European rail operators revise their schedules from time to time, most frequently to reflect changing patterns of demand, to serve new routes or to react to new competition. Let’s take a look at what might be in the offing with the next major round of scheduled changes in December 2011.
The new timetables come into effect on December 11, 2011, and the full schedules for many routes will be available only from late October.
Overnight to Copenhagen
This fills a distinct gap in overnight provision between two key cities, but may take away traffic from the long-standing Berlin Night Express (BNE) which links Berlin with Malmö (with the sleeping cars shipped on a ferry over the Baltic between Germany and Sweden). Whether BNE will run beyond this fall is not yet clear.
Competition in Austria
Look for changes in Austria from December 11 when the new Westbahn services start linking Vienna with Salzburg. Westbahn is a new private rail venture backed by French operator SNCF. They debut on the Salzburg-Vienna route with hourly services linking the two Austrian cities in what will surely be some sharp competition for ÖBB who also have hourly trains on the same route.
Rhine – Rhône links
A very useful new daytime link between central Germany and the south of France will start on December 11 with a once daily TGV service from Frankfurt-am-Main to Marseille (running via Strasbourg and Lyon). This new link is made possible by a new stretch of line in eastern France known as the LGV Rhin-Rhône which will also bring faster services linking Paris with Bâle (Basel) and Zürich.
Russian Railways (RZD) has moved from strength to strength over the last year or two, with the Sapsan Express offering vastly improved services between Moscow and St. Petersburg since December 2009 and RZD pushing boldly west with new services to the Netherlands, Switzerland and, since September 2010, a new train linking Moscow with the French Riviera.
There are rumors that RZD is looking to extend the Moskva Express, which presently runs from Moscow to Berlin, west to Paris. At present, just a single carriage from the Moskva Express continues west beyond Berlin. It arrives in Berlin on the Moskva Express at breakfast time and is then attached in the evening to the overnight train from Berlin to Paris. So that means an 11-hour wait in Berlin for through travelers from Moscow to Paris. The idea of the entire Russian train continuing west to Paris without that long wait in Berlin will appeal to many travelers on the route. And it will open up new travel opportunities between Berlin and Paris. At present there is no direct day train between the two capitals.
Of course timetable changes do not always mean improvements. And we are sorry to see that many of the sleeping cars from Berlin to provincial cities in Ukraine are being cut. The regular nightly train to Kiev continues. This stylish blue and gold train is called the Kashtan, which means “chestnut” – the signature tree of the Ukrainian capital. But after next week, no longer will this train carry a glorious array of through carriages to such exotic destinations as Odesa, Kharkiv, L’viv and Simferopol.
The October 2011 issue of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable will contain a preview of the new schedules for Europe. It is published on September 22, 2011. The final timetables appear in the December 2011 edition of this fabulous book.