By Don Heimburger
In terms of speed, comfort, travel connections and schedules, frequency and rail facilities, the countries served by Rail Europe offer travelers the best land transportation by almost any standards.
With Rail Europe’s newly-designed website now up and running, we interviewed both Frederick Buhr, vice president of eBusiness for Rail Europe and Samina Sabir, public relations manager for Rail Europe.
The European trains of today already seem miles ahead of what the U.S.– or most other countries — offer in terms of speed, comfort and on-time reliability. Would you agree with that assessment, and expound on the differences you see between European rails and those of other countries.
The Swiss Federal Railways and French National Railroads are investing a great amount of public and private funds into a new hi-speed rail infrastructure which has resulted in a faster and more efficient form of train travel in Europe. Due to a high volume of travelers who use the European train network, there is a high frequency of train service that results in greater efficiency and punctuality. Train travel in Europe also allows people to seamlessly travel on multiple rail networks as European countries work together on public transportation. Rail Europe allows travelers to purchase train passes without restrictions that allows them to travel throughout the European continent.
If you could ride any European train for fun, which one would it be and why?
The Chocolate Train in Switzerland. This involves a roundtrip panoramic train journey from Montreux in the Swiss Riviera to Gruyères, home of the Gruyères cheeses, and then onto the Nestle chocolate factory where chocolate sampling is included. The Chocolate Train is included in the price of a Swiss pass.
Name some important upcoming routes where you expect dramatic changes in terms of service, speed or new equipment.
The TGV East in France now allows travelers to ride from Paris to the eastern regions of France faster and more conveniently than ever before. A route growing in popularity is the Paris/Reims journey–in just 45 minutes travelers are transported from the heart of Paris to the heart of the Champagne region.
The Spanish AVE train travels at speeds of 300 km/hour (186 mph) and covers the distance of 550 km (342 miles) between Madrid and Barcelona in less than 3 hours (travel time was previously 4 hours). New high-speed lines have also reduced travel times between Madrid and Valladolid; the journey, which previously took 2 hours, 30 minutes, now takes only 55 minutes. And what was a four-hour journey from Madrid to Málaga, now takes only 2 hours, 30 minutes. The city of Zaragoza is on the Madrid/Barcelona AVE line (1 hour, 18 minutes from Madrid, 1 hour, 29 minutes from Barcelona) and this is expected to be an emerging destination in Spain.
The Thalys train takes just 1 hour, 22 minutes to go from downtown Paris to Brussels, most of the journey made at 186 mph. By 2009, all Thalys tracks will be high-speed, and travel times Paris-Amsterdam (currently 4 hrs 11 min.) and Paris-Cologne (presently 3 hrs 50 min) will be cut to 3 hrs 9 min and 2 hrs 50 min, respectively. Up to 27 trains travel between Paris and Brussels in each direction daily, making the service convenient as well as fast.
In 10-15 years, how will the European rail travel scene have changed?
At Rail Europe we believe that the developments in high-speed rail and the investments being made to continue to develop the rail networks of Europe will make Europe more easily and quickly accessible to all travelers. Day trips from the major cities to smaller towns and villages connected by train will become more popular.
European train travel also offers the time-saving benefit of bringing travelers right into the city center, eliminating the need for airport/city transfers. It is expected that this convenience, along with a growing awareness that trains are an eco-friendly way to travel, will continue to influence a shift from air traffic to rail.
What is the fastest train right now on Rail Europe tracks?
The TGV in France runs at speeds of up to 200 mph and currently holds the world record for the fastest train.
For a first-time rail traveler in Europe, what can they expect when traveling on, say, an ICE train, the Eurostar and a regional train?
All German Inter City Express (ICE) trains connect all the major German cities such as Frankfurt, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Munich, Cologne and Berlin. All trains feature comfortable amenities and cutting-edge services, including reclining seats with built-in tables and video screens, an integral audio system, notebook and laptop connections, as well as cellular-friendly zones that allow for undisturbed service.
Eurostar takes you seamlessly from city center to city center within Belgium, France and the UK, as well as provides connecting services to more than 100 destinations. Business Premier class, which is the highest level of service, offers reclining seats and power outlets at each seat giving business passengers the freedom to work in comfortable surroundings. It also offers a choice of full service “at-seat” dining with champagne and wine and an “Express Breakfast” option. All 1st class cars for Leisure passengers offer comfortable seating, complimentary magazines/newspapers and the “at-seat” dining includes wine and hot and cold refreshments.
Regional trains are not high-speed trains and make more stops at more stations along the journey. At least one regional train journey is advisable, especially for the first time leisure traveler; it is a very real experience and has a certain air of romance to it. Buffet cars are available on most regional trains and offer sandwiches or hot and cold snacks.
Let’s say I wanted to fly to Frankfort and then travel by train to Passau and on to Vienna. What kind of travel times and service for this route would I find on your new website?
You can choose a train which connects in Wein (Vienna) or choose the fastest train which is direct from Passau to Vienna – see example below:
|2 hr 49 min|
I’ve heard there are a number of “Scenic Trains” available for shorter, fun excursions. Which ones are most popular and why?
One very popular scenic train is The Glacier Express that connects the world-famous resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt. Rail Europe offers a Glacier Express Tour which includes a Swiss Card with three transfers of rail travel, two nights accommodation in 3-star hotels (w/breakfast) and one night each in Zermatt and St. Moritz.
RAILTEAM AFFORDS ‘SEAMLESS’ TRAVEL
According to Buhr, Railteam (www.railteam.eu), a new venture, will make traveling on the European rail network easier and more seamless. Buhr says it will help “shrink Europe.”
It is a collaboration between Europe’s leading high-speed rail operators, currently DB (Germany), SNCF (France), Eurostar UK LTD (UK), NS Hispeed (Netherlands), ÖBB (Austria), SBB (Switzerland) and SNCB (Belgium), as well as their high-speed subsidiaries Thalys, Lyria and the DB/SNCF cooperation between France and Germany, with more train operators possibly joining in the future.
Access to the Railteam network is easy with interconnections at city center stations and Ffst local transfer services to and from departure points.
Unlike airports, when you travel with Railteam there are no lengthy boarding procedures, which means no lines. Swiftly on-board and settled in your reserved seat, travelers are able to work on their laptops, read, eat or relax.
Buhr also says that the European Union supplies large amounts of money to help the high-speed rail infrastructure budget for Europe, which allows more construction of new trackage and rail facilities throughout the continent.
Buhr is interested in hearing from passengers about how the new Rail Europe website works for them.
Fred Buhr began his career with Rail Europe in 2000 to start up EuroVacations.com, the online one-stop shop for European vacation packages. In 2003 he became Rail Europe’s Director of Online Marketing, where he initiated the SEM and SEO strategies to grow market share. He currently holds the position of Vice President eBusiness and is in charge of eCommerce and online marketing. Fred was involved in leading a project dedicated to creating the newest version of the company’s website, RailEurope.com. He has extensive experience in the online travel industry and was responsible along with a business partner for creating one of the first full-service online agencies in Europe. Educated in Strasbourg, France, Fred also attended the Paris Business School where he earned a degree in International Business Relations.
Samina Sabir was educated in Ireland, and began her career in the retail/fashion industry. She joined Rail Europe in 1993, working in the Sales Department dealing specifically with Rail Europe National Accounts. In 2008 she became public relations manager for Rail Europ