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Travel for the People: Ride for free in Luxembourg

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: From 29 February 2020, all rail travel will be free in Luxembourg, including journeys made in the country on German, French or Belgian trains (photo © Jesus Barroso / dreamstime.com).


There was a transport revolution in Luxembourg on 29 February 2020. Public transport fares were scrapped, making Luxembourg the first country in the world where you can ride trains, buses and trams for free.

As this issue of hidden europe goes to press, there is an air of eager anticipation in two small towns in the Moselle département of eastern France. Audun-le-Tiche is a town of about 6,000 which historically had a strong industrial base – initially producing crockery and later becoming a significant player in the iron and steel industry. But with the silencing of the last blast furnace in 1964, and the subsequent closure of the remaining iron-ore mines, Audun quickly acquired the feel of a community that had seen better days.

A few miles east of Audun is another much smaller mining community that once also thrived on iron ore. It’s called Volmerange-les-Mines, and these days its great claim to fame is having featured in a 2003 film called Le club des chômeurs (The Club for the Unemployed), a biting social comedy about communities affected by the decline of the iron and steel industry in southern Luxembourg and neighbouring parts of France. Unemployment in Volmerange today, as in Audun, hovers around eight per cent – a slight reduction on a decade ago, but still unacceptably high.

With the loss of heavy industry, these two French communities have reshaped their horizons, looking north over the nearby border for jobs in Luxembourg’s growing service sector. Both towns have railway stations, in each case nominally looked after by the French national rail operator SNCF. Yet neither Volmerange nor Audun are served by a single French train. Each station is a modest structure with just one platform, and in both cases the only passenger trains are run by the state rail company of Luxembourg – which has the engaging name Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL).

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Editorial hidden europe 61

Coronavirus seemed merely a distant threat as the last issue of hidden europe went to press on 28 February. We then spent the early part of March in Luxembourg and Switzerland, making tracks for Berlin just as much of Europe shut down due to Coronavirus. Life suddenly became quieter. We all had time to think.

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Editorial hidden europe 60

We are writing this editorial in Luxembourg, a diminutive Grand Duchy where there is seemingly limitless choice. Three other countries are within a half-hour drive of the capital and thanks to the splendid Schengen Agreement there is absolute freedom of mobility across those borders. Luxembourg gets a mention in the pages that follow, of course, but we also invite you to join us as we visit Scotland, Malta, Austria, Ukraine and Lithuania.

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Luxembourg: anything but boring

The self-image of communities and even whole countries is always deserving of study. We never would have thought that Luxembourg feared it was boring and monotonous. To us, it seems vibrant, varied, chic and charming.