The age of the train - abroad, anyway

While the most popular destination for British trains seems to be the Doldrums, the business of taking a foreign holiday by train has never been more buoyant. In Europe, rail companies are busy laying lines for high-speed trains which will dramatically cut journey times. By next June, the trip down to Marseilles will be shorter by as much as two hours; new routes from Brussels to Frankfurt, from Florence to Rome and from France deep into Spain will make independent travel by train yet more attractive.

While the most popular destination for British trains seems to be the Doldrums, the business of taking a foreign holiday by train has never been more buoyant. In Europe, rail companies are busy laying lines for high-speed trains which will dramatically cut journey times. By next June, the trip down to Marseilles will be shorter by as much as two hours; new routes from Brussels to Frankfurt, from Florence to Rome and from France deep into Spain will make independent travel by train yet more attractive.

According to Ian Macbeth, who runs the specialist company Great Rail Journeys (tel: 01904 521900; net: www.greatrail.com), the interest in European rail holidays has "skyrocketed". Three years ago train holidays to North America made up 75 per cent of the company's business, with travel in Europe accounting for the rest. Now, while the company still sells the same number of holidays crossing coast to coast and journeying through Canada and the US, the European routes have overtaken them and now represent the lion's share of holidays sold.

"Eurostar has transformed the market," he explains. "Now we can take clients quickly into the heart of Europe and connect with some excellent high-speed services. It's a leisurely option for our customers to board the train at Waterloo in time for lunch, and then either take an overnight stop or board a fast train in time for supper and sleeper journey before waking for breakfast in Madrid or Milan."

The most recent addition to the company's collection of rail trips is through Denmark and Sweden, a transport buff's delight, which combines travelling on a train ferry from Germany with a super-modern Swedish train and a cruise boat to Gothenburg.

Train travel not only suits our romantic notions of travelling "slowly"; it also gets us out of the disagreeable tussle and bad food associated with airports and flying. In the US, trains are essentially for tourists willing to pay a bit more than the road or air trip for the privilege of enjoying the restaurant and observation cars and a decent sleeper.

In the US there is really only one journey where the train is a serious alternative to flying or driving for the business traveller. The route between New York City and Washington DC has many more than the single service a day which characterises the rest of the network. Rail travel in the US, almost extinct when Amtrak, a public company, came to the rescue in the 1970s, is slow but scenic. Even the journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles takes a whole day. In exactly the opposite arrangement to that in the UK, Amtrak owns its own trains and it pays for them to run along the tracks of private railway companies. The trains are slow because freight always takes precedence - you travel at 60-65mph on the line in America.

But sometimes the train is the only way to appreciate the landscape. Last year I made the journey on the famous Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs in the red heart of Australia. Only on a trip by train through that endlessly hostile and magnificent scrubland and desert can one understand the Australian love and fear of the outback. The fact that we did not have to abandon the train and complete the journey on camels (driven by Afghans - hence the name of the route) as the early travellers did, made the trip yet sweeter. Oddly, a British company, Serco, now owns Great Southern Railways, which operates the Ghan.

One hopes it is better able to supply information about leisure train services than is the case in Britain. The main obstacle to better train holidays is shortage of information. The best source of service information about trains from Britain through Europe is a German website (net: www.bahn.de), which will report in a second on the best train from anywhere in the UK to anywhere in Europe. For tickets and intelligence on the matter of Inter-Rail, passes etc, try Travel Bureau Rail Tours (tel: 0800 698 7545).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices