There was a time when travellers from West Germany enjoyed a fabulous range of direct train services to the Mediterranean coast of France. Cast back forty years and a mainstay was the daily year-round Hispania Express. It had through carriages from Hamburg, Hannover, Dortmund, Cologne and Frankfurt to the southern Rhône Valley and the Côte Vermeille.
In recent years, the only direct trains to southern France from Germany have been Autozüge services which are designed mainly for travellers wanting to take their vehicles. These car trains have traditionally served Avignon and Narbonne. For 2012, Narbonne services will continue, but the en route stop at Avignon was axed in autumn 2011.
But it is not all bad news. A brand new fast daytime service will link Frankfurt-am-Main with Avignon and Marseille in 2012. A sleek SNCF TGV train, operated in conjunction with Deutsche Bahn, launches on 23 March 2012. Departure from Marseille St Charles is at 08.14 and from Frankfurt-am-Main Hauptbahnhof at 14.00.
Avignon to Frankfurt-am-Main will take a shade over seven hours. That’s a vast improvement over the timings of yesteryear. In 1971, the Hispania Express took 12 hours for the same run. Details of the new service are shown in a wholly recast version of Table 47 in the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable (ERT). That revised table will feature in the December 2011 and subsequent monthly editions of the ERT.
For users of Europe by Rail, the new service allows travellers to make some creative leaps between existing routes in the book. For example, you can now leave Routes 18 or 19, both great journeys through western Germany, and take a direct daytime train to the south of France to connect onto Routes 1, 5, 6 or 7 in the book.