Something to declare: France Railpass; Austria's headlight law; the Settle-to-Carlisle line
Saturday 01 April 2006
Bargain of the week: all over France
Twenty-five years after the first high-speed trains (TGVs) ran between Paris and Lyon, French Railways has sharply cut the cost of unlimited-travel tickets for British visitors. From next Wednesday, 5 April, the France Railpass goes on sale. Three days of rail travel cost £117, rising to £225 for nine days - much less than the previous ticket, the Euro Domino.
There are two ways to save even more money. In the short term, anyone who buys the pass before the end of May will get a £25 discount to celebrate the TGV's quarter-century. And for an indefinite time, if you travel with friends or family, there is a further saving of between £17 and £35 per person for groups of between two and five people. Put the two deals together - that is, travel with one or more pals, and buy before the end of May - and the cost of the most basic pass falls to just £75. Rather neatly, this is 50 pence less than the price of a standard return trip between Paris and Nice on a TGV.
Buy carefully, and you can benefit from the extra discount all summer. You must commence travel within three months of purchase; book on the last day of May and you could start on 31 August.
Brendan Fox, editor of the Thomas Cook European Timetable, praised the new venture, calling it "a good opportunity to explore some of the country's scenery with a fast and cheap itinerary" - assuming, of course, that French rail workers are not on strike.
Warning of the week: headlights on
If you take a road trip to Austria this Easter, be sure to switch on your headlights. Austria is the first non-Scandinavian country in Western Europe to make it compulsory to drive with dipped headlights in daylight. The law took effect in November last year but until now has not been enforced with fines; these begin on 15 April with a €15 (£11) penalty. The Czech Republic will follow suit on 1 July with a 2,000-koruny (£48) penalty. A similar law is already in place in Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia.
The introduction of these laws is in line with the EU's target to reduce road accident fatalities from 40,000 to 20,000 by 2010. Andrew Howard, head of road safety for the AA Motoring Trust, says the law may decrease road accident casualties by between 1,000 and 3,000 each year - although he adds that it may be "more effective in darker places" such as Scandinavia.
He also points out that while visibility of cars is improved, the law could have the unintended effect of making motorbikes less noticeable; motorcyclists generally have their lights on at all times to make them stand out from other road traffic. The practice can also increase fuel consumption, and therefore emissions, by 3 per cent.
Destination of the week: the Settle-to-Carlisle line
Fans of England's finest railway, between Settle in West Yorkshire and Carlisle, will know that the line has been closed for the past few weeks while it is upgraded to take trains running at 125mph. These should cover the 113 miles between Leeds and Carlisle in under an hour, providing competition for both Virgin Trains and GNER.
OK, I made most of that up, but the most scenic part of the line has been closed for improvements for the past four weeks. It is due to re-open today.
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