European Rail Travel – Arrive Relaxed

Europe’s high-speed train services “go international” – as “modal interfacing” becomes the order of the day

Rail infrastructure has been developed in Europe since the 19th century and still prevails as one of the safest and most important modes of communication across the continent from north to south and east to west.

There are more than 350,000 km of railway lines in Europe today. In the 37 countries of Europe there are 120 railway operators – with 8-billion passengers carried annually. Many investments are being carried out to create new infrastructure, new links and renovate the rolling stock, both for intra-city and inter-city services, and there is a growing number of international links… which can be very interesting for visitors from outside Europe. The European Commission is working hard to increase the market share of rail, shifting from road and air transport. Advantages include safety and sustainability, but in addition to this, visitors are better able to discover the landscape and cities at their leisure.

An important factor is the high-speed network, which is now becoming a veritable “European system”. This is because all the domestic networks, which have been developed since the first TGV service began in 1980 between Lyon and Paris, have now become an international network. Today, high-speed trains run across France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, Benelux and others. High-speed services now run for example from London to Madrid, from Paris to cities in Germany and Italy, and even further afield, with good connections to Poland or the southeastern countries of Europe.

Thanks to efficient connections between the networks, high-speed train links run virtually from one side of Europe to the other. One such union, which was launched in 2014, was the link between the Spanish high-speed and French high-speed services, with the Barcelona – Figueras – Perpignan link, which gives passengers the possibility to travel from Paris to Barcelona in four hours.

According to Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director-General of the International Union of Railways (UIC), this has changed the transport paradigm in Europe: “This would probably not amount to more time than travelling from central Paris to one of its airports, queuing to check in, going through security, flying to Barcelona, waiting for one’s baggage, then taking transport into the city. The Milan-Paris link is much the same, as are links to Geneva or Zurich, Brussels or Amsterdam. From Germany, many services now continue on the Poland, Austria and other destinations.”

Of course new projects are seeing the light of day on a regular basis, and over the next years, many more links will be added – with projects including Budapest, Vienna, Bucharest and Warsaw.

THE VISION OF RAIL AS A “SOLE” MODE OF TRANSPORT BELONGS TO THE LAST CENTURY

For travel professionals, it’s important note that profound changes have occurred in the European rail transport scene in recent times that will no doubt play out and have an affect on travel planning.

“We are seeing the arrival of much more of what we call ‘modal interfacing’, explains Mr Loubinoux. “The vision of rail as a sole mode of transport belongs to the last century. Today, rail is a backbone of transportation, taking you quickly and comfortably to a number of places, where of course there is a lot of complementarity with other modes. If you want to visit the small villages in the Lubéron, or in Slovenia, in the Baltic countries or Spain or the UK, of course, you may need buses, coaches, cars and bikes. This is actually an advantage that rail has understood, in equipping stations more and more in complementarity with other modes such as car rentals, intracity subways or coaches, or even bikes, which makes access much easier for all travellers.”

This modal complementarity in Europe’s railway stations is something, which, says Mr Loubinoux, along with the proper information in all languages, will give visitors from outside Europe very easy access to all modes of transportation for their visit. The easy interface between modes is increasingly being implemented in Europe’s train stations – just like in Europe’s airports.

E-TICKETING FOR TRAINS: CHANGING THE WAY PEOPLE ORGANISE THEIR TRAVEL PLANS…

It started with the airline business in the 80s with the Global Distribution Systems, but now European railways have similar systems for reservations for ticketing and information, which are to some extent interconnected thanks to European partnerships, such as a recent one in which Russia is able to transmit information and ticketing via the
French system and vice-versa. There are many such bi-lateral and multi-lateral partnerships that give outside visitors, through web interfaces, the possibility to prepare their travel in advance.