What's fairly unusual about taking the journey by train from Brussels/Bruxelles to Cologne/Köln is that alternative services operate on this route; the Thalys trains managed by the French & Belgian national rail operators and the ICE trains operated by Germany's national rail company.
They depart from Bruxelles/Brussels in different hours so if you need to depart from Brussels/Bruxelles or arrive in Cologne/Köln at a specific time, you'll be travelling on an ICE or a Thalys train.
The ICE trains typically offer the quickest connections from the arrival of a Eurostar from London.
Though if travelling at the cheapest price is your key criteria, be guided by that; it is timings rather than the type of train, which have a bigger impact on prices, the cheapest tickets inevitably sell out faster on the more popular departures.
SMTJ prefers the on the board ambience of the ICE trains, but it's not worth paying more to travel by them, particularly on such a comparatively short route.
Though rail pass users should take the ICE trains and ignore the Thalys trains.
Final Destination: Frankfurt (Main) – the ICE trains
Final Destination: Essen/Dortmund/Koln – the Thalys trains
All trains also call at: Liege and Aachen
Most of ICE trains also call at: Bruxelles-Nord
Note that the Thalys trains do not call at Bruxelles-Nord.
Neither the ICE or Thalys trains call at Bruxelles-Central.
A choice of train services:
The service of high speed trains between Brussels/Bruxelles and Cologne/Koln is split between
ICE and Thalys trains.
The timetable is typically arranged so that either one of these types of trains departs in each hour between 09:00 and 18:30, the service alternates, but the service is more sporadic either side of these times.
What type of train service you will be travelling by generally makes little different to the cost of tickets, the popularity of each specific departure has a bigger impact on prices.
Though DB offers limited numbers of Super Saver Europa tickets on the ICE trains, but not for the Thalys trains.
The tickets for the ICE trains are made available two months ahead of the Thalys trains, so the very cheapest tickets for the ICE trains can have sold out before the Thalys tickets have been placed on sale.
Though something to look out for if you will be travelling 2nd class and would prefer to travel in a reserved seat is that the 2nd class tickets to travel by the Thalys trains are complimentary, while on the ICE trains they're optional and cost an additional €4.
The ICE trains travel at the same speed as the Thalys trains, most of the ICE trains are around 4 mins slower than the Thalys trains due to their additional station call at Bruxelles-Nord.
Departing from Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid station:
Aim to be at Bruxelles Midi/Zuid station a minimum of 15 - 20 mins before your train is due to depart.
You will usually* have to pass through security checks before boarding these trains and queues can build up at busy times.
*The security checks are at the entrance to voies (platforms/tracks/3 -6) and these ICE and Thalys trains to Koln are usually scheduled to depart from this part of the station.
But check the departure screens before heading for the security checks, these trains can occasionally be scheduled to leave from voies (platforms/tracks) 7 or 8.
Usual service is:
up to 7 x ICE trains per day (Mon-Sat)
up to 8 x ICE trains per day (Sunday)
5 x Thalys trains per day (Mon-Fri)
4 x Thalys trains per day (Sat/Sun)
However, due to ongoing technical problems with the international type of ICE trains used on this route, many of the departures by ICE train are currently experiencing short notice cancellations.
Book early and save: Yes
Online bookings open:
6 months ahead of the travel date on the ICE trains
4 months ahead of the travel date on the Thalys trains
When making an online booking, check that you’re looking at booking info for the direct trains.
Trains departing at different times can be cheaper than others leaving on the same day, so you may need to look through the day's departures to find the cheapest fares.
Use the ‘earlier trains’ and ‘later trains’ buttons to search for the cheapest ticket prices.
It can also be worth comparing the prices across the agents, particularly if you want to take a specific trains, as there can be variations in price.
DB (the booking site of Germany's national rail operator) tends to offer the lowest prices for the journeys by ICE train.
And DB now ALSO sell tickets for the Thalys services; though you will see 'Determine price' listed on the DB website for Thalys departures
Book 1st class ticket journey tickets for the ICE trains and your seat reservation is included, but they're optional when booking 2nd class tickets for the ICE trains and the cost is €4.
In contrast seats will automatically be assigned when booking any ticket for the Thalys trains.
Look out for this when comparing prices of 2nd class tickets on the ICE and Thalys trains.
Some ticket agents will automatically include the reservation fee, even though it's optional and you can remove it to see the price, on other agents including DB, the initial 2nd class price you see won't include the seat reservation charge.
Using rail passes:
If you will be travelling from Bruxelles to Cologne/Koln with a 1st or 2nd class rail pass, target the ICE trains.
You won't have to pay any rail pass reservation fees to travel by those trains; and the optional fees of €5.90 in 1st class and €.4.50 in 2nd class are relatively expensive for such a comparatively short journey.
In contrast the rail pass reservation fees for the Thalys trains will be €30 in 1st class and €20 in 2nd class.
|Ticket Provider||Approximate Cost|
|Save A Train||from €19.90|
|Happy rail||from €19.90|
If you'll be commencing your journey in a location convenient to Bruxelles-Central station, you'll have a faster end-to-end journey if you take the ICE trains.
Taking a train from Bruxelles-Central to Bruxelles-Nord and joining the ICE trains at that station will save around 20 minutes compared to heading to Bruxelles-Midi in order to board a Thalys train; and the Thalys trains don't call at Bruxelles-Nord.
For virtually the entire train journey from Bruxelles to Koln the trains, will either be travelling at up to 290 km/h on a purpose built high speed line, or up to 220km/h on a section of line, that has been re-engineered to allow trains to travel faster.
The high speed part of the route comes between Leuven and Aachen.
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