Missing Links: The Gaps in Europe’s Rail Network

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Dalmatian Coast
The Dalmatian Coast. Photo: Alex Bikfalvi

By Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries—

Chile wasn’t the only subterranean tale this past week. The news that engineers had burrowed through the Gotthard Massif to create a 57 km-long tunnel deep under the Alps was accompanied by plenty of news reports predicting a revolution in European rail transport.

Don’t hold your breath. The first trains will not run through the new Gotthard tunnel for another six years. Clearly, some of the pundits who dubbed the Gotthard route one of the great missing links in Europe’s rail network obviously didn’t quite appreciate that the existing Gotthard tunnel already carries several trains an hour under the Alps. The point about the new tunnel is that it is deeper, longer—and when trains do eventually start using that new route they will be able to travel faster than through the previous tunnel which is now 130 years old.

The main missing links

Tatra Mountains

The Tatra Mountains. Photo: Remik78

But the Gotthard story set us thinking about what really are the key missing links in Europe’s rail network. And we have come up with three flights of cartographic fancy, each of which would hugely enhance connectivity. All suggestions are probably utterly impractical and don’t make a shred of economic sense. But wouldn’t it be great if instead of creating yet another tunnel through the Alps, someone would burrow under the Tatra Mountains to link the Polish railhead at Zakopane with the Slovakian rail network at Poprad.

Next up on our wish list would be a railway linking Norway’s two railheads north of the Arctic Circle. A new line along the coast from Bodø to Narvik would be a treat.

Our third fantasy would extend the railway that ends on the coast of Croatia at Ploce south along the coast, thus giving a rail link for the first time to the delectable Adriatic resort of Dubrovnik.

It is interesting that the fine folk who compile the monthly Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable evidently share our thinking on the importance of these missing links as all three of our dream journeys feature as bus routes in their timetable. Buses in a train timetable. Impostors, you might say, but these are three links where even the most devoted rail traveller must resort to road transport.

The Albanian connection

And as we dream, we have another little idea. That line to Dubrovnik might usefully be extended south along the coast into Montenegro and on across the border into Albania. It is a curiosity of Europe’s rail map that the Albanian rail network exists in splendid isolation. Not a single passenger train crosses the country’s borders. Albanian trains are deliciously antiquated and unbelievably cheap. Indeed we judge the 295 lek fare (less than $3) for the train journey from Podradec in the country’s east to the Albanian capital, Tirana, is the finest investment we’ve ever made. There are few more entertaining ways of passing six or seven hours.

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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4 thoughts on “Missing Links: The Gaps in Europe’s Rail Network”

  1. Peter, Susanne and Nicky,
    I don’t think you will have to wait long for High Speed Rail links between London and Amsterdam, Koln etc. DB the German Rail operator is actively pursuing a licence to operate through the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar have ordered 10 new trains to expand their services.

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  2. Yep, they’re almost as bad as the TSA. It’s not the fact that they’re there that I particularly mind – the UK is free to be silly and not join Schengen – but the fact that the agents are almost always aggressive and rude.

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  3. .
    Thanks, Peter. Yes, wouldn’t London to Amsterdam be a fine thing, and perhaps London to Cologne and London to Geneva too? And actually we feel just the same as you about the British immigration posts that one encounters prior to boarding Eurostar on the continent. This seems an imposition by the British authorities, and something that sadly marks out the UK as being so out of kilter with the rest of Europe. While borders fall across much of Europe, the Brits take another course. We once had a prolonged exchange of e-mails with the UK Immigration Authorities, in which they eventually conceded our right to decline to show a passport at the UK immigration control at the Brussels Eurostar terminal if we were bound only for Lille in France.

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  4. It’s not exactly a missing link, but I would love it if the Eurostar went through Brussels to Amsterdam. Now that the high speed line between Brussels and Amsterdam is open a Eurostar trip between London and Amsterdam would only take something like 3 hours, not even an hour longer than London-Paris. It would be a fantastic connection, even if one price to pay would be allowing the horrible British immigration officials to setup shop in Amsterdam Central Station.

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