New rail timetables came into effect across much of Europe this month. The new schedules will apply through late 2014. This recasting of the pattern of train services is an annual event, one that invariably leads to winners and losers. In this article, we note the passing of a number of direct overnight rail services. This is not to suggest that the revised schedules are all bad news: on the contrary, there are many new links and on some existing routes enhanced service frequencies and faster travel times. The bottom line is that rail travel is very much on the up for short hops across Europe.
Winners and losers
Among the high points are a number of new direct high-speed services from Barcelona to Paris and provincial cities across France (including Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon). There is also a very useful new daytime link from Vienna to Venice. Elsewhere we see more Thalys trains from Germany’s Ruhr region to both Brussels and Paris. There are much improved journey times on overnight services from Prague to Moscow. We shall look at all the good things that feature in the new timetables in a further article in 2014.
Meanwhile, the bad news.
Elipsos hits the buffers
The night trains from Paris to Barcelona and Madrid ran for the last time in mid-December. These were the last services still run by Elipsos, a Renfe / SNCF joint venture created in 2001. Much improved daytime services between France and Spain were launched on 15 December 2013, and that inevitably hits demand for overnight travel. So Elipsos enters railway history, as travelers shift their affections to the new fast daytime services.
Paris to Rome withdrawn
The Thello night train service from Paris to Rome has been withdrawn. We are not sure a lot of folk are going to mourn this one. It was a lackluster venture using ancient rolling stock. The Thello service from Paris to Venice continues unchanged.
Last train from Switzerland to Russia
The direct sleeping service from Basel in Switzerland to Poland, Belarus and Russia slips from the new schedules. This imposes no great hardship, because this was not an express connection. The train lingered here and there along the way, requiring two nights on board for the full run from Basel to Moscow. A much faster link was available by traveling north from Basel to Strasbourg (France) or Mannheim (Germany) to connect there onto the very comfortable Trans-European Express which runs from Paris to Moscow and requires just one night on board. Savvy travelers who valued creature comforts had already forsaken the through carriages from Switzerland in favor of the Trans-European Express.
Changes on the Jan Kiepura
Amsterdam and Cologne lose their direct services to Minsk (in Belarus). This is just one of a suite of changes arising from new timings for the Jan Kiepura night train from Amsterdam to Warsaw. Arrival in Warsaw from the west is now not until midday, and passengers for points further east must now change in Warsaw for onward travel. The through cars from Amsterdam and Cologne to Copenhagen and Prague (all conveyed on the Jan Kiepura) continue unchanged.
Lost link to Siberia
The Siberjak direct train from Berlin to Siberia has been axed. For many travelers, the very idea of this train was laced with romance. The thought of hopping on a train in Germany that would carry you to beyond the Ural Mountains into Asia appealed to the imagination. The train has at various times conveyed through carriages to other exotic destinations, such as Adler (on Russia’s Black Sea coast) and Astana (capital of Kazakhstan). Those destination name-boards on the sides of sleeper cars just made this remarkable train seem ever more fabulous. The trouble was that not a lot of folk actually used it. So the Siberjak is sadly no more.