Rail travel is one of the most effective ways to get around Europe. Traveling by rail is cheaper than flying, cuts down on airport wait times and allows you to see more of the continent while in transit. Railways are run by national rail services in each country, but many independent companies offer tickets valid for train travel all across Europe. Two such companies are Eurail and Rail Europe.
The Eurail Group was established in 2001 and currently represents 30 national rail organizations across Europe. The Group is based in the Netherlands and acts to improve and facilitate rail travel across Europe. At the time of its formation, Eurail Group took over the sale of Eurail Passes, which had previously been overseen by an unofficial cooperative of rail and shipping companies across Europe. In 2007, Eurail Group began handling the InterRail pass, which is geared toward younger travelers and only available to residents of select European Union countries.
Eurail passes are available from a variety of vendors and at train stations across Europe. Eurail offers a variety of passes, from a single-country pass valid anywhere from three to ten days, starting at $49 up to a global pass, valid for up to three months in 22 countries and starting at $499, at the time of publication. It also offers select passes, which are valid in three, four or five countries and start at $315, as well as regional passes, valid in two countries at a starting cost of $179.
Rail Europe is not a rail company but instead a vendor of rail passes. It is based in America, deals with 35 rail companies across Europe and does business largely with North American travelers buying rail tickets in advance for travel in Europe. Rail Europe handles Eurail passes, as well as passes valid for travel on each individual rail company with which it cooperates.
The United Kingdom is not a member of Eurail Group, thus Eurail passes are not valid on trains within the United Kingdom. Eurail passes are not valid on U.K. travel, but InterRail passes are. If you are not a resident of a European Union country, you cannot purchase an InterRail pass. Similarly, residents of E.U. member states cannot purchase Eurail passes. Rail Europe, however, offers passes for U.K. travel, including combination passes for travel in both Ireland and the U.K., which includes Northern Ireland.