Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, editors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers, explain how new high-speed rail services are transforming the relations between capitals and the provinces in France, Sweden and Turkey.
In the Turkish city of Konya, the acronym “YHK” has been much talked about this past month. YHK means “Yüksek Hizli Tren” — “high-speed train.” Turkey’s fledgling high-speed rail network is developing quickly. The latest milestone came on August 24, 2011 when a new link from Konya to the capital Ankara was commissioned, reducing the journey time between the two cities from more than 10 hours to just 102 minutes. This is mind-boggling stuff. Journey times cut by 83%.
With such impressive speed, travelers exploring Turkey really can now make a day trip from Ankara to Konya, a city famed for its long-standing association with Sufi mystics. And businesses in Konya are talking up the economic benefits which the new fast rail link with the capital will surely bring.
Post-haste through France
The sentiments are much the same in the Franche-Comté and Haut-Rhin areas of eastern France that are so near, and yet so far, from Paris. Towns like Belfort and Mulhouse have long felt disadvantaged through not being on one of France’s high-speed rail routes.
But this will change on December 11 when the new high-speed rail link between the upper Rhine valley and Burgundy opens. Most Belfort to Paris trains presently take four hours. Twice daily TGVs take 3 hrs 45 mins. From December 11, eight TGVs a day will speed from Belfort to Paris, the fastest trains taking just 2 hrs 16 mins.
Swedish speed in 2012
In Sweden, folk in the West Bothnia coastal district north of Sundsvall have long complained about the lack of any decent rail links with Stockholm. The twice-daily trains both take almost 10 hours for the journey from Umeå to the Swedish capital, hardly better than 40 years ago when there was at least a good daytime direct train from Umeå to Stockholm.
But a brand-new rail route is being constructed along the coast and already one 70-mile-long section south of Umeå has been opened. The new line is called the “Botniabanan,” (Bothnia Railway) and the full route will open in late summer or autumn 2012, bringing the travel time from Umeå to Stockholm down to less than six hours.