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When booking a train the most important thing to check is how long it takes to get to the destination; travel times between destinations can vary widely depending on the type of train making the journey. Generally the longer a train takes, the older the rolling stock, the less amenities it will have and the less comfortable you'll be. The shorter the journey, the nicer the train (and higher the ticket price). The state-owned Polish rail network PKP run so many different classifications of train that it makes the head spin, but here's a quick run-down if you really want to try and unpack it all.
Express InterCity Premium (EIP) are the fastest and most comfortable trains which PKP offer, including electrical sockets at each seat, limited wi-fi, adjustable seats and a restaurant carriage serving food and refreshments; Polish Railways' fast and fancy Pendolino routes - Kraków to Kołobrzeg (via Warsaw, Gdańsk and Słupsk), and Warsaw to Jelenia Góra (via Częstochowa, Opole, Wrocław and Wałbrzych) - are classified as EIP trains.
Express InterCity (EIC) trains also offer comfortable first and second class compartments, both of which include electrical sockets and even limited wi-fi service. InterCity (IC) trains are modern, comfortable and relatively cheap and will get you to wherever you need to go, safely. EuroCity/EuroNight (EC/EN) are the perfect choice for rail trips around Europe. EuroCity trains are quick connections to major European cities, and EuroNight are fast international night trains. Basically all of the above are perfectly decent options for a timely, comfortable train journey around PL.
The outlier is Twoje Linie Kolejowe (TLK), which are much cheaper and older trains characterised by mostly second class seating compartments which require no prior reservation - just board and find yourself a seat. These trains are best suited for travellers with no money and no particular place to go, who are more interested in the experience than in actually getting somewhere. You may find yourself on a TLK route if you're travelling to a small town the better trains don't offer service to. Our advice for making it as comfortable as possible is to not show up mere minutes before departure, as these routes are often overcrowded and you may be forced to sit or stand in the aisle.
For more information on train times and prices check the official website of Polish Railways - www.rozklad.pkp.pl, or try the very useful route planning site e-podroznik.pl. On the former you can book a ticket without the hassle of queuing at the station.
If you find yourself faced with long queues in the train station then you’ll be pleased to hear you can hop on most trains (excepting all EIP trains!) and buy a ticket direct from the conductor. You’ll pay a surcharge for this (10zł), but credit cards are now accepted.
In terms of train etiquette, travellers are expected to greet others in their compartment with a curt ‘dzień dobry,’ and it is taken as a given that male passengers will help females and the elderly stow their baggage above the seats.
In terms of safety, those travelling by train can relax. Dodgy late-night border inspections and stoppages, with random people rifling through the carriages, are now a thing of the past. Today the worst case scenarios usually involve sharing a compartment with rowdy army discharges, or drunk and antagonistic football fans on their way to or from a match. Upgrading to first class for a cursory fee is usually enough to avoid these pitfalls, however.
Here are a few handy words to know in Polish when riding the rails: