My summer travels in 2017 saw me headed towards Kraków, a city in southern Poland, from my planned location in Prague. A quick tally of my travel options revealed that the cheapest options were either to hop on a train, or on a direct bus to Kraków. and due east if oriented from Prague.
Both travel options were in the same price range, and both had an average travel time of 7 hours. With the choice between 7 hours in a train or 7 hours in a bus, I happily went for 7 hours in a train instead.
And that is how I caught the Ex 115 “Cracovia” service from Prague to Kraków – A cross-border service jointly operated by Czech Railways (České dráhy) and PKP Intercity, the subdivision of Polskie Koleje Państwowe (PKP) operating intercity rail services in Poland.
First posted 16 June 2017. Updated 12 February 2023.
2023 Update: If you're reading this in 2023, note that the Ex 115 has now been upgraded to a Eurocity standard service. The contents of this post are therefore outdated and shouldn't be used as a guide for your future trips. For an idea of how a Eurocity service on Czech Railways is like, check out my post on the Eurocity service from Berlin to Prague.
Buying my tickets
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My one-way First Minute Europe ticket cost me 653 Kč (€24.00). Not a bad deal for a long distance train. This time around I made a seat reservation for myself in Coach No. 349, Seat 82.
Departure was scheduled for 10:22 am with a 5:29 pm arrival in Kraków, a journey time of 7 hours and 9 minutes.
Note: Seat reservations are required for passengers travelling on trains running between the Czech Republic and Poland. Either way, I'd generally recommend reserving a seat if you're travelling in the summer anyway.
Departure experience at Praha hlavní nádraží
I hopped on the Metro to Praha hl. n. where I met up with my travel partners in the 1970s era concourse. We were running short of time, and made a beeline for the platform as fast as we could.
Our train was parked at the platforms beyond the historic double arched station roof. There was a moment of confusion as we emerged to what seemed to be a train-less platform, before turning around and realising that the train was parked further down the platform. Cue some panicked running and last minute confusion as my travel partners mistook a compartment for their designated seats.
Our train departed on time, and we began our 7 hour journey to Kraków under the hot summer sun.
Cabin & Onboard Amenities
Our Ex 115 service was operated by a locomotive-hauled 7-coach consist, with all passenger coaches provided by ČD. Contrary to expectations, the Ex 115 was actually serving 2 destinations in one go – 4 of the coaches would terminate at Bohumín near the Polish border, while the remaining 3 would go on to Kraków.
The Ex 115 turned out to be a regional level express train tiered below the Eurocity services that I had been familiar with. This resulted in a few key differences in the onboard service standards.
Standard Class seats
The Ex 115 was composed of 6 wholly standard class coaches, while the final coach was split between 1st and 2nd class compartments. The standard class seating was then split between coaches with open plan seating and coaches with compartments.
The 2nd class seats onboard were identical to the Czech Railways 2nd class seats on the EC 175 service from Berlin to Prague that I was familiar with. These seats do not recline and are arranged in a 2-2 layout onboard. Czech Railways has arranged the seats in such a way that half of the seats onboard will always be facing away from the direction of travel.
Each pair of seats also feature a single 230V European power socket. This meant that I had to take turns with my seatmate to use the power socket as he was very keen on charging his laptop.
Onboard Amenities – the Wi-Fi
The Ex 115 coaches were not equipped with Wi-Fi onboard. Throughout the journey I had to rely on my own data roaming.
2023 Update: This is no longer the case as the now EC 115 service has Wi-Fi onboard, though only usable in the Czech Republic like my previous experience. You'll have to rely on your own mobile data after crossing into Poland.
To my surprise, there was no dining car attached to the Ex 115. The saving grace was a trolley service serving snacks and hot drinks that came round from time to time, but this obviously isn’t adequate for a 7 hour train route.
2023 Update: Since the upgrading of the Ex 115 to the EC 115, the service now has a proper dining coach attached to the train consist. Nicely done.
The view outside
Most of the views outside were of the Bohemian and Moravian countryside. This got a bit repetitive after a while, and I tried passing time by catching up with a book that I’d brought along.
We stopped at a few stations along the way, including Česká Třebová which I previously passed through on a Czech Railways Railjet to Vienna in January, Olomouc, and Ostrava-Svinov.
Our train made a long stop at the border town of Bohumín where the air conditioning was switched off for the duration. I would later discover that the coaches terminating at Bohumín were removed, leaving only our 3 Kraków bound coaches. I hadn’t quite processed all that then, so imagine my surprise when I went for a walk and discovered that the train was quite a bit shorter than previously.
The ride experience changed notably as we crossed into Poland. While largely smooth, there was a noticeable dip in our speed and some bumps on the tracks. The lineside infrastructure in various places also looked old and crumbling, with their architecture betraying their 70s-80s origin. I inferred that this was the result of the decay suffered by the then socialist Polish People’s Republic as the command economy tanked.
A notable stop was Oświęcim station, serving the town of Oświęcim but better known in the (infamous) German form of “Auschwitz”.
Arrival at Kraków Główny
We pulled into Kraków Główny under the hot summer sun after some 7 hours of travelling. The modern facade of the station was a welcome sight for us exhausted travellers, and I gladly stepped off the train into the Polish summer heat.
As far as train rides go, this was a really boring one. But Czech Railways performed well on this route, and there’s nothing about the quality of the onboard amenities I can find fault for.
Rather, the only thing I’d point out is that running a regional express service as a direct train between 2 well-known cities at the height of the summer tourist season, probably wasn’t the best idea. At the time, there was no direct Eurocity service between Prague and Kraków, meaning anyone who didn’t want to fly or take the bus was funneled onto a train with a barebones level of service for 7 hours.
That has all changed with the upgrading of the Ex 115 to Eurocity standard. Passengers now have access to a proper dining coach serving freshly prepared hot food. There are also more 1st class seats available for passengers who want a slightly more exclusive living space for 7 hours, or maybe just more room to stretch at their seat.
I’m guessing the relatively recent focus on the environmental benefits of passenger rail services had to do with the upgrading of the service. If that were the case, one could say that the Ex 115 was a product of a different time.
Having said all that, I would still choose 7 hours on a train over 7 hours on a bus any time.