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.
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.
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.