History of the book

Europe by Rail: the definitive guide for independent travellers

Europe by Rail is a book with a pedigree which extends back to the 19th century - a title inspired by one man.

Thomas Cook was an extraordinary man, a printer and publisher by trade, who was much taken with the temperance piety that was popular in Victorian England. He rescued travel from the realm of social élites and created opportunities that brought travel to the millions. He organised excursion trains in England, making his debut in the travel business in 1841 when he chartered a special train to ferry 400 dedicated teetotallers to a temperance rally in the East Midlands town of Loughborough.

Cook led tours to the continent too, and from 1873 started to write travel guides which allowed independent travellers to explore the continent alone. From the outset, his guides were modelled around recommended rail routes. He briefed travellers on the best routes from London to the Channel Ports, advised on whether the Rhine Valley route to the Alps had the edge over options through Paris and Burgundy, and showed a benevolent concern for the well-being of his readers.

The structure of Europe by Rail reflects Thomas Cook's enthusiasm for journeys as well as destinations. With the new 14th edition (published in June 2016), the emphasis on journeys is very evident throughout the text. Destinations of course get their due, but in the 2016 book we devote more space to explaining why a particular journey is well worth making.

Editing Europe by Rail

We judge it a great privilege to be involved with a book with such a fine pedigree. When we were appointed (in April 2010) to take over Europe by Rail, we were very aware that we followed in the footsteps of some very illustrious writers and editors. But we also appreciated that the time was ripe for some major changes. We reshaped the book for a new generation of rail travellers, many of them nowadays as likely to be carrying pension books as student ID cards. We also considerably extended the scope of the book, casting our horizons east into the former Soviet Union and south into the Balkans. So in the 2011 edition, for example, Belgrade featured for the first time. By 2016, the book’s coverage extended south to Skopje, east into Ukraine (with no less than three routes finishing in Lviv) and into other virgin territories. The 2016 book, for example, includes Rovaniemi (close to the Arctic Circle in Finland), Cádiz (in south-west Spain) and Siracusa (in eastern Sicily) for the first time.

In designing the wholly revamped book, we paid a little homage to Thomas Cook by reintroducing little elements that featured in his earliest guides. So there’s a whiff of travel nostalgia.

What’s in a Name?

The title of the book and its antecedents has changed over the years. Back in the 19th century, Thomas Cook divided Europe into several volumes, allowing him to pack more routes into each book. We have in our Berlin office a copy of an 1874 volume entitled Cook’s Tourist Handbook to Switzerland via Paris.

The present sequence of edition numbers dates from the mid-1990s when the book was called On the Rails Around Europe. For a couple of editions the book reverted to multiple volumes covering different parts of Europe but by 1998 Europe was reunited into a single book. By 2003 the title had morphed into Europe by Rail.

For the first time in 2011, Europe by Rail came with the subtitle The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers. And thus the book conspicuously connects with the past. Thomas Cook’s first tourist handbooks, written and published in the mid 1870s, were most surely the definitive handbooks for rail travellers of that period.

Since the 13th edition in 2012, the international travel company Thomas Cook has withdrawn from the published travel guidebook and timetable market. The publishing division of Thomas Cook Tour Operations closed in late 2013. But the publishing division's strongest element, namely its rail-related work, found a home within a company called European Rail Timetable Limited (ERT). This company was the brainchild of staff who had previously worked with Thomas Cook Publishing.  ERT has partnered with hidden europe to take forward Europe by Rail. It is a title with an illustrious past and a bright future. 

We are grateful to the talented writers and editors who have looked after and developed the book over recent years. A special thank-you to Melissa Shales who wrote the first edition in the current numbering sequence. That was published in 1995. And we are deeply grateful to our close friend and colleague Tim Locke which curated the title over several editions from 2000 to 2010, and then very kindly passed the baton to us. Finally, a word of thanks to John Potter at ERT, with whom it has been a great pleasure to work on the 14th edition of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers

Susanne Kries and Nicky Gardner

Berlin, 24 May 2016