Having a copy of the new European Rail Timetable this week is like seeing an old friend again. We reported last week on the happy renaissance of this most valuable resource for European rail travelers and we’ve just been combing the tables to identify the headline changes in international rail services for summer 2014.
The patterns of European rail services is always in flux, as rail operators tweak schedules and routes to reflect changing demand. And this year more than most, so there are quite some changes from last summer. Most of the international train services mentioned below are already up and running. Where they have yet to commence, the start date is given.
To, from and through the Alps
1. ÖBB (Austrian Railways) have started a useful new daytime EuroCity service between Vienna and Venice, complementing the existing overnight train linking the two tourist hubs.
2. Another initiative from ÖBB is a new summer season twice-weekly overnight car train link from Vienna to Verona. It will run on Thursdays and Saturdays from June, 14 2014 until the end of September, returning from Italy on Fridays and Sundays.
3. The useful direct link between Zürich and Graz has been restored. This new daytime EuroCity service, called the Transalpin, is a joint venture by the Austrian and Swiss railways. With a travel time of over nine hours, the train breaks no speed records, but no-one will want to hurry with such a feast of fabulous scenery along the way.
Slovenia to Italy
4. The cross-border route between Slovenia and Italy has been reopened, with twelve trains each week now making the ten-minute run from Sezana to Villa Opicina. We hope that before long SZ (Slovenian Railways) will get their act together to provide much better connections at Sezana to and from Ljubljana.
Better connections to Russia
5. RZD (Russian Railways) have greatly improved their services from Vienna and Prague to Minsk and Moscow, cutting several hours off the 2013 journey times and introducing more modern rolling stock on these key international links.
6. Both Innsbruck and Bolzano gain a weekly direct train to and from Moscow. This is due to the rerouting of RZD’s Moscow to Nice service via the Brenner route from Austria to Italy. It does mean that travelers from Russia to the Riviera no longer get to ride the beautiful Semmering railway, but no doubt RZD is keen to tap Russian travelers’ enthusiasm for holidays in the Tyrol.
France to Spain
7. The direct daytime high-speed TGV service between Paris and Barcelona benefits from an extra train from March 31, 2014, bringing the number of daily trains to three in each direction. With a transit time between the two city centers of just six-and-a-half hours, this new direct service is already pulling traffic away from the airlines, and there is talk of a fourth daily service being added later in 2014.
8. The Paris to Barcelona service is just one of a raft of new cross-border services linking France and Spain. Another useful new link is run by Spanish rail operator RENFE, who now have daily direct services from Marseille to Madrid. Stylish AVE Series 100 trains speed between the two cities in a shade over seven hours. RENFE is also now running AVE services from Barcelona to Lyon and Toulouse with talk of an increase in frequency on those route from July 2014. A through daytime service from Barcelona to Geneva may follow later in the year or in 2015.
More French connections
9. Thalys’ stylish red trains debut on a new route next month, with the launch of direct high-speed services from Lille to Amsterdam. Until now passengers on this routing had to change trains in Brussels—and a change of operator there meant that through ticketing was not always easy. That all changes on April 12 when the new through services start.
10. Eurostar will not be repeating their 2013 experiment when the company ran direct trains from London to Aix-en-Provence via Lyon. But they will be offering an extended season on their summer route from London to Avignon. The direct service to Avignon kicks off this year on June 28.
And just perhaps….
We’ve covered ten international services which are either up and running or definitely slated to start in the upcoming period. There are still a few tantalizing open questions. Some media are suggesting that the Belgrade to Thessaloniki international service may be relaunched this spring. Rail services to Greece have been such an on-off affair (more ‘off’ than ‘on’) that we don’t want to bet on that one. But, if it happens, this really will be good news. Greece has been isolated from international rail networks for too long.
Another maybe or may-not-be service is the reintroduction of direct daytime services between Nice and Milan. Thello is slated as the most likely operator for this proposed service which would run to EuroCity standards. Until it starts, travelers between Nice and Milan will normally need to change trains at Ventimiglia (although a weekly Russian train does run right through from Nice to Milan).