New Startups And Routes For Great Rail Journeys
Europe is experiencing a train renaissance. In line with the drive by many EU countries such as France to ban air travel of less than 2.5 hours where train options exist, the public demand for train travel is growing.
And to capitalize on this demand, a wave of exciting European train startups are now linking much of the continent at better prices and with better schedules than ever before.
There’s the new generation of NightJet sleepers from Austrian company OBB that will link Munich, Vienna and Salzburg to Italy. Or Spanish Operator Iryo is expanding its high-speed links, meaning fast travel is possible between Barcelona and Madrid for only $22 one-way.
Some train operators are also now tacking the issue of some countries running on different-sized railway gauges than others, so travelers don’t need to change trains en route or when they cross the border into a new country.
The Swiss, for instance, have just re-launched the GoldenPass Express which travels the route from Montreux to Interlaken. It used to be the case that travelers would have to ‘detrain’ at Zweisimmen but now the new rolling stock can adapt to the gauge change, as well as adapt to the different heights of platforms at different stations and the different voltages it finds along the way.
U.K. tour operator, Great Rail Journeys, believes that one third of British people hope to take a train journey in 2023 (to explore, rather than commute, for instance) partly because trains offer the added bonus, not just of slow, stress-free, airport-free travel, but also to see more than one place in the same trip. And companies such as Byway now help people plan holidays entirely by rail.
Mark Smith, the Man in Seat 61, has been helping encourage travelers to take the train since he founded his iconic website in 2001. An ex-rail worker, the site focuses entirely on train travel and Smith recently told The Telegraph that one of the main reasons people should be ditching the airports this summer is the new routes through eastern europe, meaning that train travel is finally now more time-effective if traveling from the U.K. to Prague, say.
Train operators are finally starting to think like budget airlines and providing long-distance routes across Europe. There is still an infrastructure problem that prohibits them competing with air travel (planes only need airports, but railways need tracks, which needs government investment at a continental level rather than national).
However, in the past ten years, the European rail network has seen some of the fastest 20 years of growth and innovation that the sector has ever seen. Now with the climate crisis and public demand behind it—more than ever before—travelers can look forward to much faster and convenient routes in years to come.
Anyone looking for the most iconic train journeys to take across Europe should check out the CN Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards which voted for the best train journeys.
Winners include The Royal Scotsman (which circumnavigates the Scottish Highlands with only 40 guests onboard), The Danube Express on its ‘Castles of Transylvania’ route through Romania, the 1930s art deco British Pullman leaving London for historic cities such as Canterbury or York and of course, the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express that runs through the French and Swiss countryside.