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New links from Brussels


The Gare de Strasbourg, destination of a new high-speed service from Brussels which launches on 3 April 2016 (photo © hidden europe).

The Gare de Strasbourg, destination of a new high-speed service from Brussels which launches on 3 April 2016 (photo © hidden europe).

Two new train services from Brussels to France will commence operation next month. And they are as different as chalk and cheese. Here’s the gen on a new fast link to Strasbourg and a slow train to Paris.

Brussels to Strasbourg TGV

From 3 April, a new once-daily high-speed service will link Brussels with the Alsace city of Strasbourg. Departure from Brussels Midi station will be at 07.17, giving an arrival in Strasbourg at 11.23. The return run will leave Strasbourg each afternoon at 14.24. That’s just enough time for a leisurely lunch in Strasbourg.

The new service means that the TGV stations at Champagne-Ardennes and Lorraine get a direct link from the Belgian capital for the first time.

Strasbourg has of course until now enjoyed twice-daily Eurocity (EC) services from Brussels. These are very slow, rely on old rolling stock and have no on-board refreshment facilities. These two EC trains, respectively named Iris and Vauban, will be axed at the start of April.

All in all, we are in favour of the new arrangement. The morning EC from Brussels to Strasbourg currently takes 5 hrs 29 mins. The afternoon EC takes even longer. The new TGV will speed to Strasbourg in just 4 hrs 6 mins, and that journey time will be trimmed to well under four hours with the opening in July this year of the eastern extension of the LGV Est in Alsace.

Those who favour slower trains can still follow the old route from Brussels to Strasbourg via Luxembourg, but henceforth a change of trains will be necessary in Luxembourg.

Brussels to Paris with IZY

Also on 3 April, a new low-cost version of Thalys takes to the rails with a non-stop link from Brussels Midi to Paris. The trains will be promoted under a new Thalys sub-brand called IZY. Thalys is presently the sole operator in the Brussels to Paris market, which pulls a lot of business customers.

So what’s the game here? Why should Thalys want to compete with itself? The point is that the new service is a bargain-basement no-frills offering, designed to compete with road transport. But Thalys will surely be alert to the risk of abstracting traffic and revenue from its existing premium service between the two cities.

IZY will offer twice daily runs in each direction, with an extra service (also in both directions) on Fridays and Sundays. One-way fares will start at just €10, but that doesn’t include a pre-assigned seat, and there’s a risk that you may end up standing for the whole journey. One-way fares with a guaranteed seat start at €19. Passengers can upgrade to a comfy extra-large seat for an extra €10.

This really is a no-frills service. There are strict luggage limits, with a hefty charge for oversized bags. And the trains are slow... slow... slow. The journey time from Brussels Midi to Paris Nord is anything from 2 hrs 12 mins to 2 hrs 30 mins. That compares with 1 hrs 22 mins for the regular Thalys services.

We hear that once over the border into France, the Paris-bound trains will leave the high-speed line and trundle south along legacy tracks to the French capital. It’ll be interesting to see which routes these new IZY trains actually take. Our best guess is that they’ll run via Arras and Longueau, but let us know if you know better.

Copyright © Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. All rights reserved.
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About The Authors

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book was published in 2022 and reprinted in July 2023. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.


Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, 14 March 2016

Hello Alessandro. Thank you for you thoughtful comment on our above article. Yes, we can see that you are in a small minority of passengers who are marginally disadvantaged by the new arrangements on the Basel-Strasbourg-Luxembourg axis. In fact your journey is still perfectly possible. There will be a new TER train from Basel SNCF at 16.21 (running across the French border in similar timings to the existing EC96). You can connect through to Luxembourg, although your arrival there will be 35 minutes later than at present. Not all timings are yet shown in HAFAS. We would just mention that this may be but a temporary disadvantage. A further round of timetable enhancements later this year may in fact lead to a possible new routing using the high-speed line (LGV Est extension) from Strasbourg to Metz. You also mention the fact that a passenger travelling from Padua to Brussels would be significantly disadvantaged. Here we'd suggest that it would have been a very unusual route to use the EC96 on journeys from northern Italy to Brussels in the first place. With a travel time of about 15 hours, it would have been a dreadfully slow choice of route. Sub 13-hr timings are already available via Paris - and will continue to be available after the new timetables start on 3 April. You can read more about the wider improvements to train services in eastern France in another article published on 12 March here on European Rail News. Naturally, there are winners and losers with all new timetables. The overall picture in eastern France is vastly improved by the new schedules which debut next month. But we can entirely understand your distress that your occasional journeys from Padua to Luxembourg will now take slightly longer. Hope these thoughts help. Nicky and Susanne

alessandro, 7 March 2016

Hello I travel currently some times per year from Padua, Italy, to Luxemburg by train, and I had so far the good connections in milan and basel to make the trip in one day from morning to evening But I knew that from 3 april the two Belgian IC which go directly from Basel to Bruxelles and VV, will be cancelled and substituted by only one French TGV, which leaves too early from mulhouse and Strasburg (leaving at about 15hs) to let me take it as correspondence. I arrive to Basel from Milan at 15,29 but this IC is already left, the earliest I could arrive to Strasbourg from Basel is at 17,09; and after this time, from Strasbourg or Mulhouse, there are no more connections to Luxemburg or Bruxelles, nor directly nor by correspondence! I would like to be wrong, but it looks like true, and if it is true what a crazy idea from Belgian and French sides!!!! Do you know if there are others possibilities of travel in this route? Thank you for any help and any suggestions you could provide me Regards Alessandro

Alex Macfie, 3 March 2016

How bizarre. If I were told of a new slower, cheaper rail service between Brussels and Paris, I would naturally expect it to be a traditional "turn up and go" type of service where you just walk up, buy a ticket and hop on. I would expect it to be regular, clockface-timetabled throughout the day, with local stations en route served and tickets with fixed fares valid on any service, including other trains on the same route. Instead we get this ryanrail thing, combining the worst features of low-cost airlines and trains. Please, train operators, understand you are running trains not planes, and provide traditional train services rather than playing at airlines.

Hub, 3 March 2016

It could stop at Arras and Longueau AS WELL.

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