My youth was one of missed connections. I found myself stranded in Sarajevo, a mishap occasioned merely by not having an up-to-date railway timetable. A year or two later, I turned up to catch a ferry from Bremerhaven to England, only to find that the last ship had sailed the previous summer.
Such wayward folly in the matter of travel planning became a thing of the past when I discovered a magnificent volume which those who understood travel better than I always just called Cook’s. To aficionados of European rail and ferry travel, the brick-red cover of Cook’s Continental Timetable was an invitation to adventure. So I bought a copy of the book and was immediately seduced by its contents. And I realised why great writers of yesteryear would read timetables for pleasure. Marcel Proust is said to have spent winter evenings perusing the schedules of rail services through provincial France.
Over the years, the title morphed from Cook’s Continental to the European Rail Timetable, but the basic layout and structure of the volume remains unchanged. The 1519th issue of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable is published this week. Few titles run to so many editions, but few document something as fluid as rail and ferry schedules. Every month a new edition of the book plots the routes of new trains through Europe, revealing new departures and lost connections. The cherished brick-red brand was swapped a few years ago for a chic blue-and-red cover design with a very modern feel — revealing that we live in a new age of the train.
Canny travellers especially value the December issue of the European Rail Timetable, as it charts the new timetables that kick in across much of Europe in mid-December (this year on Sunday 9th Dec). And it is that issue which is now newly available. Just take a look at the Newslines section of the book, available for download on our website, to get a feel of the scale of the changes that these new schedules bring. In many countries, this is no mere tinkering with the schedules, but a wholesale recasting of the timetables.
New infrastructure developments have paved the way for a swathe of new services. In Sweden, for example, the completion of a network of new lines up the coast means that from 9 December, a new fast train service will be introduced from Stockholm to Umeå. Currently, the fastest direct train linking the two cities is an overnight train which takes 7hrs 23m. The new direct daytime service which debuts on 9 December lops a full hour off the schedule.
In the Netherlands, the opening of the Hanzelijn transforms rail links between Amsterdam and the north-east of the country, bringing the cities of Groningen and Leeuwarden much closer to the Dutch economic heartland. And the geography of Austria is subtly reshaped by a new high-speed rail route which will make for faster journeys from Linz and Salzburg to the capital Vienna.
Across Europe, night train services are being restructured as operators try to address changing patterns of demand. Russian Railways (RZD) will amend the routes of two of its premium trains to western Europe. The Moscow to Paris service is being rerouted to include a stop at Strasbourg, thus providing a direct rail link between the home of the European Parliament and the Russian capital. The Moscow to Nice train will take an entirely different route through Austria running via the scenic Semmeringbahn and Tarvisio to reach Italy. The downside is that the Tyrolean city of Innsbruck, so popular with Russian visitors to the Alps, now loses its direct rail link with Russia.
In any new schedules there are winners and losers. This time round there are new (or reinstated) direct overnight services between Milan and Munich; Paris and Rome; and from Berlin to St Petersburg. But Amsterdam and Cologne lose their direct links to Moscow.
Many parts of former Yugoslavia are hard hit by the new schedules. Sarajevo loses its direct trains to Belgrade and Budapest, and the Sarajevo to Zagreb overnight train slips from the schedules (although mercifully its daytime counterpart remains). The country which suffers the most comprehensive decimation of its rail services in the new timetables is Croatia where a whole raft of national and international links are severed.
Travel without an up-to-date timetable if you will. Just as I used to do. It meant I spent many hours at obscure railway junctions where I simply misjudged the likely pattern of rail services. Folly perhaps, but it helped me discover another, less obvious, side of Europe. But all in all European travel is so much easier with an up-to-date timetable.