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Southbound: Europe's car trains

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: DB Autozug car train (photo © hidden europe).


In the early days of train travel, landed gentry and the well-to-do made arrangements with local rail companies to convey their horses and carriages on board the trains. Europe's car trains are the modern day incarnation of the same arrangement, a chance to take the car along when heading off on a long train journey. We take a look at some of Europe's car trains, including Europe's premier car train network operated by DB Autozug.

There are surely many reasons to go to Hildesheim, a mid-sized town on the edge of the hills in northern Germany. Hildesheim has a remarkable marketplace which, though left in ruins at the end of the war in 1945, has been carefully restored and now ranks as one of the finest city squares in a part of Europe that has superb squares aplenty. Others travel to Hildesheim to see the city’s distinctive Romanesque cathedral which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Our goal was rather different. We skirted the Old Town centre, crept through back streets and past railway sidings. We saw an abandoned multistorey car park, hung a right then a left, passed the sex shop and eventually reached the rainbow railscan coloured sign that announced ‘the cruising zone’ (in English). Some things leave so little to the imagination that they just do not need to be translated. There in the middle of the road stood some two dozen guys in leathers.

Such moments demand audacity. So we parked the car, strolled casually across the road and tried to look really cool mingling with the men in leathers, who were far more interested in their Harleys or their BMWs than ever they were in two women travel writers who had somehow turned up the cruising zone on a wet Friday afternoon.

We never did get to see that perfectly restored market square nor the Romanesque cathedral. But that’s the beauty of taking your car on a train. Car trains depart from (and often arrive at) the parts of cities that the tourist boards and PR agencies would rather you never knew about. The very helpful people at DB Autozug had sent us a map highlighting where in Hildesheim we might join the car train to Avignon. It is not as if you just drive to the main station and look for Platform 4. Car trains depart from the nether regions, from the forgotten territories on the wrong side of the tracks, or — in the case of Hildesheim — from the railway siding beside the cruising zone.

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