The Russian Railways (RZD) train from Moscow to Paris seen here in Hannover. From mid-June 2015 the service will cease to run through Germany during the day, but will be retimed to provide a new overnight service between Berlin and Paris. The carriage decorated with the RZD logo is one of the new Austrian-built sleepers introduced on this route in January 2015 (photo © hidden europe).
The current issue of hidden europe magazine carries an article on the excellent Russian trains which can be used for journeys entirely within the European Union. Towards the end of that article we noted that over recent months there have been discussions about changing the timings of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow service so that the departure time from Paris would be in the evening.
The timings for the revised service have now been confirmed. By shifting from a morning departure (normally at 08.28) to an evening slot out of Paris, the Russian train will now provide — on those days when its runs — an attractive overnight option from Paris to Berlin. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among rail users when Deutsche Bahn axed its own City Night Line (CNL) train from Paris to Berlin in December 2014.
That CNL overnight service from Paris to Berlin was called Perseus. It was named — like so many CNL overnight services — after a constellation of stars. You had to be very starry-eyed to find anything romantic in the Perseus. In its final year or two of operation, it was lacklustre. We used it on a number of occasions, but dated carriages and the lack of a restaurant car detracted from the service.
The new Russian overnight train will leave Paris at 20.05 — that’s exactly the same time as the Perseus. From Paris to the German border (at Kehl), the Russian train will normally follow the timetable path once used by the CNL train. The same applies on the inward journey to Paris.
However, while the normal route from Paris will be via Strasbourg to enter Germany at Kehl, for a three-week spell in August 2015, the train will cross the Franco-German border at Forbach rather than Kehl.
The arrival and departure times in Paris may have echoes of the former Perseus service, but there ends any similarity between the Russian train and its CNL predecessor. The route through Germany is different. The Russian train will travel via Frankfurt (Main) and Erfurt, and will thus approach Berlin from the south-west. The CNL service routed via Hannover and therefore approached Berlin from the west. The new service will give an excellent overnight option between the French capital and three cities in eastern Germany: Erfurt, Berlin and Frankfurt-an-der-Oder.
All passengers on the Russian train will be accommodated in comfortable sleeping cars. New sleeping cars were introduced on the Moscow to Paris route in late January 2015. We’ve already travelled on them. Believe us — they really are some of best on offer anywhere in Europe.
The Russian train also carries an excellent Polish restaurant car. We described breakfast in that restaurant car in our Route of the Month feature in the February 2015 issue of the European Rail Timetable (see page 35 in that ERT issue).
All in all, we see the new arrangements as a big leap forward. We can certainly see ourselves booking an overnight trip from Berlin to Paris (or vice versa) sooner rather than later. Bookings will open in the third week of April. The first departure from Berlin to Paris will be on Friday 19 June. The first overnight service from the French capital to Berlin will leave the Gare de l’Est in Paris on the evening of Saturday 20 June.
The one-way fare from Paris to Berlin on the Russian train is currently €120. Even though the journey is presently by day, that fare includes sleeping car accommodation. Russian Railways offer an attractive range of discounts, including a handsome saving for anyone aged 60 or over (without any need for a railcard). The one-way fare from Paris to Berlin for a 60+ traveller is presently about €85. These fares compare reasonably well with those on the old CNL Perseus service, where the cheapest one way fare in a sleeper was €109.
Is this really an all-good-news story? Well, the downside is that the new service will not run every night. During the upcoming summer season the train will run twice-weekly in each direction, with departure from Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, Berlin and Erfurt to Paris on Friday and Saturday evenings. The return journeys from Paris will be on Saturday and Sunday nights.
We do hope that the new service will be well used. If travellers rally to this new opportunity, let’s hope that Russian Railways will up the service frequency. Even as recently as last summer, the Moscow-Berlin-Paris service was running five times each week. The decline of the rouble has hit the Russian market hard. Can Berliners now fill the empty berths? Only time will tell.
We have looked here only at how the new service revives overnight links between Paris and cities in eastern Germany. But of course the train from Paris crosses the River Oder and continues east through Poland to Belarus and Russia.
The revised schedule will give very attractive timings for journeys from Warsaw to Paris and vice versa. Departure from Warsaw will be mid-morning, with a 22-hour travel time to Paris. In the reverse direction, leaving Paris at 20.05, the journey time will be 21 hours.
1. From Germany to Paris (valid from 19 June to 18 September inclusive):
Leaving late afternoon every Friday and Saturday from Frankfurt-an-der-Oder.
|Frankfurt (Main) Süd
|n: Does not stop at Karlsruhe or Strasbourg on the mornings of 8 to 29 August inclusive.
|s: Stops only to set down passengers.
2. From Paris to Germany (valid from 20 June to 19 September inclusive):
Leaving every Saturday and Sunday evening from Paris.
|Frankfurt (Main) Süd
|p: Does not stop at Strasbourg or Karlsruhe on the mornings of 3 to 24 August inclusive.
|u: Stops only to pick up passengers.