New rail services on track

Trains are vital for most business travellers - and new developments could soon see journey times drop dramatically.
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The Independent Online

For a 19th-century innovation, the train is proving remarkably resilient in meeting the needs of the 21st-century business traveller. In Germany, a new breed of trains - the Metropolitan - is hurtling between Hamburg and Cologne in just over three hours, offering catering and exclusivity to club-class standards. Although the magnetic levitation line to the new capital, Berlin, has been all but abandoned, other developments such as tilting trains on routes in the old East Germany mean that a multi-stop itinerary in central Europe is easy, fast and stress-free. Sleeper services are helping, too, with new high-standard night trains being introduced on key routes into Poland and the Czech Republic.

For a 19th-century innovation, the train is proving remarkably resilient in meeting the needs of the 21st-century business traveller. In Germany, a new breed of trains - the Metropolitan - is hurtling between Hamburg and Cologne in just over three hours, offering catering and exclusivity to club-class standards. Although the magnetic levitation line to the new capital, Berlin, has been all but abandoned, other developments such as tilting trains on routes in the old East Germany mean that a multi-stop itinerary in central Europe is easy, fast and stress-free. Sleeper services are helping, too, with new high-standard night trains being introduced on key routes into Poland and the Czech Republic.

The enhancements are not restricted to Europe; at last, there is something approaching a high-speed rail link in the US. Two months ago, the Boston-New York journey time was cut by one-third to three hours. New 150mph trains are being introduced on the East Coast Corridor under the name Acela (pronounced ah-cell-ah, say the Americans, short for "acceleration and excellence").

One notable exception to recent improvements is the UK, but competition introduced by the Strategic Rail Authority for key franchise renewals has already seen the hint of 205mph trains on the East Coast main line, if Virgin Rail's bid is successful. Cynics compare the various promises with the most overdue train of all: the Australian line from Alice Springs through the Northern Territory to Darwin. It seems, though, that Australia's missing link may finally be approaching the platform. After decades of talk, late last year the Canberra government gave the go-ahead to extend the line north.

The following improvements are more certain, allowing business travellers to look forward to less stressful trips in Europe:

May 2000: the evening Eurostar from London Waterloo to Brussels connects with a new overnight express that will get you to the centre of Berlin or Hamburg before 8am the next morning. Other connections are available at the Belgian capital to Milan and Venice, and Rome will be less than 24 hours by train from London.

July 2000: journeys between Denmark and Sweden will be revolutionised when the new bridge/tunnel link between Copenhagen and Malmö opens. The Danish capital and southern Sweden's largest city will be just 33 minutes apart, while Copenhagen-Stockholm times fall to five hours.

January 2001: France's TGV network will be extended from Valence (south of Lyon) to the Mediterranean; the 480-mile run from Paris-Marseilles will be cut to just three hours and six minutes.

May 2002: a new line will open between Cologne and Frankfurt, shaving 75 minutes from the journey between two of Germany's principle cities, to just one hour. But riders will miss out on scenery; the existing line curves along the Rhine, providing one of Europe's most beautiful rides.

Late 2003: work finishes on a new line between Rome and Naples. The time for the 130-mile journey will be nearly halved, to around an hour.

2005: in Spain, the new line between Madrid and Barcelona may be complete; it is being built on a piecemeal basis. The seven-hour journey should be halved. If the policy on the Ave link between Madrid and Seville is followed, passengers will get a refund if the train is more than five minutes late.

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