Letter from Europe

Summer excursions by train

Issue no. 2016/12

Picture above: Private Italian operator NTV Italo offers a new weekend service from Milan to Rimini this summer (photo © Eqroy8 / dreamstime.com).


New summer train timetables kick in across Europe this month, ushering in many new rail links and interesting changes in rail services across the continent.

Dear fellow travellers

New summer train timetables kick in across Europe this month. It's interesting to see how rail operators across the continent are becoming more fleet footed in responding to changing customer demand. Long gone are the days when schedules barely changed.

From Russia to the Alps

Russian Railways have just added an extra stop at Zell-am-See to its Moscow to Nice service and vice versa. This will give a nice boost to Russian tourism to Zell and nearby Glemmtal resorts. For first-time visitors to Austria, there could hardly be a better introduction to the country than Zell-am-See. The new train means that Zell acquires some oddball direct overnight connections. Who ever would have thought that it might be possible to board a sleeping car in Zell-am-See and alight next morning in Minsk or Menton?

Champagne connections

In similar vein, the Moscow to Paris service now makes an extra stop at Épernay, perfect for visitors from Russia who want to alight from the train at breakfast time and get stuck into the serious business of champagne tasting.

But many others will benefit too. It means that there is now a direct overnight train from both Warsaw and Berlin to the heart of the Champagne region. The timings are very civilised. The Paris-bound train stops at Épernay at 8.26 in the morning. The eastbound trains pick up passengers at Épernay for the overnight journey to Berlin and beyond at 8.20 in the evening.

Riviera changes

Thello is adjusting its daytime Eurocity schedule from Marseille to Milan from 4 July, shifting the once-daily departure from mid-afternoon to late morning on weekdays. The Saturday and Sunday trains remain unchanged, still leaving Marseille at 3.31 in the afternoon - and so giving a good connection for passengers arriving in Marseille on Eurostar from London and wanting to continue east to resorts on the Côte d'Azur and along the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente.

The earlier arrival in Milan on weekdays will greatly benefit passengers from Marseille looking to make onward connections. The Thello Eurocity now connects on Mondays to Fridays with evening trains from Milan to Venice and Trieste and also with the night sleeper to Vienna.

New Baltic link

It's good to see that the sole rail route across the Polish-Lithuanian frontier will reopen to passenger traffic next week. Just five trains each week will shuttle from Bialystok in Poland to Kaunas in Lithuania. There is a single northbound service on Friday evenings, and then two trains each on Saturdays and Sundays. Southbound there are twice-daily trains on Saturdays and Sundays, then a single train on Monday mornings from Kaunas back to Bialystok.

This cross-border service is hardly high-speed rail. The trains require five hours for the 286-kilometre journey between the two cities. But the service is significant as the first passenger link resulting from the Rail Baltica project which may one day see fast trains running all the way from Warsaw to Tallinn.

Seaside specials

Next week marks the welcome return of a number of seasonal services catering to the summer holiday market. These include the Adria overnight service from Budapest to Split, which will also carry through sleeping cars from Prague (conveyed on the EC Slovan from the Czech capital to Budapest). As in previous years, there are also twice-weekly direct couchette carriages from Prague to Bar on the coast of Montenegro. These operate from next week.

This week sees Russian carriages return to Bulgaria's Black Sea resorts. The through services from Moscow to Varna and Burgas have been reinstated - a welcome return as there were no Russian services to these destinations last summer.

A novelty for summer 2016 is that private Italian rail operator NTV Italo will run weekend services from Milan to Rimini. The Adriatic resort will also have twice-weekly Eurocity services from both Munich and Innsbruck. The first departure from Munich is on Friday 17 June.

British links

Britain too has its fair share of seasonal trains. The Sunday excursion train from Edinburgh to Oban (and return) started its summer season last month and will run each week until the end of August. The Cornish coastal town of Newquay has seasonal through services from London, Manchester and Scotland - including a weekly direct train from Dundee.

The regular Saturday trains from Derby to Scarborough and Skegness are back for this new summer season. A novelty for this year is a direct service from London Waterloo to Dorchester and Weymouth routed via Yeovil. It runs on Saturdays until 3 September. It signals, if we are not mistaken, the first time for a generation that inhabitants of the little market town of Maiden Newton in Dorset will be able to take a direct train from their local station to London. Now that, surely, is worthy of note.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

When we are not writing about oddball aspects of European cultures and communities, we pen lots of prose about rail journeys. The 14th edition of our 'Europe by Rail' book is published today. Find out more about Europe by Rail or see where you can order the guidebook.

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