European Train Update: 2011 rail changes

Spain Ave High Speed Train
New routes are coming for the Ave, Spain's high-speed train. Photo: Matthew Black

Last week we gave a rail service update for Britain, focusing on some of the new train services that started with the schedule changes that came into effect last Sunday, December 12. Now we’ll take a look at how the 2011 schedules look for continental Europe.

Discontinued services

First the bad news. A number of services have been axed, notably:

1. The overnight trains or through carriages from Munich to Copenhagen, Warsaw and Moscow.

2. The overnight services from Prague to Zagreb and Zürich via Linz (although the long established City Night line service from Prague via Dresden to Zürich continues just as now).

3. The once daily direct train from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Szczecin in Poland.

New links and improvements

But in a Europe where rail travel is becoming ever more popular, there were many notable improvements to services that came with the introduction of the 2011 schedules last Sunday. Some of the highlights include:

1. Dramatic improvements to services between St. Petersburg and Helsinki using sleek new Allegro trains that trim about 90 minutes off the journey times between the two cities.

2. More trains and faster journey times between Paris and Geneva, as the Haut-Bugey high-speed link through the Jura came into operation.

3. Increased frequency and faster travel times on daytime services linking Warsaw with Berlin.

4. More frequent direct services between Brussels and Calais on the French coast.

5. An additional daily service on the busy Paris to Amsterdam route.

6. Entirely new services linking Prague and Dresden with Szczecin in Poland.

7. New direct trans-Alpine trains from Venice to Basel (via the Gotthard route) and to Munich (via the Brenner Pass).

8. Better links from Hamburg with a new overnight train to Paris, and a new daytime service from Hamburg to Vienna via Hannover and Passau (complementing the existing daytime service via Berlin and Prague which continues just as in 2010).

9. An extra daily fast train on the Budapest to Bratislava route.

10. A new direct daytime train between Warsaw and Budapest (complementing the existing overnight service which continues as in the past).

In the weeks ahead

While most of the 2011 schedules came into effect this week, there are a small number of outstanding changes that will be introduced  in the weeks ahead. They include:

Effective December 19: An entire new Spanish high-speed route opens linking Madrid with both Valencia and Albacete. This will dramatically transform travel in eastern Spain, slashing the travel time from Madrid to Valencia by more than half.

On the same date a new high-speed link across the French-Spanish border will open, initially with just twice daily TGV trains from Paris to Figueres, where passengers must change for onward travel to Barcelona. With much reduced journey times, the new link will give much improved daytime connections between Catalunya and cities such as Geneva and London.

Effective January 7: New direct ski season services from Belgium and Luxembourg to the Tarentaise region in the French Alps and to resorts in both the Tyrol and the Salzburg regions of Austria.

You can review all the main 2011 rail schedules in each monthly edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable.  The December edition, which is already available, contains over 500 pages of the 2011 schedules.  The January edition (published next week) includes the full schedules (including late changes which were not available when the December issue went to press) and a useful fares supplement.  That comes as standard fare in each January edition of the timetable, and we find it especially useful as it gives indicative costs for journeys within most European countries as well as for international routes.

About the author

hiddeneurope
About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.
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Cheapo Comments

22 Responses to “European Train Update: 2011 rail changes”
  • David says:

    I am trying to find info on a new direct train link from Malpensa ( MXP ) airport to Florence. Thank you.

  • .
    David (above): Yes, this is the new FRECCIAROSSA service to which you refer. It runs twice daily from MXP direct to Firenze SMN with just two en route stops (at Milano and Bologna). Journey time is 2 hrs 38 mins, and departures from MXP are at 12.22 and 19.22. The one way regular fare is a shade less than sixty euros.

    If you arrive at MXP at a time not nicely coinciding with a fast FRECCIAROSSA departure, worry not. There are excellent connections from MXP to Firenze (Florence) involving just one change of train in Milano. Departures are at 22 and 43 minutes past most hours. The journey time (allowing for the change in Milan) is about 3 hours, and the fares are much the same as on the twice-daily direct train.

    You will find all the details on the Trenitalia website. You can buy the tickets at MXP before hopping on the train.

    Finally, we would just mention that there are several Italian airports much closer to Florence / Firenze, but perhaps MXP fits your itinerary better than those nearer options. MXP is about 300 km from Firenze. There are about a dozen Italian mainland airports that are closer. We just throw that in as a thought that may assist you in your travel planning.

    Susanne and Nicky
    editors / hidden europe magazine

  • Piyush Vyas says:

    Thanks for this good review. You guys seem to mention train services that the main agents seem to know nothing about. I have a Eurail timetable (of the kind you get for free provided with the Global Pass) but it does not have in it so many routes that you mention. Can I use my pass on other routes too, or is it limited to the trains shown in the schedule booklet that comes with the pass?
    P.G. Vyas

  • Viviene says:

    Looking for cheap train/plane to St Petersburgh from Amsterdam , thanks

  • Viviene (above)

    There is a daily direct train from Amsterdam to Moscow, actually a very comfortable one, so this is a very pleasant journey. The train is called the Jan Kiepura. For St Petersburg you just change at Orsha – or, if you prefer, continue on the Jan Kiepura to Moscow, from where it is short hop on the Sapsan Express to StP. Whether you leave the Jan Kiepura in Moscow or at Orsha, remember you’ll need a transit visa for Belarus.

    With the start of the new twice weekly direct ferry to St Petersburg from Stockholm in April (if indeed it starts), there will be a host of new travel possibilities to NW Russia from western Europe (none of which will require a Belarusian transit visa). A credible route to StP from Amsterdam would then be train to Stockholm, changing at Copenhagen, then onward by ferry.

    These are very much the sorts of journeys which we review and describe in the magazine which we edit.
    Nicky and Susanne
    editors / hidden europe magazine

  • Madelaine says:

    I would like to travel from Amsterdam to Brussels via rail. Do I need a sleeper or is this trip comfortable enough that I can sit the whole way? Very scenic? Enjoyable for children?

  • rosa the revolutionary says:

    Amsterdam to Brussels is just 1 hr 55mins, hardly an overnighter. Trains run hourly. Scenery-wise, just about the most boring journey in Europe. But the good news is that the journey is so short that the kids will hardly have a chance to get bored. These fast trains are run by Thalys. €29 one way if you book well ahead, €69 if you just turn up and go.

  • Steve Whitener says:

    Is there a convenient and cheap train option to go from Bologna, Italy to Ljubljana, Slovenia? Traveling in June.

  • Steve (above)

    Very easy, and both convenient and cheap. The journey takes 7 hours, with 3 daytime connections each day. (There is in addition one night time connection via Villach, but in truth the timings for that are not great). For the 3 daytime links, the journey stages are:

    Train Bologna to Venezia Mestre
    ÖBB Bus Venezia Mestre to Villach
    Train Villach to Ljubljana.

    Don’t be put off by the bus leg. Very comfortable (in second class on top deck. Avoid first class which is on lower deck of the bus and has restricted visibility).

    If time is less important, and you want to cut costs you could travel by train to Trieste, bus to Sezana then onward by train to Ljubljana.

    Why not report back on what you decide?
    Have fun
    Nicky and Susanne

  • Alex says:

    We plan to travel by train from Paris to Florence, thence to Naples and finally to Rome before we go back to Manila. What would be the cheapest way to be able to do this? Thanks.

  • Alex (above)
    If cost is really of the essence, as you imply, then opt for slower trains. On overnight services select the lowest category of accommodation. So book well ahead on the Artesia overnight service from Paris to Florence, and you can pick up a place in a six-berth couchette for just €76. Florence to Naples on an InterCity takes almost twice as long as the fastest AV trains but costs only €44. The fastest trains from Rome back to Naples take little more than an hour and cost €45 one way. Take a slower train and the price can be as little as €13 one way.
    Nicky and Susanne
    editors
    hidden europe magazine

  • Chrisma says:

    Hi Nicky and Susanne,
    I plan to travel from Paris to Amsterdam to Hamburg to Salzburg to Rome via train at the end of July/beginning of August. Which trains are available for these trips? As I’m a SA citizen, I am also considering buying a Euro Select pass-do you think its a good idea?
    Thanks!

  • Hi Chrisma

    The optimal one-way fare Paris – Amsterdam – Hamburg – Salzburg – Rome, if you buy the relevant tickets online as soon as they go on sale, is €183. This assumes you travel second class throughout, but it does include the upgrade to a shared two-berth sleeper on the Salzburg to Rome overnight journey. (You actually would join this overnight train in Rosenheim, just a short hop from Salzburg. A regional train runs from Salzburg to Rosenheim to connect conveniently with the sleeper.)

    For this fare, you would book the Thalys Comfort 2 Smoove fare from Paris to Amsterdam, the DB Europa-Spezial from Amsterdam to Salzburg via Hamburg and the CNL Sparpreis fare from Salzburg to Rome.

    To be sure of getting these fares, you’d need to book them as they go on sale, about three months prior to the respective travel dates.

    If you just book as you go, buying tickets on departure, the same journey, in the same classes of travel, could cost as much as €580. Again with three tickets: Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam, DB from Amsterdam via Hamburg to Salzburg, and CNL on to Rome.

    If you book in advance, but less than three months, you’ll pay a fare that is higher than the lead-in price of €183, but lower than the top line €580. Even booking a week or two in advance might bring down the price quite a bit.

    So, over to you. You need to compare how the fares quoted here compare with the Eurail cost. You’d need a pass valid in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy. The pass could stack up to being a very good deal, especially if you anticipate doing extra journeys on the side. But bear in mind that on this itinerary, there will be some pass supplements, so you do not quite roam for free. On Thalys, you’ll still need to reserve a seat and pay a passholder supplement. On the overnight train, you’ll still need to pay for the shared-berth sleeper. And for a passholder that sleeper costs €70. So passes don’t quite mean free travel.

    Hope this has helped. Why not come back and report what you decide?

    Nicky and Susanne
    editors
    Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers
    from Thomas Cook Publishing

  • Chrisma says:

    Wow, this is fantastic advice, thanks so much!
    I am assuming that I should buy these train tickets directly from the carrier’s websites, correct? Would it be possible for me to buy the tickets, reserve the seats and do all of that here from South Africa before I fly to Europe? Or how should this be done?

  • Viviene says:

    Hi, we are travelling from Verona Italy to Lauterbrunnen Switzerland, is it possible to do the journey in one day or will we need to stay overnight in either Milan or Bern. Also do we need to make a reservation or just buy the one ticket for the whole journey or individual tickets for each section since we are starting in Italy and then into Switzerland, thanks.

  • .
    For Vivienne (above)

    Verona to Lauterbrunnen is a lovely transect through the Alps (connecting at each end two spots which are become ‘must-see’ spots to tick off on the tourist icon). Yes, of course it could be accomplished in a day, but we’d have thought it deserves a week or two. So many marvellous spots to linger en route, from the shores of Lago Maggiore to the serenely beautiful mountain villages around Brig. The rail journey is about seven hours. If you are intent on such speed, then the stages are

    Verona to Milan
    Milan to Brig
    Brig to Spiez
    Spiez to Interlaken
    Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen.

    Brig would the obvious place for an overnight stop. Lovely town at the foot of the Simplon massif. As to tickets, you may find it a shade cheaper to buy a discount Trenitalia ticket to Milan, a second to Brig then a third for the final stretch.

    Susane and Nicky
    editors, hidden europe magazine
    and editors of the Thomas Cook guide Europe by Rail

  • .
    For Chrisma (above on 14 Feb)

    Yes, you can buy the Paris to Amsterdam ticket on the Thalys website, and the others on the DB website. Thalys booking is easy, the other two less so. For Salzburg to Rome (assuming you wish to use the CNL night train), enter Rosenheim as the routing point.

    For the Amsterdam to Salzburg via Hamburg ticket, remember you’ll need to enter Hamburg Hbf as the en-route stopover. The Europa-Spezial Amsterdam to Salzburg fare allows routings via Hamburg and permits two stopovers, each of up to 48 hours. If you want to spent more than 48 hrs in Hamburg, you can programme both stops in for that city by entering a 48 hr stop in each of two different Hamburg stations (eg. Harburg and Hbf). You can also buy the DB tickets over the phone from their service centre. Whether you buy on the phone or online, it will surely help if you enlist the help of someone who knows the DB booking system, speaks German and knows something of the railway geography.

    Remember that these cheap tickets restrict you to travelling on the trains you specify and agree at time of booking.

    These matters of bookings are not easy to explain in just a few lines, so we can well understand why sometimes folk end up buying a rail pass. But we hope our few thoughts here assist, and we both wish you a very happy time exploring Europe by rail.

    Nicky and Susanne

  • Viviene says:

    Thank you so much for the info you certainly are a mine of great information and detail and the routes, once again, thanks.

  • Chrisma says:

    Hi there,

    I am trying to book the train tickets for me and my friend directly on the db bahn website using my credit card. I would like to get online tickets, but on the website it states that you are only allowed to book online tickets for yourself personally, not third parties. So now I am confused as to whether I am allowed to buy for myself and a third party at the same time on my credit card? She will of course have her passprt with her as identification and I will have my passport and the credit card.
    I have tried to contact the db bahn website for info on this, but I have not heard anything. Can you please help?

  • .
    Chrisma (above)
    We are the editors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers (2012 from Thomas Cook Publishing). And this is a question we get asked a lot. The answer…. Just go ahead. You will get an online ticket, a single piece of paper, that covers travel for you and whoever is accompanying you. Provided you have the credit card used to purchase the ticket and requisite ID you’ll be fine. The identity of your fellow traveller is not an issue.

    Another small thought. Just check the change and refund conditions carefully. In the event of you wanting to cancel, reroute or reschedule a journey, there are instances where an online ticket has slightly less flexibility than a printed ticket.

    We both wish you happy travels by train though Germany.
    Susanne Kries and Nicky gardner

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