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Translating European train tickets

Translating European train tickets

When your train tickets are in French, Spanish or German - let us help.

We can’t promise to help you get your head around all European issues, but we can help you understand European train tickets. You may think it would be easier if they were all the same. One rail ticket fits all. But that’s what we love about European rail travel. You are on a journey that promises cultural variety at every turn. Just think of it the same way with train tickets.

For example, because many of our tickets come directly from the European train companies, they may be in their national language, which is why we give you some of the basics below:



Understanding Spanish rail tickets

There are two main types of train tickets in Spain, depending on whether you are travelling solely within the country using national train operator Renfe, or crossing over the border from France using a cross-border partnership called Renfe-SNCF (though your ticket will only say Renfe).

Domestic Spanish trains

It’s always good to locate your "Localizador" number first, which is your Renfe order reference, known in English as your PNR (Passenger Name Record). This number contains all the important information about your booking: number of passengers, times, seats and so on. It is often printed alongside the barcode, which also contains all this information.

Your localizador is not to be confused with your ‘ticket number’, which is usually at the top of the ticket and, on domestic train tickets, is called Num. billete. Another good thing to know is that your name won’t appear on these tickets, just your seat numbers. Which are labelled coche, meaning carriage, and plaza, meaning seat.

Great tip: Look out for the Combinado Cercanias number on your ticket. This means that you can use this ticket to travel free of charge on commuter trains in Spain. This is one of Spain’s well kept secrets, but we have revealed all in our detailed blog on How to get Spanish train tickets for free.  

Cross-border Spanish trains

These tickets have a bit more of an international feel to them. For example, the PNR (Passenger Name Record) is still called a PNR on these cross-border tickets. Many of the other details such as seat number and carriage are also in English.

Another important thing to know for people on the  Paris to Barcelona route, for example, are the three letters, BCN. Which stand for Barcelona. You will usually only see BCN-Sants on your ticket to represent the great Catalan capital. So don’t worry, you are definitely en route for Barcelona. For more details of language and Spanish ticket quirks, see our Help article. 



Understanding French train tickets

Most French rail tickets on our website are in English. However, if you pay for them in euros, they will be in French. It’s all pretty self-explanatory, but the key words to look out for are: Dossier Voyage, followed by a number, sometimes called a PNR or Passenger Name Record in English. This is the key number you need if there are any hassles en route; coach translates as carriage and place refers to seat number; quai means platform and correspondance means connection. Et voila.

Don’t panic if you see ‘Paris Gare Lyon’ on your ticket, by the way. French rail tickets always have the full name of the stations (gares) on them, and this is the name of a main station in Paris. It does not mean you have got a ticket to Lyon. For more details of language and French ticket quirks see our Help article.


Understanding German train tickets

The most common thing about German train tickets that throws non-German speakers are three letters: 'Erw', which stand for Erwachsener, meaning ‘passenger’. So 'Erwachsener' or 'Erw 2' means the ticket is valid for two adults. If you have booked for several passengers, their names won’t appear on the tickets, as this information is contained in the QR or barcode. Only the lead passenger’s name will appear.

Other keywords to look out for on your German ticket include: Auftragsnummer, sometimes written as Auftrags-Nr, which is your booking reference number; Wagen means carriage, usually abbreviated to Wg; Sitzplatz, or Sitzplätze if plural, means seat number, usually abbreviated to Pl. You will also often see the abbreviation Hbf on German train tickets, short for Hauptbahnhof, translated into English as central station. For more details of language and German ticket quirks, see our Help article.

This all might seem a bit complicated, but just think of it as part of the international train travel experience.  If you get stuck, there are three expressions that always come in useful on these train journeys through Spain, France and Germany:
Por favor, me puedes ayudar?
Könnten Sie mir bitte helfen?
Pourriez-vous m'aider s’il vous plaît?

Photo credits top to bottom: Spanish flag iStock ©pidjoe, French flag and Arc de Triomphe iStock ©NoSystem images, German flag on Reichstag reflected in window iStock ©hanohiki

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