Bordeaux is moving closer to Paris with the opening of a new high-speed line in western France (photo © Vanessak / dreamstime.com)
While major revamps of European rail timetables normally take place in mid-December each year, there are also mid-year revisions of schedules. This year sees some significant changes in western France with the opening of two high-speed lines on 2 July 2017.
The 300-km stretch of new line from Tours to Bordeaux trims the fastest journey time from Bordeaux to Paris to a shade over two hours; that’s 70 minutes faster than the previous schedules. The new route brings other cities in western France that little bit closer to the capital with Toulouse and La Rochelle both benefiting from much faster TGV links to Paris.
The new line does not render the classic route from Tours to Bordeaux through Poitiers redundant. Shifting the fast TGVs onto the new railway frees up capacity on the old line for both freight and slower regional trains (TERs). There are thus new TER timetables on many routes from 2 July. The line south from Tours to Châtellerault, for example, will see much improved TER services from the beginning of July.
The other new route in western France is a high-speed link from Le Mans to Rennes, which cuts 35 minutes off the journey time from Paris to Rennes, Quimper, Brest and Saint-Malo.
Additional stops in Austria have been introduced this summer on the Moscow to Nice direct train which takes a beautiful but slow route from Linz to Innsbruck via Zell am See, following the Salzburg-Tiroler-Bahn. A stop at Zell was introduced a year or two back, but now three more are added including one at diminutive Kirchberg in Tirol, which, with a population of only 5000, now has the distinction of direct trains to both Minsk and Monaco (in addition to its long-standing afternoon train to Zürich). When it comes to trains, Kirchberg is now one of the best connected small communities in Europe.
Elsewhere in the Alpine region, there will surely be a little rejoicing on 3 July when Liechtenstein’s rail network reopens after being closed for a spell of rebuilding. It is a rare case of an entire country being deprived of trains for a few weeks.
Mid-June saw the launch of a new direct EuroCity train from Zürich to Venice. It’s a weekend-only service, with trains running on Saturdays and Sundays in both directions. Routed via the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, which opened late last year, the train will appeal to those worried by the need to change trains in Milan. The new service will thus give a through train from Zürich and Lugano to both Verona and Venice.
It’s good to see the return of the direct daytime train from Belgrade to Sofia this summer. It restarted in June and will run daily until 1 September. The regular summer holiday service from Minsk to Varna returns for 2017, this year routing via Lviv in Ukraine. It will be a popular choice for Ukrainians opting for a holiday on the Black Sea Riviera.
Ukrainian horizons are expanding this summer with no less than 30 European countries lifting the visa requirement for visiting Ukrainians. (The UK, sadly, remains an exception, and still insists that Ukrainians go to the expense and trouble of securing a visa.) The lifting of the visa requirement prompted the immediate introduction of a new direct train from Kovel in Ukraine to Chełm in Poland. We hear that other new international services to and from Ukraine are also on the drawing board.
This year sees some variations in the pattern of seasonal holiday trains to seaside resorts. There will be no direct trains from Russia to Montenegro this summer. But the through carriages from both Prague and Budapest to the Adriatic port of Bar will run, but with a shorter season, only starting in mid-July.
The seasonal night sleeper from Zürich to Binz (on the Baltic island of Rügen) won’t run this summer. But there’s a new summer overnight train to Rügen, leaving Cologne on Friday evenings. With a journey time of more than 12 hours and no sleeping cars or couchettes, this route has all the makings of a painful journey.