From France to Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, the revolution in high-speed rail networks in western Europe is making intercity travel increasingly compelling.
The boom in rail travel is speeding up as national and intercity rail networks open up more direct routes, increase train frequencies and upgrade cabins, making rail a more scenic and pleasant alternative to travelling through Europe than flying.
Linking up France’s regions
France’s high-speed TGV rail network is set for a massive expansion that will add five new train lines through a 13.4-billion-euro (US$15.2bn) investment.
The expansion will add new high-speed links between regional destinations, including Bordeaux-Toulouse, Montpelier-Perpignan, Marseille-Nice, and Paris-Le Havre.
Upgrades to the TGV network have also shortened travel times between Paris and the Aquitaine and Bretagne regions. Travel time between Paris and Bordeaux has been shrunk by one-third to just over two hours, while the journey from Paris to Rennes has been halved to one hour 25 minutes (from two hours 30 minutes).
High-speed operator Eurostar launched in April two direct rail services from London to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Following initial successes, Eurostar announced it would be expanding its London-Amsterdam service with a third daily train service next June. It has already carried more than 130,000 passengers in direct trains between London, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
In Germany, high-speed InterCity Express (ICE) trains are now running a direct hourly high-speed service between Berlin and Munich, reducing the travel time by nearly two hours to three hours 55 minutes.
The Thalys high-speed network, servicing major cities in France, Benelux and Germany, will begin operating direct services between Amsterdam and the Charles de Gaulle airport TGV station, as well as Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy in late March 2019. Later in 2019, Thalys will also begin a direct service from Amsterdam to Bordeaux.
Swift and scenic through Switzerland
Often top-of-mind for a classic rail experience, Switzerland’s networks are famed for established products such as its scenic trains, the Glacier Express and Bernina Express.
Ageing infrastructure on a key section of the network is being upgraded. Linking Preda and Spinas, the Albula tunnel, through which the Glacier Express passes daily, is undergoing a massive rebuilding project that will repair the inner walls of the 5,864-metre-long tunnel, now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site along the Thusis-to-St.Moritz line.
Swiss transport operator Rhaetian Railways, the state’s largest private railway operator, is expanding its product range with a new luxury rail product next March.
The Glacier Express Excellence Class will be the country’s first and only luxury travel class, complete with a five-course signature meal and local wine pairing, private concierge on board and perks such as a red carpet arrival and check-in desk on the platform.
Have rail, will travel
As more Asian travellers are spending their vacations in Europe, rail operators have seen demand for rail travel “increase every year”, said Juliana Gan, area representative, South-east Asia, Rail Europe.
“The European rail network is highly developed and train networks are well coordinated with faster trains and reliable schedules. For the Swiss Travel System rail products, we have seen a constant increase of about 20% from South-east Asia source markets over the past few years.”
Asia Pacific has been one of the major growth regions for tourism to Switzerland, and rail travel is seeing a good uptake, with Japan, Taiwan and India contributing the most number of travellers in the region, according to Sebastian Blaettler, market manager, Asia Pacific, Rhaetian Railway.
“We see continuing growth from China and South-east Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.