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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.
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.