tells Wake Up To Money many of her clients have stayed in cash but are now looking at alternatives given that rates do not seem set to increase sharply anytime soon - particularly as many mortgage holders are now on the standard variable rate.

    06:05: China growth Radio 5 live

    China has announced that its target growth rate for 2015 is 7% - down from 7.5% for last year. The BBC's Ali Moore in Singapore says the new target is not a reflection of panic in Beijing but part of its drive to lower expectations and rebase the economy to focus more on domestic demand. "It's more about quality than quantity," she adds.

    Welcome to Thursday Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Good morning from me and Matthew West. Another busy day of business news coming up - we'll be here to guide you through it all. Get in touch with your comments at or on Twitter at @bbcbusiness.



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.