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To name a train: from Easterlings to Tyrolean bacon

by Nicky Gardner


This summer marks the 80th anniversary of the launch of one of Russia’s most famous trains, the ‘Red Arrow’ fast overnight service between Moscow and St Petersburg. hidden europe editor Nicky Gardner has been taking a look at some of Europe’s most memorably named trains — and a few less memorable ones.

Train names can be very powerful brands, and some names — such as the Orient Express and the Flying Scotsman — have been part of the European railway scene for a century or more. Named trains have inspired art. Thus the luxurious Train Bleu which ran overnight between Calais and Nice in the heyday of the Riviera inspired Sergei Diaghilev’s 1924 ballet of the same name.

And of course art and music have inspired trains. Until 1987, the daytime train from the Dutch port of Hoek van Holland to the Swiss city of Basel took its name from Das Rheingold, the first of the four operas in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. No doubt images of Wagner’s Rhine maidens helped market the train, which for much of its route ran along the banks of the River Rhine. All good romantic stuff, and perhaps it helped cheer up passengers from England who found themselves riding the Rheingold through Holland’s dreary estuarial landscapes at dawn after a sleepless night on board the packet boat from Harwich to the Hook. I just hope that the train crew knew the opera well enough to remember to distribute complimentary golden apples when, a few hours later, the train cruised past the Lorelei on its journey up the Rhine gorge.

If the train names of yesteryear were impossibly romantic, some of those I come across nowadays are prosaic in the extreme. I made a short early morning journey in the Austrian Vorarlberg region a year or two back. My EuroCity train was named after a particular brand of Tyrolean ham, which quite encouraged me to take up the vegetarian cause. Let’s face it, I could never see Diaghilev cooperating with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Coco Chanel (as he did in Le Train Bleu) to stage a ballet named after a piece of salami. I am quite pleased to see that Handl Tyrol Speck has disappeared from the latest Austrian timetables, presumably because the eponymous company terminated the sponsorship agreement.

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