Wroclaw Glowny station (photo © Rochu2008 / dreamstime.com).
Each December sees the launch of new train timetables across Europe. The 2019 timetables come into effect on Sunday 9 December.
Here we focus on two European regions which could see some significant improvements in international rail services from December 2018.
The first is still just awaiting final confirmation with exact timings and ticketing arrangements yet to be announced. It would bring changes in the mainly French-speaking region of Wallonie in southern Belgium. The area is often referred to by English speakers as Wallonia. It shares a border with France.
Changes in the second area are already confirmed. It affects that part of south-west Poland known in Polish as Śląsk or in English as Silesia. This region abuts onto eastern Germany and the Czech Republic.
Business and leisure travellers in Belgium’s Wallonia region were miffed in 2015 when high-speed operator Thalys axed the direct train service from Mons, Namur and Charleroi to Paris.
With the loss of direct trains from these three key cities to the French capital, Belgian rail operator SNCB stepped in with improved regional train services from Namur, Charleroi and Mons to Lille in France – where there are good onward connections not just to Paris but to cities across France.
But murmurs of discontent continued in Wallonia and this December could well see the reinstatement of direct train services from Namur, Charleroi and Mons into nearby areas of France. Two cross-border rail routes will probably be reinstated. So it would once again be possible to travel by train from Namur and Charleroi to Paris via Maubeuge, and from Mons to Paris via Quévy.
The idea is that twice-daily SNCB trains from Mons, which presently stop just short of the French border at Quévy would be extended south to link up with the French network at Aulnoye, which has a direct Intercités service to Paris (via St Quentin and Compiègne). Passengers would change from the Belgian regional train onto the SNCF Intercités at Aulnoye. It is ten years since any passenger trains have crossed the French border at Quévy. Until December 2008, the route was used by local trains and also by the Berlin to Paris night sleeper which in those days ran via Brussels and Mons.
In similar vein, another abandoned cross-border route just east of Quévy would be reopened, allowing twice-daily direct trains from Namur to travel via Charlerloi and Erquelinnes to Maubeuge in France. Passengers from Belgium would transfer at Maubeuge onto an SNCF Intercités to Paris. The last passenger trains on the cross-border section from Erquelinnes into France ran in 2012. On the Belgian side of the border, the line has remained open as far as Erquelinnes with hourly local trains shuttling between Charleroi Sud and Erquelinnes, a distance of 29 kilometres.
The success of these new cross-border ventures will depend on through ticketing arrangements with passengers being able to book a journey from stations in Belgium to destinations in France in a single transaction.
The train service from the Silesian regional centre of Wrocław to the German state of Saxony has been an on-off affair. And links from Wrocław to Berlin have latterly been abysmal. Over the last couple of years, the two cities – which are just 300 kilometres apart – have at least had a direct link. Travellers from Wrocław wanting to travel by direct train to the German capital could take their pick from two departures each week, one at 18.40 on Saturdays and a second at 17.10 on Sundays. This twice-weekly link between Berlin and Wrocław was introduced in 2016, when the Polish city was in the limelight as one of Europe’s designated culture capitals. The train is called the Kulturzug (Culture Train); it proved so popular that it was retained beyond the initial projected end date in December 2016.
There are welcome changes on 9 December, with the launch of a new direct daily Eurocity service from Wrocław to Berlin. Early risers will be able to board the 05.10 train from Wrocław, reaching the German capital in a shade over four hours. The evening return run leaves Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 18.40. In a civilised world, such a train would surely have a restaurant car, allowing passengers to enjoy a hearty breakfast en route to Berlin and linger over dinner on the homeward journey. No such luck! In these days of austerity, day trippers from Wrocław to Berlin must take their own rations.
This new Berlin-Wrocław link is made possible by the renaissance of the Metropol night train which carries through carriages to far and wide, and runs out from Berlin via Wrocław to Austria and Hungary. So the daytime Eurocity carriages are effectively attached to the Berlin-bound night sleeper in the morning, and return to Silesia in the evening. This new train really opens new horizons for Silesian night owls. It’ll be possible to board a comfortable sleeper in Wrocław in the late evening for overnight travel to Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna. All good news! It’s been many a long year since trains from Silesia ventured so far afield.
Timings for the new Metropol night train links from Berlin and Wrocław are already available in many online journey planners and tickets are already on sale for many city pairs, with a choice of seated accommodation, couchettes and sleepers. That applies equally to the new Wrocław to Berlin service, running under the Eurocity brand. The Sparpreis fare from Wrocław to Berlin is normally €29.90 if booked about a month prior to travel. Note however that this fare cannot be booked more than two months prior to travel. Purchase online at www.loco2.com or on www.bahn.de.
The new Eurocity link from Wrocław to Berlin has echoes of an earlier Eurocity train between the two cities which has not run for some years.