The Netherlands is a small place as compared to India; this has enabled them to develop a fairly efficient railway system. Even though Saurabh and me had never been to Netherlands before, it was pretty simple and straightforward for us to find our way to Putten on the day we arrived.
Each station has comprehensive easy to understand route boards. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes pretty simple to find your way through the Netherlands. Here is a sample of how one goes about finding the route to take.
Step 1: Identify the route board for the destination you want to go to.
Step 2: Go through the table to identify the next train on the route.
Step 3: On the table identify the platform (spoor) on which the train will arrive.
Reading the table is pretty simple, the first column provides the times of the trains. You have the hour in a large font, say 10, and that row has all the trains that run from that station on the route that interests you from 10:00 to 10:59.
The last column gives you the route that the train will take. This is important if you want to save time. For instance, all trains that stop at Putten are Slowtreins. This means they stop at all stations. This would take hours to get to Amsterdam.
Here is a small case study. Assume you were traveling from Putten to Amsterdam. The first thing to do would be to identify the route board for trains to Amsterdam. Since you are at a small station, identify the first city on the route map, Amersfoort. Next look for the hour you in on the table. On this row, look for the next train that goes to Amersfoort. Find the exact time of the train and the platform on which it will arrive. You are set.
Get off at Amersfoort, and now identify the route board for Amsterdam. Identify the hour you are in, go through the list of trains in the row. Look for the Intercity train, its time of departure and platform. Now all you need to do it get on to it.
Most medium sized towns and all cities have ticket counters where you can buy your ticket for the day and they will also have Automated Ticket Machines. The smaller towns will have only the Automated Ticket Machines. Buying a ticket from the counter is a straightforward affair. Getting it from the ATM is a little more complicated. I would advise first timers to use the help of the Dutch for their first ticket. If you need help the second time, you need to have your IQ checked, it really is that simple. Just remember to have enough coins on you. The ATMs accept only coins or cards, no paper cash.
A ticket is valid for that day only. Being a typical Indian I did wonder whether if I picked up a return ticket to Amsterdam, I could use it repeatedly for the entire day. The unfortunate answer is no. A ticket needs to be used within an hour of purchasing it. It does allow you to get off along the way, if you have work at one of the stops en route and then catch the next train. But that’s about it.
While on the topic of tickets, it is possible to buy your ticket from the ticket inspector on the train, but it invariably costs more, a lot more if you do this. So beware!
The trains are not very large. The number of carriages range from two to six. You will most probably be traveling second class, but if you like first class, do travel first class. Unlike in India, there are no first class carriages. The first class is usually a third of one or two of the second class carriages. The class of the carriage is easy to identify, it’s written in nice huge Arabic numerals at the door.
Smoking is allowed at designated points on all platforms. The easiest way to identify these spots is to look for the ashtray. The ashtray is markedly different from the normal trash cans. They are long tubes that rise out of the floor, and have slits at a height somewhere between your waist and chest. Smoking at non-designated areas can result in you being fined.
All carriages of all trains are no smoking zones.
But it is not that much of a hassle, since you invariably get about 15 to 20 minutes between trains if you need to make connections, so it is always possible to grab a smoke then. If you don’t have to change trains it means that your journey is not longer than an hour anyways, so cool.
There are two types of carriages that you will encounter – the two-tiered and the single-tiered. They do not represent anything in particular. There is no difference in price or class. So go right on ahead.
All in all the railways are a pleasure. They are not crowded, and they are well maintained. Yet again, the Dutch cash in on the lack of a population.