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New trains, new routes: exploring Europe by rail in 2011

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All aboard!
All aboard at the Gare du Nord! Photo by bindonlane

The big rail news in Europe this past week has been the successful launch of a new direct train service from Moscow to Nice, restoring a link between the Russian capital and the French Riviera that has not operated since before the First World War. Routed via Minsk, Warsaw, Vienna, Innsbruck, Verona, Milan and Genoa, this new luxury train will surely appeal to Russian travellers who have latterly discovered the appeal of the Tyrol and Liguria. The French Riviera has of course long been a popular Russian haunt and the new train service recalls summer holiday journeys to Nice made by Russia’s aristocratic elite in the late 19th century.

TGV trains from France into Spain

The main annual change of schedules for most European rail operators will take place on Sunday December 12. Looking ahead to changes in the offing, the new timetable will see the launch of French TGV services over the Franco-Spanish border with twice daily trains from Paris to Figueras. Until now, TGV services from France have always terminated at the first station over the border in Spain.

Germany to Italy

We are expecting some big changes on the Brenner route, which carries trains from Munich in Germany via Innsbruck to northern Italy, with more trains and the extension of more services south beyond Verona to Bologna. These will speed up connections between Bavaria and Italian destinations south of Bologna (including Florence and Rome). And it looks likely that a new Munich to Venice daytime train will be introduced in December.

A new high-speed connection

The big news in northern Europe surrounding the new 2011 rail schedules will surely be the opening of the new high-speed route between Helsinki and St Petersburg. That journey presently takes over six hours, but with the introduction of the new Allegro train service, the travel time will be slashed to 3 hours 36 minutes. The new services debuts on 12 December.

Train at Utrecht

Train at Utrecht. Photo by bindonlane

Night train services

The overnight trains from Munich to both Copenhagen and Warsaw will be withdrawn in December, but Deutsche Bahn’s City Night Line subsidiary will launch a new overnight service from Hamburg to Paris. We shall give a further update on the new schedules nearer to their launch date. The December 2010 edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable will include the new timetables for all main European routes as well as for many lesser ones. Meanwhile, the October edition of this monthly treasure trove is due out this week and that already includes a 36 page preview of Europe’s 2011 rail schedules.

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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22 Responses to “New trains, new routes: exploring Europe by rail in 2011”

Rhinoceriinshortsocks says:

I want to book an overnight train from Cologne to Vienna on 28 December 2010, but I have not been able to book yet on either the OBB or BAHN websites. Does anyone know when it will be possible to make this booking? Thank you in advance.

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The train in which you are interested shows in the new season’s schedules which come into effect in mid-December. On the day you wish to travel departure from Cologne is at 2005, arriving into Vienna at 0904 next morning. And indeed it already shows up on some agents’ booking systems with which we are familiar. That it is not bookable online is possibly a little unusual, but we have noted that Austrian night trains originating in Germany are sometimes a little slower than other trains in being ‘freed’ for online booking. You could try booking now by calling the Deutsche Bahn English language call centre in the UK, or check online again in a week or two. It is possible that the train is only provisionally in the schedules and its exact running dates may not be confirmed for a week or two. Such uncertainty is common at this time of year as Europe gears up to switch to new train schedules across the continent.

Karen says:

Hi, I have a very similar problem. I want to book a night train from Paris to Firenze on 20 December 2010, but I have not been able to book yet on either the OBB or BAHN websites. Does anyone know when it will be possible to make this booking? Thanks!!!

Rino says:

these are not available yet as the italian railway have not issued the new times, i am travelling to on the 20th to rome, i guess we have to wait, you can check updates on the artesia web site : http://www.artesia.eu/english/train-ticket-reservation.php goodbye!!!! Rino

Kevin says:

Hi,

I have to transport a group of 13 from Stuttgart Airport to Rothenburg ob der Tauber after arriving by plane from Istanbul.

If I book a group fare I am bound to a certain train and if the aircraft is delayed by unserviceability or weather, thus that we miss that train, the tickets have to be replaced at much greater cost.

Is it possible to buy Länder tickets for both regions and use them on any train for the journey, not just a nominated train?

Hi Kevin (above)

Yes, Länder tickets can be used on any train except those with ICE, EC and IC prefixes. And they are completely flexible. No need to book. For your proposed journey, viz. Stuttgart Apt to Rothenburg odT, a very few connections use IC trains (none use ICE or EC), and those that do use IC trains are not really a whole lot fast than those that don’t. So you lost little time-wise using Länder tickets. For a group of up to 15 you will need three B-W Länder tickets and three Bayern Ländertickets.

The Länder Tickets (each valid for a group of up to 5) cost €28 each, so €168 in all. That is more than you’d pay for a group fare for your journey, but – as you rightly observe, Kevin – the group fare will have ‘Zugbindung’ (ie. a restriction to specified trains.

Nicky

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For Rhinoceriinshortsocks (Köln to Wien) and Karen (Paris to Firenze), both above:

You each commented earlier this month on not being able to book selected journeys online, in each case for travel dates after the European timetable changes in mid-December. So this is just to let you know that both the services you mentioned (viz. Köln to Wien and Paris to Firenze) are now bookable online. As indeed are now most services after the schedule changes on 12 December. There remain a tiny number of trains that are not yet bookable, such as single journeys from Germany to selected points in Russia, but in general all services up to the end of February are now bookable – and in some cases even beyond the end of February. For example, on its main capital city services from London to both Brussels and Paris, Eurostar is now taking bookings to the end of March.

Rhinoceriinshortsocks says:

Thank you for your help. I was able to book my overnight journey from Cologne to Vienna. It’s going to be cold!

Crystal says:

Hi,

I’ll be traveling to Spain during X’mas and New Year and like a lot of people here…I can’t buy tickets (well, for me is seat reservations) because the Spanish Railway is still updating their schdule.

I am planning to buy a 3-day Spain Pass since I have serveral trains that I will be taking:

12/29: Madrid to Seville (this one shows on Renfe.com but not on Raileurope.com)
12/30: Seville to Granada and Granada to Seville (no schedule on both websites)
1/1: Seville to Madrid and then Madrid to Barcelona (shows on renfe.com but not raileurope.com)

Does anybody know anywhere else I could buy the seat reservations?? It’s less than 4 weeks before my departure and I still haven’t booked any train tickets, I worry that the seats will be sold-out.

Any help is appreciated!

Hi Crystal (above)

Might we just comment on your upcoming travel plans over the New Year in Spain? Firstly we would just ask why you are buying a rail pass and whether you have really checked that the journeys you are doing justify investment in a rail pass?

If you take an Alvia train from Madrid to Sevilla (for example) and just buy the ticket on the day of departure – or now or a few days in advance if you want – the full fare is about €64. With a rail pass you’ll still have to pay a supplement which could be as high as €20.

The full fare return for Sevilla to Granada is €48. On that route there are regional trains, and you can travel on those with a rail pass without needing to pay a supplement. Had you realised it is quite a long journey – three hours each way on a direct train, so six hours travelling time in a day trip.

If you take the ARCO direct train from Sevilla to Barcelona (for your 1 January 2011 journey), you’ll be in for a treat as this really is one of Europe’s finest train journeys. The train is called the Garcia Lorca and takes a superb route through the Sierra Morena. The one way fare is €62. On 1 January this particular train could be crowded, so you may consider trading up to Preferente Class which is €83 one way. If you travel back through Madrid, it’ll be more expensive, you’ll need to change trains, and you’ll miss some fantastic scenery.

All the fares we quote are full fares which are flexible and don’t need advance booking.

We have no idea what kind of rail pass you had in mind purchasing, but do check carefully it is worth while. With the rail pass, you will still need to pay supplements (to actually use the pass) and seat reservations. With the regular ticket prices we have quoted, there are no extras.

Those services that can be pre-reserved (viz. Madrid to Sevilla and Sevilla to Barcelona) are already on sale on the Spanish language section of the RENFE website (which we just checked for you) and indeed have been for some time. The Sevilla to Granada day trip is on local trains that – as far as we know – don’t have received seats. If you really want to, you can buy the tickets for that Sevilla to Granada day trip online from about two weeks before travel, but there is no price advantage in so doing.

You need not worry too much about availability on the Madrid to Sevilla leg. You have a choice of 18 fast trains on 29 December, and at the moment there is plentiful availability on all 18 trains. But you can book it online now if you want. Sevilla to Barcelona on the Garcia Lorca on 1 January would be worth booking.

Nicky and Susanne
hidden europe magazine

Crystal says:

Hi Nicky and Susanne,

Thank you very much for your valuable suggestions and checking the schedules.

I actually know about the ARCO train but it is a 12+ hours long ride so i can’t really do it for this trip.

I am planning to buy a 3-day Spain Railpass which costs US$217 and taking into account of all the seat reservations, the pass can actually save me US$25-30. I have also noticed there are some trains that are on sale with the Web special and even with the discounted price on point-to-point tickets, it’s still slightly more expensive than the pass.

Now the schedules for all my legs are updated and posted on renfe.com but I still don’t see them on raileurope.com which I really don’t understand. Aren’t they in sync with one another? Without the schedules on raileurope.com I really can’t buy any seat reservations.

I know I am a little crazy about the day trip between Granada and Seville but I just realized the beauty of the Alhambra after I booked all the hotels and flights. I can only find one day to visit Granada without staying there.

Now I am only down to the rail pass thing and I am all set for my trip, but raileurope is really driving me crazy!
Again, thanks for your suggestions! I really appreciate it.

WHY SOME / MANY / MOST TRAINS DO NOT SHOW ON RAIL EUROPE

Hi again Crystal

You raise a really important point. The US-based agent Rail Europe Inc presents a small selection of routes and connections which they judge to be best suited to the US market. So less than one per cent of all European rail stations feature in their database, and less than one per cent of all trains in Europe. They provide a great service for risk-averse travellers, keen to book in advance and to pay in US dollars, and they restrict their offering to journeys likely to be wanted in the market they serve. S

Sometimes their fares are very high compared with what we might pay, buying a ticket here in Europe, but that’s not the point. It is a service well geared to the market it serves. So no, Rail Europe and RENFE are certainly not in sync. Hope that helps.

As mentioned above in our earlier post, rail passes issued in the US don’t allow you to breeze through the station and just hop on a train (at least not in Spain, nor indeed in many other European countries). You will need to pay a supplement, so go to the departure station a day or two before travel to pay the supplements. As we have no experience of such rail passes, we cannot say how much exactly you’ll need to pay, but probably in the range of 10 to 25 euros per train on AVE services (depending on class of travel).

Susanne and Nicky
hidden europe magazine

Kevin says:

Hi Nicky,

I am still looking at the Ländertickets to get from Stuttgart to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I appreciate that I will need to get three Ländertickets for each of Baden-Württemberg and Bayern to convey my group of 13.

Just looking at the DBahn website everything looks ok except that a route is still specified i.e. departing Stuttgart HBF at 09:07. If I purchase the tickets online and print them will they specify this train or or will they be open tickets?

Finally is it possible to purchase these tickets i.e. for both states at Stuttgart Airport when we arrive on 5th May?

Regards,

Kevin

Hi Kevin (above)
Woefully slow response, I’m afraid, to your good question above. You can purchase the Baden-W Länder tickets at the machines at Stuttgart Airport station, so before boarding the S2 or S3 local trains that connect the airport with the main city centre station. These tickets have no route marked on them, no origin and no destination.

As the purchasing the Bayern Länder tickets, I am a little less certain. I think it very likely that you’d get these too at the machine at Stuttgart Airport station, but if not then at the Reisezentrum at Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof. If you choose to purchase online, it matters not at all what itinerary you specify, but do take care of course to ensure that you purchase tickets for the correct date.
NG

Kevin says:

Hi again, Nicky,

I hope this is my last question about Länder Tickets. I guess you do too.

As I indicated I need to buy three tickets for each state. I prefer to do it online, as I live in Australia, but I note that to be able to print the tickets I must be the user. Obviously I can only use one ticket in each state. Do you interpret that as requiring me to arrange for two other members of the group to book, pay and print the other two or do you think I can order all of them, in three separate goes, pay for them with my credit card and print them because I will be with the group?

If you are doubtful I will adopt the former method.

I do appreciate your help very much.

Regards,

Kevin

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Hi Kevin

We are getting into what, for me at least, is rather unknown territory here. The wonderful thing about Länder-Tickets is that folk normally just buy them on the day. Indeed you can even buy them on most trains, but there they cost a few euros more for each ticket.

I certainly noticed that Deutsche Bahn introduced a facility a few months back whereby Länder-Tickets could be printed out online, but in truth I cannot really see the point. The tickets are not-transferable and non-refundable. You can only use the online purchase print-out if YOU are there as ticket holder AND you have with you the credit card with which you made the purchase. In other words, you’ll need to have three people separately purchase a ticket with their own credit cards (and then make sure that those named individuals are there on the day with those same credit cards).

If you do purchase online and have the physical tickets posted to you, no such restrictions apply. But with a home print-out, there is a name and credit card number linked to each ticket. So my advice would be, if you really feel the need to pre-purchase, why not pay the extra to get the tickets mailed to you?

If Icelandic ash or strikes lead to flights being cancelled or diverted you will not be able to use the tickets. That consideration lends weight to the notion that purchasing on the day may be a safer option. Please do not hesitate to say if you think I can help further. I can really appreciate your dilemma.

NG

Nancy Petrotta says:

We will be driving from Bilbao, Spain to Figueres, Spain and dropping off our car. We then plan to take the train from Figueres to Lyon, France. We are continuing from Lyon to Chamonix to Beaune to Paris for about 4-5 days.

Should we buy a point to point ticket from Figueres to the first town on the French side and then buy a France 4 or 5 day rail pass? Thanks.

For Nancy (above)
From the amount of travel you suggest you might be doing, a rail pass might possibly not be a good investment. If you book well in advance, by which we mean a few weeks, then these are the fares you might expect to get:

Figueras to Lyon: €39 (TGV)
Lyon to Chamonix (TER local trains): €35 (no need to book this one in advance)
Chamonix to Beaune (TER local trains): €55 (no need to book this one in advance)
Beaune to Paris: €17 (TGV)

That gives total expenditure of €136. Presumably the pass you have in mind costs more than this. The pass can be used without supplement on the TER local trains. But for the TGV journeys, you have to reserve those trains in advance and pass a fee (in addition to the cost of the rail pass). France is one of those countries where a rail pass does not give the freedom to just hop on and off trains at will. All TGV trains, and most other express services, require that pass holders reserve in advance (and pay a charge).

Of course, if you don’t book well in advance for your two long hops on TGVs then those cheap fares cited above will be very much more costly. Booking today for travel tomorrow, Figueras to Lyon is €61 and Beaune to Paris is €43. That would bring your total French rail travel bill up to €184 per person.

We know little of the prices of the rail pass you might consider, but when we’ve run into folk who have purchased such passes in the US, we are often staggered at how much they have paid. If the pass you are considering is $100, go for it. But if it’s $300, then clearly it would be an unwise investment.

Why not report back here, Nancy, what you finally decide?
Nicky and Susanne
editors
hidden europe magazine

Terri says:

Does anyone know if there is a new rute being built from Paris to Malaga please ?

Terri (above)
Most of it has been built. A further short section from Perpignan to Figueres opened last December. It is now possible to leave Paris in the morning and be in Malaga the same evening. The daytime connection favoured by most travellers taking this route is the 07.20 from Paris which, with easy changes of train along the way, gets you to Malaga at 21.03 in the evening. Not bad timings, for a journey of some 1500 miles, and it will become even faster in the future as the remaining gaps in the dedicated fast lines are opened. You can also take the night train from Paris to Madrid and then continue next morning from Madrid to Malaga, arriving in Malaga in time for lunch.
Nicky and Susanne
editors
hidden europe magazine

Karly says:

I have been trying to buy a train ticket from Lyon to Rome on December 16, 2011, but have had no luck. The man at the train station told me to wait it out.

I found this one website with an explanation: http://www.raileurope.co.uk/mass_affiliation/serviceupdate.html

Does anyone have any other advice or information?

Thanks!

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