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In mid-December each year most of Europe’s rail and bus companies revamp their schedules, but many also do some mid-year tweaking of their timetables. So here’s what is in store for the upcoming summer period. The new summer schedules will feature in the June 2012 edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, which is published on May 28, 2012.
New link to St. Petersburg
A much-needed rail service from Tallinn to St Petersburg is planned to start on May 27. This new daytime service is a joint venture of Estonian rail operator GoRail and RZD Russian Railways. Look for a seven-hour travel time in each direction and that includes longish stops at Narva and Ivangorod for customs checks (for the European Union and the Russian Federation respectively).
Let’s hope this is a train that survives. Last time there was a daytime cross-border service from Estonia to Russia it was axed after just a few weeks.
Berlin to Gdansk direct
Just in time for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, a new rail link between Germany and Poland will debut next month. A new once-daily train will link Berlin with the Polish Baltic cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. Gdansk is one of the host cities for UEFA 2012. The new service starts June 6. Travel time from Berlin to Gdansk will be 6hrs 24mins and the train is listed as having an on-board restaurant.
Last EuroCity to Szczecin
But with this new link to the Polish Baltic coast, another Baltic connection is sadly withdrawn. The once-daily EuroCity service from Prague via Berlin to Szczecin in Poland, introduced only in late 2010, will be withdrawn after June 5. The direct trains from Prague via Berlin to Germany’s Baltic coast (and to the Baltic island of Rügen) are unaffected.
Regular regional trains will continue to link Berlin and Szczecin (many requiring a change of trains in Angermünde). And with a great value one-way fare of just €10 for travel between the two cities, those regular regional trains will continue to attract a budget-conscious crowd for whom EuroCity comfort was perhaps a superfluous luxury.
More options from Paris
The new Trans-European Express service from Paris to Moscow, launched last December, has evidently been a success. We were much impressed by the train when we traveled on it last month. Until now, departures from Paris have been thrice weekly, but that increases to five times each week from May 30.
From London to southern sun
Eurostar’s regular summer direct services from London to Avignon will be returning for the 2012 season. The service restarts on July 6. It gives a very welcome fast route for travelers fleeing London for the delights of the southern Rhône Valley and Provence.
Vienna to Africa
For travelers from central Europe bound for Italy’s Cinque Terre coast, the new Toscana Mare night train from Vienna to Livorno is already proving a great boost. The service launched in late March and is scheduled to operate until late September. At Livorno there are connections with the Grimaldi Lines ferry links to Barcelona and Tangier.
The closure of the Brenner Pass rail route for a spell this coming summer will lead to significant disruption of rail services using this major north-south axis through the Alps. The northern part of this route (from Innsbruck south to the Italian frontier) is long overdue for track renewal and the Austrian rail administration has scheduled the work for a four-month period starting early June. For much of that spell one of the two tracks will still be available for trains, but from August 6 to September 10 the route will be completely closed.
And in addition, there will be no trains over the Brenner Pass on six other weekends prior to August 6 or after September 10.
Buses by day, diversions by night
This Brenner festival of track maintenance will mean significant disruption to all rail services from Munich and Salzburg via Innsbruck to Verona and beyond. Passengers using daytime EuroCity services will be transferred south of Innsbruck by bus as far as Brenner. This will add significantly to journey times. Tourists may judge the timing as perverse. Closing a key route during the peak tourist travel season might seems not to make sense. But in truth the Brenner rail line is first and foremost a freight route, and cargo traffic drops off during the peak summer months. For those who don’t fancy the Brenner bus ride, there are many alternative options – such as crossing from Germany to Italy via Switzerland instead of Austria.
The City Night Line Pictor overnight train from Munich to Venice normally uses the Brenner route, and also does the Lupus night train from Munich to Rome. The Pictor will be rerouted via the Tauern Tunnel and Tarvisio every night from 10 June to 25 September. The Lupus diversion dates are more complicated, as the Tauern / Tarvisio route means a significantly longer travel time to Rome, so the plan is to divert the Lupus only when absolutely necessary.
A similar diversion will apply to the Moscow to Nice train which also traverses the Brenner route by night (in both directions). Innsbruck will not be served by these night trains on those days when they are rerouted via alternative lines.
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