The CityNightLine train: a great train for wheelchair users

These days it's quite common for wheelchair users to travel by train. Most long-distance trains have suitable seats, and the railway stations have made the necessary changes for easy access. But it is probable that not that many people know, that as a wheelchair user you can travel perfectly happy in a couchette compartment.

The light in the restaurant car is pleasantly subdued, most of the tables are occupied with people reading. The soft carpet muffles the footsteps of the waiter bringing a glass of wine or beer to one of the tables. Outside the window, lights, roads, villages and cities fly past in the dark. The vibration is gentle and regular, as the train carries its passengers through the night, among them Ute Kaiser in her wheelchair. The "Pollux" train of the CityNightLine is making its way to Amsterdam. "Unfortunately, I can't always get to the restaurant car", says Ute, who is a regular traveler aboard the CityNightLine. Sometimes there are too many carriages between the compartment for wheelchair users and the restaurant car, and you can't cross them in a wheelchair. "But then again, the conductors and waiters are always willing to take my order and bring it to me."

CityNightLIne operates seven lines, four of which have a couchette car for wheelchair users, and a suitable washroom. "We're working towards being able to offer a couchette car on all lines in the near future", says Claudia Godenzi, a spokeswoman for CityNightLine. Currently, wheelchair users can travel on the Pollux line between Amsterdam and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, while Pegasus, Berliner and Komet take travelers from Amsterdam, Berlin and Hamburg to Zurich. There are only a few stops at some of the larger cities along the way. Each of the compartments for wheelchair users has room for two people; the upper bunk bed is there for the helper. All switches can be reached effortlessly from the bunk bed, including a call button for the conductor, in case of an emergency.

Reservation through the service centre

Eventhough trains don't stop for very long on all the other platforms at Munich's main station, platform 16 has a more leisurely feel to it. Most of the travelers have luggage and they are on the lookout for a particular car. In front of the open doors there are train conductors, answering questions and helping with the luggage. It's around 10.20 p.m., and the train won't leave for another 20 minutes. As Ute rolls onto the platform, someone is already there to meet her. "Quite often, the conductors take the luggage from me; even though that's not really necessary asI can easily carry it on my lap", she says. But on reaching her carriage, she can do with some help. The Deutsche Bahn staff lift her up into the train. And they're happy to help stow her luggage away in the compartment.

Reserve in good time

If you want to be sure your journey goes smoothly, CityNightLine recommends that wheelchair users reserve their compartment a few days in advance, through the Deutsche Bahn service center. Since each train has only one wheelchair-friendly compartment, you would do well to heed this piece of advice and reserve your seat in good time. By reserving your special compartment, you get a number of benefits; the washroom is right next door, and is adapted to the needs of wheelchair users. There are enough surfaces, rails and handles, both near the wash basin with plenty of space underneath, and near the toilet, so that hygiene is not a problem. When you think that other travelers have to share their couchette compartment with three, or even five, other people, it feels like a real privilege to have yours to yourself and your helper - and you're guaranteed a good night's sleep.

Source: Volker Neumann, HANDICAP magazine, the Magazine for quality of life, Issue 3/2003.