It is not just across continental Europe that new rail schedules kick in next weekend, but in Britain too. So let’s just take a moment to review what’s new on the rails around Britain for 2011.
Effective Sunday December 12, a new rail service launches between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Travelers between Scotland’s two premier cities already have a choice of three competing routes, but now here comes yet a fourth option–and one that greatly enhances access to the Scottish capital from communities that have not before had direct trains to Edinburgh.
London to Birmingham: A new main line
In the English Midlands, ever-innovative Chiltern Railways open new tracks at Birmingham Moor Street station on Friday this week, upping capacity at the station in anticipation of Chiltern’s upgraded services from Birmingham to London.
This month sees modest improvements in Chiltern’s schedules, but the big speed-up comes next May when the new Chiltern Mainline services will dash from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone in just 100 minutes. The company has effectively rebuilt a historic main line linking London with the Midlands, recreating a route that traverses some wonderful countryside–including Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and the Chiltern Hills.
More trains for Night Owls
Brits are becoming more nocturnal in their social habits, as the imperative to be tucked up in bed by 10 p.m. recedes. So there are big improvements to late night train services in some urban areas (particularly in south London on Friday and Saturday nights) and between selected cities. For example, late evening services from Cardiff to Bristol get a boost on every day of the week.
The established pattern of overnight sleeper services in Britain remains unchanged for 2011, with all sleeper trains running nightly except Saturdays. The Caledonian Sleeper network provides direct overnight trains between London and forty destinations in Scotland, while First Great Western services speed passengers in overnight comfort from London to eleven stations in Cornwall.
From Britain to the Continent
New Eurostar schedules come into effect next Sunday, with the basic pattern of service being re-jigged to give a new Calais stop on many services from London to Brussels. Eurostar’s direct ski trains from London to the Tarentaise region will operate again for this winter season with the first direct service to the French Alps pulling out of London’s St Pancras station on Saturday January 1, 2011.
A British Christmas on the rails
Perhaps rail companies in Britain think they are doing folks a favor when they shut up shop over Christmas. We know not quite why affairs are arranged thus, but it is extraordinary just how difficult travel in Britain becomes over the holidays. There are no trains at all in Britain on December 25, and perilously few in England on December 26–not more than sparse links from London to its three main airports and to Brighton on the Sussex coast.
The rail companies use the holiday period for a festival of track maintenance. This year for example, major work in the Reading area will seriously disrupt services from London to Bristol, south-west England and south Wales for a ten day period over Christmas and New Year. Similar work on tracks south of London will affect services from Gatwick Airport into the capital until Wednesday December 29.
It is always wise to check details in advance before travel, but never more so than when planning to explore Britain by rail over Christmas and Hogmanay.