Trains over­tak­ing f lights as pre­ferred way of trav­el­ling through Europe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - MERRY KIRK­WOOD

EX­PLOR­ING Europe by train has been a pop­u­lar form of trans­port for more than a cen­tury and new high-speed rail de­vel­op­ments have ac­cel­er­ated its growth in pop­u­lar­ity.

Rail Europe, the in­ter­na­tional dis­trib­u­tor of rail tick­ets and passes, re­ports that 60,000 Aus­tralasian pas­sen­gers trav­elled by train through Europe dur­ing the past year (to Au­gust), a 33 per cent in­crease over the same pe­riod last year. Richard Leonard, man­ager for Rail Europe Aus­trala­sia, says new high-speed tracks are reg­u­larly be­ing laid and ex­tended through Europe. He high­lights new ser­vices from France into Switzer­land, through ma­jor hubs in Italy, and a sin­gle-line high­speed track that will link Paris with Barcelona within 18 months.

The most pop­u­lar jour­neys for Aus­tralians, ac­cord­ing to Rail Europe, are aboard Eurostar, France’s TGV (cel­e­brat­ing 30 years of ser­vice), and Ital­ian and Span­ish trains; Swiss Pass and Eu­rail Pass are also big sell­ers.

Jonathan Hume, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for In­ter­na­tional Rail Aus­trala­sia, says ‘‘trains are fast over­tak­ing flights as the pre­ferred way to see the con­ti­nent’’. Leonard and Hume at­tribute this in­crease to su­per­fast speeds (up to 300km/h), com­fort, and the fact pas­sen­gers are trans­ported to and from cen­tral points with­out the lengthy se­cu­rity-check de­lays ex­pe­ri­enced at air­ports. ‘‘Eurostar from Lon­don to Paris takes pas­sen­gers from the cen­tre of Lon­don to the cen­tre of Paris in just two hours and 20 min­utes,’’ Hume says.

Sta­tions are now filled with shops, restau­rants and busi­ness lounges; there’s the ease of check-through lug­gage from rail­way to air­port (a fea­ture at larger Swiss sta­tions) and the im­proved ease of pur­chas­ing tick­ets and passes online. Leonard ad­vises that Aus­tralians can now ac­cess ad­vance fares and he par­tic­u­larly rec­om­mends pre-book­ing jour­neys in Bri­tain to avoid the high cost of tick­ets pur­chased on the day of travel.

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