It is that time of year again when we start to look ahead to next year’s European rail schedules. As always, the December timetable change ushers in a host of new services and changes to existing routes. The new schedules kick in this year on Sunday December 13, 2009 and for most services in Europe bookings for the new timetable have opened in the last week or two.
In this briefing for EuroCheapo we take a look at what the 2010 schedules will mean for travelers bound for or traveling through Switzerland and Austria.
Crossing the Alps into Italy: The Cisalpino saga
Look for big changes this year in train services crossing the Alps into Italy. The troubled Cisalpino brand disappears as the Swiss and Italian railways (SBB and Trenitalia respectively) take over the express links from Switzerland via both the Simplon and Gotthard routes to Milan and beyond.
Few will mourn the passing of the unreliable Cisalpino trains, which were so detested by regular users that a pressure group called Cessoalpino was founded to highlight the shortcomings of the service. So Cisalpino really is about to disappear, a tribute to the power of consumer protest.
From mid-December this year, the principal services from Switzerland to Italy will run under the “EuroCity” brand. A simplified timetable will focus on the core services from Zürich and Geneva to Milan. The downside is that the useful daytime direct services from Zürich to Florence and from Basel to Venice and Trieste are dropped in the revised schedules. Henceforth a change of train in Milan will be necessary for these journeys.
When is a train not a train?
Further east, services from Vienna to Italy are completely reorganised, and not (in our view) for the better. When we book a train ticket, we expect to travel by train and not by bus. But that’s not the way the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) see it, and from December 13 travelers heading to Venice from eastern Austria must change onto buses at either Klagenfurt or Villach for the onward journey south into Italy. ÖBB claim that the buses are so sophisticated that “you will feel that you are riding on a train.” We remain to be convinced.
Tyrolean upgrade: Railjet to Zürich
The smart new ÖBB Railjet trains will be introduced on services running east from Zürich through the Austrian Tyrol to Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna. Most passengers will welcome this innovation, but we shall regret the loss of the rather stylish Swiss panorama coach which was always included in the morning train from Zürich. It was our favourite spot for Tyrolean sightseeing.
From Salzburg via the Tyrol to the Rhine Gorge
There is an interesting Tyrolean innovation for 2010. Starting from December 13, there will be a daily morning service from Salzburg that is replete with sightseeing-by-train possibilities.
The train criss-crosses the German/Austrian border to reach Innsbruck, follows the Arlberg route through the Tyrol, skirts Lake Constance, then takes a rural route northwest through Ulm and Heidelberg to reach the Rhine valley. It follows the traditional left bank route up the Rhine via Koblenz to Cologne. Great views of the Lorelei along the way.
No other European train so assiduously links the principal points in Austria and Germany favoured by North American visitors to Europe. The journey times from Salzburg to Heidelberg, Koblenz (for the Rhine gorge) and Cologne are nine, eleven and twelve hours respectively.
End of the line for the Orient Express
In other developments affecting the Alps region, the overnight sleeper train linking Amsterdam with Lugano (in the Swiss Ticino region) and Milan is withdrawn, as is the daily overnight train service from Zürich to Rome. The City Night Line Amsterdam to Vienna night sleeper is also dropped for 2010, but replaced in part by a new Cologne to Vienna overnight service which will be run by ÖBB.
Last but not least, the Orient Express service from Strasbourg to Vienna slips into history with the December timetable change. This service is the last surviving remnant of the grand train that once linked Paris with Istanbul. Over the years, the train’s route has been ever more curtailed. And the 126-year history of the Orient Express finally comes to an end next month. True romantics still have a last chance to ride the real Orient Express. Daily departures are from Strasbourg at 8.37 pm. Tickets are from €29 for the overnight journey to Vienna.
The bible for European rail travelers
We never leave home without our copy of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable. The December 2009 edition, published later this month, will include the 2010 schedules for most European rail routes.