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Travel worldwide by train

Steam onMr. Mark Smith has made an adventurous hobby into his profession. From Marylebone Station to Buckinghamshire to the north-west of London, where he lives with his wife Nicolette, their two children Nathaniel (8) and Katelijn (6), and their cat Phoenix, his Chiltern Railways train takes up to 90 minutes to cover 60 km. Mark himself once worked for British Rail, today he gives all travellers information about all railway routes worldwide. You want to travel by train from Portugal to England, or from Lisbon to Moscow, Vladivostok, Beijing or Calcutta? No problem. Mark Smith tells all adventurers via which routes that is possible, at what time and where the train leaves and where and when it arrives, including changes, and what that will all cost.

Wow. His website, updated every day, is the only one of its kind in the world. Be it on the Alfa Pendular, the night train to Lisbon, the Intercity, the TGV, Eurostar, the ICE or on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Isfahan or Teheran; he has all the information ready for his visitors, and for those adventurers heading off on a grand tour, on his website www.seat61.com . Just click.

Trevor Pritchard from our British ECO123 office visited Mark Smith and asked him why he would put such a service up on the internet free of charge. “Since 2007 I have run this site full-time, as updating it has indeed become a full-time job and it is much more fun than real work. I mean I worked for British Rail for many years. This gives you knowledge. Nowadays I travel myself and look at the world on wheels“. And free? “Because I would like to do a bit to help people to travel in a more environmentally friendly way“.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith

And right, while you have to log on to the national website of each railway company in Europe to study departure and arrival times – who knows the websites of the European railway companies? – Mark Smith’s website www.seat61.com is way ahead of the state-run companies and provides interested rail travellers with help of all kinds. His daily jobs include summarising all online departure and arrival plans worldwide, and research among all the national, regional and local railway companies. But as he has quite a big fan community, they also give him a lot of information as well as invaluable photos. “I’ve never had a complaint,“ he stresses to ECO123.

To create such an informative, valuable website, he started with a single small page and learnt quite quickly “How to build a website in HTML” himself. Then his website started to grow, slowly but surely. First he focused his attention on all West European train connections. Then a lot of detailed information was added: how much luggage can a rail traveller take, how big are suitcases allowed to be on EUROSTAR (maximum length 85 cm)? How much does it cost to take a guitar with you on your journey? Where can you stay overnight that is good and inexpensive? Then Eastern Europe was added, and then Thailand, India and China, later Uzbekistan in Asia, and South and North America, then Australia, New Zealand. “It gives me great pleasure to add all the information about railway travel and not only departures and arrivals“, he stresses to ECO123. And by the way, he says 50% of visitors to his website are female, families and young people aged 20 and above. He funds his full-time job as his own webmaster for his own website with nearly a hundred thousand visitors a month through advertising.

ryanair eat my shortsWhy do you do that, we ask Mark Smith, who replies “I did not set the site up for train travel’s green credentials. But when you ask me if I would still recommend train travel as countries follow the aggressive development as we do in the UK and plane travel at the same time becomes cheaper. From an eco-perspective, fuel for plane flights is not taxed, due to planes being fuelled internationally, and so the carbon footprint made by planes is effectively encouraged whereas other modes of transport are taxed.”

You can’t claim that about www.seat61.com. Is there good news, we ask him? “Yes. I’m testing out the Paris-Moscow train in a few weeks’ time. I plan to test-ride the revised Caledonian Sleeper shortly, and I’m booked on the first direct Eurostar from London to Marseille on 1 May. I also hope to cover the train journey from Beijing to Lhasa in Tibet this September“.

Question: But why is the website called “seat61” ?
If you, dear reader, can find that out, you can win a rail trip with CP (Portuguese Railways) from your home town in Portugal to Monchique (has Monchique even got a station?), a weekend for two (bed & breakfast) in the spa town of “Caldas de Monchique“ and a walk to the top of Picota and back. First come, first wins…

About the author

Uwe Heitkamp, 53 years old, started working after university in daily newspapers and from 1984 on in public tv broadcasting companies such as WDR (Collogne), NDR (Hamburg), SDR (Stuttgart/Baden-Baden) in the ARD (first programme), wrote several books and directed the cinema movie about the anti nuclear movement in Germany in 1986 (Wackersdorf). After emigration in 1990 he founded 1995 the trilingual weekly printed newspaper “Algarve123” and later the online edition www.algarve123.com. Heitkamp lives for 25 year in Monchique, Portugal. He loves mountain hiking and swimming in streams and lakes, writes and tells stories of success from people and their sustainable relationship between ecology and economy. His actual film “Revolutionary Roads” tells the 60 minute story of a long walk crossing Portugal. 10 rural people paint a picture of their lives in the hills of the serra and the hinterland. The film captures profound impressions of natural beauty and human life. Along which path is the future of Portugal to be found? (subscribe to ECO123 und watch the documentary in the Mediatec)

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