Letter from Europe

New train services for 2016

Issue no. 2015/35

Picture above: Moscow Belorussky railway station, the starting point for the direct service from Moscow to Sofia which connects seven capital cities. The new service launches on 13 December 2015 (photo © Victoria Demidova / dreamstime.com).


New railway timetables kick in across much of Europe on Sunday 13 December - so here's a summary of interesting changes which we've noted in the new schedules. They include a useful new direct link from Moscow to Sofia - a journey which connects seven capital cities.

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Dear fellow travellers

New railway timetables kick in across much of Europe on Sunday 13 December. Readers of hidden europe magazine (and our Letter from Europe) evidently share our enthusiasm for exploring Europe by train, so here's a summary of interesting changes which we've noted in the new schedules.

Of course, the bible on the matter of which trains run where and when is the monthly European Rail Timetable (ERT). This review is based on a preview of the December 2015 issue of the ERT which is published early next week. The book includes the new schedules for most countries - and brings together timetable summaries which give a far more comprehensive overview of European timetables than can be gleaned from online sources.

Balkan links revived

Russian services from Moscow to the Balkans are happily reinstated from 13 December. Readers may recall that these were withdrawn this time last year as a result of the situation in Ukraine. Now direct services from Moscow to Belgrade and Sofia are back, but they take a completely new route through Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia which bypasses Ukraine.

The journey distance is thus longer but the overall travel time from Moscow to Sofia is much the same as it was on the old route via Kyiv and Bucharest. It still includes some lengthy station stops along the way: over an hour in each of Warsaw and Belgrade and almost three hours in Budapest. Indeed, passengers who are well prepared will have time for a leisurely dinner and an evening stroll around the Hungarian capital while the sleeping cars to Sofia linger at Keleti station.

The route takes in no less than seven European capital cities: Moscow, Minsk, Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia. We believe that is a record unmatched in European railway history, but if any readers judge otherwise we would very much like to hear from you.

The new routing creates a number of useful new long-distance direct links, such as Minsk to Belgrade and Warsaw to Sofia.

Better overnight links

It is good to note that the through sleeping cars from Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) to Moscow are being reinstated. The Czech spa town remains enduringly popular with Russian guests, who follow in the footsteps of Peter the Great, himself a fan of Karlsbad. The first departure from Karlovy Vary is on Thursday 17 December.

A number of existing services increase in frequency. This past summer there was a once-weekly link from Moscow and Minsk to Budapest. From 13 December that will run daily. The Paris to Moscow services increase to thrice weekly, as does the useful overnight service from three cities in eastern Germany direct to Paris: Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, Berlin and Erfurt. Prices on the latter route will be trimmed by 15% from early January 2016.

Central European connections

The number of trains from Hamburg to Prague doubles from two to four, and for the first time there will be a once-daily direct train from the Baltic port of Kiel to Dresden and Prague (and vice versa). There will be new twice-daily direct EuroCity trains from Basel SBB to Munich, which will run around the eastern end of Lake Constance and so cut through Austrian territory on their journey from Switzerland to Germany.

Winners and losers

Inevitably, some routes are disappearing. The once-daily Lyria train from Geneva to Lille slips from the schedules. Passengers between these cities will henceforth need to change in Paris or Lyon. Sadly, the direct service from Berlin to Copenhagen is also axed. From 13 December, passengers will need to change trains in Hamburg, and the under-seven-hour journey time of the current direct train will become a footnote in timetable history.

The Munich to Berlin night train is being withdrawn. It leaves Munich for the last time on the evening of Friday 11 December. The overnight service from the Rhein-Ruhr region to Warsaw and Prague is being rerouted; this train will no longer serve Oberhausen, Wuppertal and Hagen. But Essen wins out in the changes, and the city will now have direct overnight sleeper services to both Poland and the Czech Republic.

Europe by Rail book

The specialists at the European Rail Timetable are superb at keeping on top of the various timetable changes, and we are very pleased to carry their monthly digest of upcoming changes in the Newslines section of our Europe by Rail website. Readers may be interested to know that we are presently busy preparing a brand-new edition of our book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers. The new book will feature several dozen wonderful rail routes across Europe, and it'll be published by our partner European Rail Timetable Limited in late spring 2016. You can sign up to receive updates on this new book on the Europe by Rail website.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)