The Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable has always excelled in its coverage of France. England’s nearest neighbour has long exerted a strong appeal for rail travellers (and not merely from England) and some of Thomas Cook’s earliest tours were to France.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Cook’s celebrated European timetable generally devoted some 45 pages to France, but that has now increased to 65 pages. As ever, the tables are masterpieces of compression, deftly weaving through France to reveal current schedules for main line services across the entire country and still leaving space for some of the obscurer branch lines.
Timetable editor Brendan Fox and his team have surely faced one of their biggest-ever challenges this winter as French rail operator SNCF introduced wholesale reform of their schedules. The new timetables came into effect in mid-December, and the last three issues of Cook’s European have seen big changes in the French coverage, with several new or revised tables showing the new services. Table 379 was strengthened to show new services over the Rhine - Rhône high-speed link. That line opened on 13 December 2011 and quite transformed the railway geography of eastern France. Services from Paris to Zürich, for example, were rerouted via Dijon and the Thomas Cook timetable team revamped Table 43 to better show the new routings.
Timetable preparation is as much an art as a science and in their early 2012 editions the Thomas Cook team have been further refining their French listings. So we have been pleased to see that local services between Belfort and Mulhouse are again listed in the February edition of the European Rail Timetable — as a new table numbered 370b. There are some of us who don’t like travelling through France at the speed of a bullet, so it’s very nice to see the Cook’s team making space for slower trains.
They report in the February issue that SNCF is trying to bring some order to their long-distance network of classic trains (as opposed to TGVs), with plans for a variety of separate existing brands (Téoz, Lunéa and Intercités) to be consolidated into a single Intercités brand.
The newly recast French timetables bring many improvements and one or two exotica too. A new Paris-Moscow service was launched in mid-December, and since late last year it has made a handsome addition to Table 24 of the European Timetable.
Table 47 in Cook’s is a nice shape-shifter. Cast back a year or two and its main role was to record the painfully slow progress of overnight trains from the south of France to Alsace and Luxembourg. Today the emphasis is more on speed with Table 47 highlighting the new direct Frankfurt-am-Main to Marseille TGV service which will launch on 23 March.
Copies of the new timetable can be purchased directly from Thomas Cook Publishing.