Here in Berlin there is a real sense of spring in the air, and we are well aware that travellers’ thoughts are turning to summer journeys. For many, the planning of an itinerary is a burden, for others almost as much fun as the journey itself. It’ll be no surprise that we tend to favour the train for most of our trips across Europe. But schedules are always changing. So, for those of our readers who have not spent the long winter nights tracking changes in train timetables, here’s a run-down on headline changes over recent months.
We use the abbreviation ERT followed by a number to refer the Table Numbers in the March 2014 edition of the European Rail Timetable where you will find the schedules for specific services. Where no such table numbers appear, it is generally because the train has yet to start operation and has therefore not been included in the March 2014 issue of the European Rail Timetable.
Six new links worth noting
Here are half a dozen journeys where the 2014 schedules are very much improved over those of last year.
- Cruise through the Alps with the new direct daytime EuroCity service from Zürich to Graz. EC163 and EC164 both run daily. [ERT 86]
- Another useful link this year is the direct daytime link from Venice to Vienna, complementing the existing night train service on the same route. [ERT 88]
- Russian Railways (RZD) will enhance services to the Adriatic region this summer with a new direct service from Moscow to Koper on the coast of Slovenia.
- Thalys launches new twice-daily high-speed services from Lille (France) to the Netherlands on 12 April.
- Direct TGV services have now started running from Paris to Barcelona. The current offering of two trains a day in each direction increases to three later this month. And there is talk of the fourth daily service being added later this year. [ERT 13].
- Spanish rail operator RENFE is now running direct services across Spain’s northern border into France. So it is now possible to travel directly on RENFE’s stylish AVE high-speed trains from Madrid to Marseille. [ERT 49]
Four lost links
And now four journeys where things will not be so easy in summer 2014 as they were last year — in each case with our tip on how you can still get from A to B.
- Eurostar will this year not be repeating its 2013 experiment of running a direct service from London St Pancras to Aix-en-Provence. The UK Border Agency’s bizarre requirement that UK-bound passengers detrain at Lille Europe for UK immigration checks didn’t help. Brits seem not to realise that elsewhere across Europe immigration checks (insofar as they are necessary at all) are conducted on the train. So, for summer 2014, our advice is to use Eurostar’s direct train to Avignon, from where it is a short hop onward to Aix.
- The through sleeping car services from Basel (Switzerland) to Warsaw, Minsk and Moscow were withdrawn in late 2013. We do not feel that this is any great loss as the services were painfully slow and relied on older rolling stock. Our advice for passengers from Basel is simply to travel north to either Strasbourg or Mannheim, connecting there onto Russian Railways’ excellent Paris to Moscow service. You can read more about that train in an article published here on European Rail News on 10 March 2014.
- The Mare Nostrum is no more. This useful daytime train left Montpellier each morning for an amazing journey of over twelve hours to Cartagena in south-east Spain. We last used this train two years ago, and it made for a memorable journey, hugging the Mediterranean coast for long stretches. It used legacy Talgo rolling stock, changing from French to Spanish rail gauge at Portbou. Sad that it’s gone, but very few passengers made the entire run. Now you can make much the same journey using the new morning AVE from Montpellier to Barcelona, changing there for an onward Talgo service to Cartagena.
- The weekly direct train from Berlin to Siberia has been axed from the timetables. We reported on the demise of the Sibirjak in a Letter from Europe last autumn. It’s a blow of course, but were you really planning to travel by train from Berlin to Novosibirsk this summer? If so, you still have many options. There are of course plentiful connections via Moscow, but they generally require an inconvenient change of station in the Russian capital. Our advice is to use the twice-weekly service from Brest (the westernmost town in Belarus just a stone’s throw from the border with Poland) direct to Novosibirsk. You can travel from Berlin on RZD’s Paris to Moscow service, connecting in Brest, Minsk or Orsha onto the direct train to Siberia.
Copyright © Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. All rights reserved.