Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/38 posted by hidden europe on

The Balkan region gets a new rail service tomorrow, with the launch of a once daily direct train between Belgrade and Sarajevo. It is a mark of how much the mood in the region has improved over recent years that routes severed during the nineties are now being restored.

article summary —

Dear fellow traveller

The Balkan region gets a new rail service tomorrow, with the launch of a once daily direct train between Belgrade and Sarajevo. It is a mark of how much the mood in the region has improved over recent years that routes severed during the nineties are now being restored. The new service, which takes eight hours, crosses eastern Croatia en route from Serbia to Bosnia.

Those with long memories will recall that the Sarajevo to Belgrade run was once a key link within Yugoslavia. Twenty years ago there were five services each day. The fastest premium train, called the Bosna Express, sped between the two cities in less than six hours.

It is not only in the Balkans that public transport timetables change this weekend. New schedules are introduced at midnight tonight across much of Europe - an annual event that sees revisions to timings not just for trains but also for buses, trams and boats.

the Orient Express

A sad feature of the new 2010 schedules is just how many long-standing night trains fall by the wayside. But faster trains by day erode the potential market for overnight train services as travellers elect to speed across Europe by daylight rather than by night.

A significant change this year is the demise of the Orient Express. For over a century (except for some brief intermissions in times of war), the Orient Express has travelled nightly across Europe, in its heyday linking Paris with Istanbul. The illustrious history of Europe's most famous scheduled train service comes to an end this weekend as the Orient Express runs for the very last time. We described a journey on it in issue 2 of hidden europe. You can still read that article online (you will also find a pdf version there that you can download). In 2007 the service was truncated to run only between Strasbourg and Vienna and this weekend the train is consigned to timetable history.

Kaliningrad train axed

The Polish railway administration takes an interesting approach to customer service, and on the eve of the new schedules being launched (and even after the timetables had been printed) announced that a number of key services would be axed. Among the casualties are the overnight links from Berlin to Krakow, Gdansk, Warsaw and Kaliningrad. These are routes on which daytime options are all pretty slow, so the usual excuse of faster daytime services sapping demand for night sleepers holds no sway.

The demise of the night train from Berlin to Kaliningrad is much to be mourned. Russia's Baltic exclave is peculiarly isolated and that Berlin link was particularly valued by individuals and businesses in Kaliningrad. But for the Polish railways the link was a nuisance - a service that traversed the country without generating much local revenue.

Odd, is it not, that all the talk in the new Europe is about integration. Yet here we see a raft of important international links being axed. You can read more about the Kaliningrad train issue in the notes section of our website.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(hidden europe)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.