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Traveling By Train and Driving Abroad


In many countries, railroads continue to offer a safe, reliable and comfortable means of travel between major metropolitan areas. Other countries, however, operate rail systems that use antiquated equipment, are often over crowded and seldom run on time. As a general rule, the more advanced (socially and economically) a country is, the more modern and reliable will be its rail service. Frequently, rail travel provides a more economical method of travel than other modes of transportation, and frequently it is the only available transportation to smaller cities and towns. However, rail travel can present some security risks to the traveler, just like other means of travel.

Railroads are "soft" targets for several types of criminal or terrorist attacks. They operate over open ground and are easily accessible to the public. The tracks on which the trains operate are in the open for most of the distance they cover. This easy accessibility provides an inviting target for bombings and other forms of sabotage.

The railroad terminals and stations are like self-contained cities, open to the public, frequently for 24 hours a day. They provide a fertile ground for pickpockets, purse snatchers, baggage thieves, bombers and other criminals to operate.

Likewise, trains themselves offer similar opportunities to criminals and terrorists. A train is like a hotel on wheels, offering temporary accommodations, such as restaurants, sleeping space, bars and lounges. All of these can be, and often times are, subject to criminal activities including robbery, thievery, bombing and even, albeit rarely, hostage taking.

Security Risks

Generally, railroad terminals and trains are easy targets for the following types of attacks:

Bombing and other forms of sabotage to railroad tracks, terminals and trains;

Robberies and burglaries;

Theft of unattended baggage on board trains and in rail terminals; and

Thefts from sleeping compartments.

Just as air travel calls for planning and preparation to lessen the risks of unfortunate experiences while traveling, rail travel also requires certain preventive measures in order to lessen the likelihood of the traveler becoming a victim. Some of these simple, yet effective, precautions can help make a rail trip a comfortable and convenient means of moving between or within many countries of the world.

Some Precautionary Measures

Prior to Departure:

It should be noted that many cities have more than one railroad station. Travelers should confirm in advance from which station your train will depart. Make certain that you use the right one.

Make reservations in advance so that you do not have to stand in the frequently long lines at the rail station ticket counters. This is where pickpockets, baggage thieves and purse snatchers like to operate. Your hotel concierge can assist in making your reservations and picking up your ticket.

Travel light and always keep your luggage under your control. In the time it takes to set down your luggage to check a timetable, a baggage thief can make off with it.

Watch your tickets. Keep them in an inside pocket or purse to lessen the chance that they can be stolen.

Do not discard your train ticket until completion of your trip and you have left the arrival area. In some countries you will be required to show your ticket at the exit of the arrival station. If you do not have it, you may be required to purchase another one. Hold on to your ticket, whether or not a conductor checks it.

Make certain that you board the right car and that it is going to your intended destination.

Find out in advance if your car will have to be switched to another train en route, when and where this will occur, and the name of the stop just prior to the switching point; be prepared accordingly.

If you have to transfer to another train to reach your destination, determine this in advance and know where you will make the transfer, the time of transfer, and the train number and departure time of your connecting train (and the track number if possible).

Learn how to tell if you are in the correct car and if it goes to your destination. Name boards on the side of the car will tell you this. For example, a name board which appears like this:

VENEZIA

Bologna Firenze

ROMA

shows that the car began in Venice, stops in Bologna and Florence, and terminates in Rome. Next to the steps leading into the car you should see the numeral "1" or "2", or both. The "1" indicates First Class; the "2" indicates Second Class; and "1" at one end of the car and "2" at the other indicates one part of the car is First Class and the other is Second Class.

Make certain you know how to spell and pronounce the name of your destination city so you can recognize it when announced.

Be alert to train splitting. This occurs when part of the train is split off and attached to another train while the remainder of the original train then continues on its way. Check with the ticket agent or on- board conductor to determine this.

Try not to schedule a late night or early morning arrival. You might find yourself stranded at a rail station with no public transportation.

Arrange to be met at your arrival point whenever possible.

On Board the Train

If possible, check unneeded luggage into the baggage car.

Keep your luggage with you at all times. If you must leave your seat, either take the luggage with you or secure it to your seat or the baggage rack with a strong cable-lock.

Try to get a window seat. This provides a quick means of escape in the event of an accident.

Have necessary international documents, including your passport, handy and ready for inspection by immigration officials at each border crossing.

Always keep your camera and other valuables with you at all times.

If you have a private compartment, keep the door locked and identify anyone wishing to gain access. Know the names of your porters and ask them to identify themselves whenever entering your compartment.

When in your compartment, be aware that some train thieves will spray chemicals inside to render the occupant(s) unconscious in order to enter and steal valuables. A locked door will at least keep them out.

If you become suspicious of anyone, or someone bothers you, notify the conductor or other train personnel.

If you feel you must leave the train temporarily at a stop other than your destination, make certain that you are not left behind.

An understanding of military time (the so-called 24-hour clock) will make it easier for you to understand the train schedule.

Make certain you have currency from each of the countries through which you will be traveling. In some lesser developed countries (and on some trains) it may be advisable to carry your own food and water.

Upon Arrival

Make certain that you depart from the train at the correct location.

Use only authorized taxis for transportation to your hotel or other destination.

Be alert to criminals such as pick pockets, baggage thieves and/or unauthorized taxi drivers/guides.

If you do not have a hotel reservation, go to the in-station hotel services and reservations desk for help in obtaining a hotel room.


Driving Abroad

Obtain an International Drivers Permit (IDP). This can be purchased through your AAA Club. Have your passport photos and a completed application. There will be a fee involved. Carry both your IDP and your state driver's license with you at all times.

Some countries have a minimum and maximum driving age. Check the laws before you drive in any country.

Always "buckle up". Some countries have penalties for people who violate this law.

If you rent a car, always purchase the liability insurance. If you do not, this could lead to financial disaster.

As many countries have different driving rules, obtain a copy of them before you begin driving in that country.

If the drivers in the country you are visiting drive on the opposite side of the road than in the U.S., practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive during the heavy traffic part of the day.

Be aware of the countryside you will be driving in. Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.

Find out before you start your journey who has the right of way in a traffic circle.

Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a copy of a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.

Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers.

When entering your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.

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