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).

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing