Odessa railway station (photo © hidden europe)
It is always a nice surprise to discover convenient connections which are not at all promoted. Last summer it was possible to travel without the hassle of changing trains from Hamburg to Podgorica or from Berlin to Bar. No one had to worry about finding the right platform when changing trains or missing connections. The chances are that a similar arrangement will apply in summer 2017.
So how is this possible, given that no train to Montenegro ever features on the departure boards at Hamburg? The answer lies in the way in which through carriages to exotic destinations are handed from one train to another. On Tuesdays and Fridays during summer 2016, a through carriage to Bar was attached to the southbound EC173 Hungaria as the Budapest-bound train made a 25-minute stop in Prague at lunchtime. Travellers heading to Serbia and Montenegro only needed to walk through the train anytime during the afternoon. Carriage 364, a Czech sleeping car at the back of the train, ran on through the Balkans to Belgrade and Bar.
This kind of ‘hidden connection’ presents a whole new range of travel opportunities. It’s the kind of connection we like, precisely because it allows the construction of through journeys where on the face of it there is no direct train. Most sources suggest there is no through train from Odessa to Prague. But Table 1700 in the April 2017 edition of the European Rail Timetable (ERT) tells another story. Train 108SH leaves Odessa at 21.26. Book a sleeper on that train. At midday the following day, walk through the train and you’ll find that, in the wee small hours while you were snoozing, a sleeping car to Prague was attached to the train. The entire journey from Odessa to Prague takes 35 hours, with two nights on board – but you need to change sleeping cars on the way.
The possibilities are endless. Our experience of such services is mainly in central and eastern Europe, but of course they exist elsewhere too. Many online booking systems would have one believe that there’s no through train from Santiago de Compostela to Bilbao. Table 680 in the current European Rail Timetable suggest otherwise. Leave Santiago at 10.06 on IC280, and at lunchtime move through to the Bilbao-bound carriages which are attached at Ourense.
Clearly there are myriad cases of two trains being conjoined, but with no possibility of being able to move easily between those two trains while they are moving. So a morning TGV from Bâle to Marseille runs in tandem south of Dijon with a Nice-bound TGV from Metz. Attempting an in-flight switch between these two trains on the TGV Sud Est at 300 kph is ill-advised. In similar vein, your appreciation of the Danube Valley scenery will not be enhanced if, when travelling between Linz and Vienna, you attempt to clamber from the Budapest-bound RJ165 onto RJ565 as the two conjoined Railjets speed past the monastery at Melk. Pukka hidden connections rely on old-style rolling stock where passengers are free to walk the entire length of the train.
This article is an updated version of a piece which was originally published as the 'Tip of the Month' in the May 2016 edition of the European Rail Timetable.