With such a vast, efficient railway network in Europe, it's little wonder that train travel is so popular. Whilst travelling by train is relatively easy (and very relaxing), there are a few things you should be aware of before you get to the station to ensure you have a smooth departure. These are the procedures I followed recently when travelling by train around Europe. (Updated August 2015.)
Arrive at the station in plenty of time. Some stations in Europe are huge and it can take a while to get your bearings and get to the correct platform. At really busy stations where there are trains arriving and departing every few minutes, the platform number from which your train is departing may not be advised until 20 minutes before departure. As soon as the platform number is displayed, there's a huge crush to get there, so give yourself plenty of time.
Check the overhead boards for the correct train number and which platform it departs from. Remember that the destination on the board may be further along the line than you are travelling, therefore your destination may not show. For instance, if you are travelling from Paris to Montpellier, the train may actually go all the way to Perpignan which will show as the end destination.
Each train has a train number, just like a flight number, for this purpose. Always match the train number on your ticket to the train number on the overhead board.
At the platform, check for signs showing where each carriage will stop. If you are in coach (carriage) #06, for example, some stations have signs showing at which point on the platform coach #06 will stop. In the photo below you can see that coach #06 will stop at Section V on the platform, so by waiting in the correct area, you will be in the right place when the train pulls up.
Smaller stations may not have such specific signage but will usually show you where the 1st class and 2nd class coaches will stop.
If you have purchased a ticket just for the sector you are travelling (not a Eurail Pass), you may need to validate your ticket in the machines on the platform. If in doubt, ask at the ticket office as fines may apply for tickets that haven't been correctly validated.
Stopping times at stations can be short - three or four minutes is not uncommon. Be ready to board the train (or join the queue) as soon as the train arrives at the station. When lots of people are trying to board the train with heavy luggage it can be congested, so be prepared.
If you're travelling with children or older folks, let them board first without their luggage and pass all the luggage up to them once they are on the train.
Once onboard and in the right coach, find your specified seat and sit back and enjoy the ride!
More tips for travelling by train in Europe
Some trains, particularly in Germany and Austria, have a timetable in the seat pocket which lists all the stops on that particular service and the times the train will arrive and depart each station.
Make sure you know the name of the station at which you should disembark as some cities, Venice, Milan and Turin, for example, have more than one station and the train may stop at each of them. Whilst the stations might be only one stop apart, they can be some distance - don't get off at Venice Mestre if you're supposed to be going to Venice St. Lucia!