With new timetables on the horizon, we take a look at how Europe's rail services are changing this winter. Most developments of real note are in central and eastern Europe. Take a deep breath and prepare for a dose of nerdish distraction — on a continental scale. If this sort of detail interests you, you might like ‘European Rail News’, an offshoot of hidden europe. There is an associated twitter account @EuropeByRail where we tweet rail news — usually in English, but sometimes in Russian, French, Finnish, Catalan, German or Norwegian too. It is thus as much a tribute to our interest in languages as our enthusiasm for rail travel!
It is that time of the year when rail travellers are looking forward to new timetables. Throughout most of Europe, the 2014 schedules come into effect on Sunday 15 December. As every year, there are winners and losers. This time last year, we were bemoaning the cancellation of so many international rail services to, from and through Croatia — the result of overzealous trimming of public-sector finances as Croatia geared up to join the European Union (which it did on 1 July this year).
There is no sign of those axed trains being restored in 2014 — so Croatia will remain a black spot for the foreseeable future. But elsewhere in the region there is some good news. Slovenia has this autumn given the go-ahead for the reconstruction and electrification of the rail route that runs north-east from Pragersko towards the Hungarian border at Hodos. This is the only surviving rail link between the two countries. The route is already electrified on the Hungarian side of the border, so perhaps we can look forward to a far better passenger service on this route in years to come.
Adriatic resorts continue to pull the crowds from Russia. Happily, the Moscow to Split seasonal service — introduced in June 2012 — survived the Croatian cuts. New for 2014 will be another Russian seasonal service to the region, this time running from Moscow to the port of Koper on the coast of Slovenia. Few who tumble out of Russian sleeping cars in Koper will linger in the port. The big draw is Piran just a few kilometres along the coast.
Koper will be served — just as Split has been — by Russian through carriages that are passed from one train to another on the long journey across Europe. In the case of the Split train, that has meant a sojourn of over six hours in Budapest. No surprise perhaps that Russian Railways (RZD) is beginning to favour dedicated through RZD trains which leave their passengers less beholden to foreign railway administrations. The launch over the last two or three years of direct RZD trains from Moscow to Nice (via Milan) and from Moscow to Paris (via Berlin) rely on this new model — an entire rake of RZD carriages that run right through to the destination. The only interlopers in these otherwise all-Russian trains are the Polish restaurant cars attached on the Belarus-Polish border for the journey west. Hard-boiled eggs and salami which Russian travellers take on board in Moscow are not sufficient to sustain Russian passengers for the entire run to the French capital or the Riviera.