Sud Express & Lusitania lose their restaurant cars?
According to www.cp.pt, the Madrid-Lisbon and Irun-Lisbon trainhotels will lose their restaurant cars, relying on a cafe bar only. Preferente and Gran Clase fares will be reduced, and will no longer include dinner or breakfast.
Ice axes now OK on Eurostar.
In a welcome policy change, Eurostar now officially (as well as unofficially) allows ice axes on its trains: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/eurostar-confirms-change-of-policy-on-ice-axes
Details of new high-speed service to/from Barcelona now emerging...
It now seems that the France-Barcelona high-speed service will indeed start in earnest on 15 December. It now seems that the initial two trains a day between Paris & Barcelona will become 4 from the end of March 2014, see the newly-updated Paris to Barcelona by train page, and that the Spanish AVE high-speed trains between Barcelona and French cities will indeed also start running. From 15 December 2013, departures from Barcelona will look like this:
09:20 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Paris 15:53.
10:28 Perpignan, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Toulouse 13:31
16:20 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Paris 22:45
17:33 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Lyon 22:24
18:32 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Marseille 22:58
From 31 March 2014:
06:15 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Paris 12:45.
07:29 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Lyon 12:24
09:20 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Paris 15:53
10:28 Perpignan, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Toulouse 13:31, with portion for Montpelier, Marseille 14:50, change for Nice.
13:29 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Paris 19:53
14:29 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Geneva 21:16, change for Bern, Zurich 00:33.
16:20 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Paris 22:45
17:33 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Lyon 22:24
18:32 Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpelier, Marseille 22:58, portion for Carcassonne, Toulouse.
Direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs are GO from 15 December, with 4 trains per day from March!
It's now definite. The two daily Paris-Figueres TGVs will be extended to/from Barcelona as from 15 December, with fares from €59 each way. Southbound departures from Paris at 07:15 & 14:07 from 15 December to 30 March, from 31 March there will be 4 per day, at 07:15, 10:07, 14:07 & 16:07, see the Paris to Barcelona TGV page. Northbound departures from Barcelona will initially be 09:20 and 16:20, saving a few minutes over the current time. From 31 March there will be four departures from Barcelona to Paris, at 06:15, 09:20, 13:20 & 16:20. The new trains will go on sale by the end of November, for travel from 15 December onwards. The Elipsos trenhotels now seem certain to cease running from 15 December.
Seat61.com now faster to load...
Loco2.com adds 'any British station' booking... Read about it on BBC News
www.loco2.com have achieved a major step forward for train booking from the UK into Europe. On 12 November, they enabled booking from any British rail station, not just London. You can now book from any local British station to most European cities as one transaction. Their website combines a ticket to London International CIV (the type of ticket described here) with an onward ticket from London to western European destinations booked through the French or German ticketing systems. All your train times are worked out, with sufficient time to connect across London. And if your UK train is delayed, you're covered by the CIV International Conditions of Carriage, and are entitled to be carried forward on later train at no extra cost to you.
New Spirit of Queensland train starts, Brisbane-Cairns...
A new 100mph tilt train with innovative 'railbed' flatbed seats started running in Queensland from 28 October, see here for details & photos. It will replace the long-serving Sunlander from early in 2014.
Thomas Cook confirms agreement for European Timetable to continue...
See the Thomas Cook press release at www.thomascook.com/press-centre/thomas-cook-european-rail-timetable-lives-on. The first edition of the reborn European Rail Timetable is likely to be out in February 2014. The space to watch is www.europeanrailtimetable.eu.
Timetable change on 15 December: Likely changes
So far, expected changes from 15 December are:
At last, a direct Vienna-Venice daytime train will be reinstated, via the direct and highly-scenic Semmering route, without the need to switch to an ÖBB-run bus at Villach. It will be a comfortable Austrian EuroCity train, although won't have a restaurant, just a minibar.
Direct TGVs will finally start between Paris and Barcelona, see the news item above.
Russian Railways are withdrawing direct sleeping-cars between Western Europe and Moscow, including Basel-Frankfurt-Moscow, leaving them to concentrate on their complete trains Paris-Berlin-Moscow and Nice-Moscow. Warsaw-Moscow are unlikely to be affected, it's not known whether this will affect Vienna-Moscow or Prague-Moscow trains.
Thello Paris-Florence-Rome sleeper to be discontinued. The Paris-Milan-Verona-Venice sleeper will remain.
Paris-Bern direct TGV-Lyria to be diverted via Basel, saving 15 minutes. But Neuchatel will lose it's direct train to Paris.
The Paris-Berlin/Munich/Hamburg City Night Line sleeper train will be re-routed via Strasbourg instead of Metz, not that this makes much difference.
Amsterdam/Cologne/Basel to Warsaw Jan Kiepura EuroNight sleeper train to be attached to a Berlin-Warsaw Express between Berlin and Warsaw, instead of running as a separate train. This might mean an hour or more later arrival in Warsaw eastbound, an hour earlier departure westbound, but at least it keeps it running.
Direct daytime Warsaw-Prague EuroCity train likely to disappear.
New page: Train travel in Germany...
I've added a new Train Travel in Germany page to pull together the various bits of advice, including a central place for info on the various special regional train tickets such as the Schone-wockenende ticket and Lander tickets.
Raileurope.co.uk to be re-branded voyages-sncf.com in November...
In November, Rail Europe Limited (the UK Rail Europe, raileurope.co.uk) will be rebranded as voyages-sncf.com and amalgamated with the other European versions of voyages-sncf.com. However, at least initially it will be a re-branding rather than anything more. The UK version of voyages-sncf.com will still feature the same booking engine, and you'll need to use another version of voyages-sncf.com if you want to pay in euros and be offered seating options.
Expanding the site: European train info for non-UK journeys...
When I started seat61 10 years ago, I was primarily trying to fill the information gap for train journeys between the UK and mainland Europe. I've now decided to improve coverage of train travel between major European cities not involving the UK, for example, Amsterdam to key European cities, Paris to key European cities, Vienna to key European cities, and so on. I've now launched these new pages, and revised the site structure accordingly - see the new site map, and the revised Train Travel in Europe general page. Just bear with me, as the new city-by-city pages themselves are still a work in progress. You'll get an idea of what each should look like in the end by looking at the train departures from Amsterdam page which I think I've already got to a reasonable stage of completeness. On these pages, I won't be spoon-feeding detailed train times as I do on the UK-based pages, as the update workload would be too much, but I'll outline train train service with approximate times, and explain where to check current exact times and buy tickets. Which is really what's needed, I think.
Direct TGVs Paris-Barcelona at last, from 15 December???
If you run an enquiry on the French version of voyages-sncf.com, you'll see direct TGVs between Paris and Barcelona have been loaded on dates after the timetable change on 15 December, although they are not yet bookable. Assuming this isn't some test or glitch, it looks as if that's the date when these services will finally start. Fastest journey seems to be just 6h16 - compared to a total of 4 hours or more by air. It's not yet known what will happen to Elipsos after 15 December.
Paris-Florence-Rome Thello sleeper train withdrawn from December...
Thello have announced that with only 30% occupancy, they will withdraw their Paris-Florence-Rome sleeper from the December timetable change. I'm sure if they hadn't mis-managed it so badly, it wouldn't have got such bad reviews, and more people would have used it. They will instead offer integrated ticketing with high-speed daytime train connections to and from Milan - but do you really want to get up for a 05:38 arrival? The daytime Paris to Milan TGV trains get far better reviews (in fact, almost always very good ones!).
Timetable change on 15 December: When will booking open?
The winter timetable starts on 15 December 2013. Bookings for French trains for 15 Dec 2013 until 16 January 2014 opened on 17 October. Bookings for German trains appear to have opened on 14 October. Italian & Spanish trains probably won't open until late October or early November. The Jan Kiepura to Warsaw is always a problem train when timetable changes are concerned, as are Spanish trains. Just sit tight!
Eurostar London to Amsterdam direct from Dec 2016...
Great news is that Eurostar is taking the plunge and will start 2 daily London-Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam trains from December 2016. Arrangements for border controls have not yet been decided, but the basic agreement with NS (Dutch Railways) has been signed and Eurostar will use its new e320 trains on this run. If DB start their three around the same time, there could be 5 trains daily. Journey time could be as little as 3 hours 55 minutes, centre to centre with a 30-minute check-in.
Elipsos & direct TGVs Paris-Barcelona, latest update....
Elipsos trains and the Paris-Figueres TGVs are now only open for sale up until 17 November, and indeed it's now confirmed that Elipsos sleeper trains to Madrid 7 Barcelona will run 3 times a week at least up to the 14 December timetable change. No, there's no more news on when exactly direct TGVs will start between Paris and Barcelona (and the direct Spanish AVEs between Barcelona and Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse), however, a report in this month's Today's Railways magazine suggests the delay could be as much political as technical, and direct TGVs may not now start until 2014. I'll post and tweet any news when I get it!
www.capitainetrain.com versus voyages-sncf.com
Regular visitors will notice I've switched to recommending Capitainetrain instead of French Railways own site voyages-sncf.com. www.capitainetrain.com is a private website that has been allowed to connect to SNCF's ticketing system after SNCF lost an (unrelated) court case about anti-competitive behaviour. They sell the same tickets at the same prices as voyages-sncf, with the same lack of any fee and the same seating options. Capitainetrain has started gaining popularity in France, but until recently their site was only in French. It's now been translated into English (indeed, I've helped them a bit with the translation!) and they've even started an affiliate scheme. As Capitainetrain has no Machiavellian redirects to the various Rail Europes, and as voyages-sncf has started generating a string of 'it's rejected my credit card' emails from Americans and Australians, I've simply switched to Capitainetrain - same prices as voyages-sncf, same e-tickets, same lack of any fee, no redirects, no need to select your country, no credit card problems, at least none so far except for iDTGV which is a separate issue. You need to register before using Capitainetrain, but once registered it's faster to use than voyages-sncf. You'll find a table assessing the features and fees on each of the possible websites for booking French train tickets here.
Anyone for a T-shirt? Click here...
I've teamed up with local quality T-shirt retailer More T Vicar to offer a range of seat61 T-shirts, see the initial range here. I'm donating commissions to the Unicef Syria appeal, www.unicef.org.uk/UNICEFs-Work/Emergencies/syrian-arab-republic-syria.
"Are budget airlines bad?" A 5-minute interview at The Guardian...
A 5-minute interview between me and transport correspondent Gwyn Topham of The Guardian: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2013/sep/02/budget-airlines-train-ferry-debate-video?CMP=twt_gu
Odds & ends this month...
Munich to Prague: I've added a Munich to Prague by train page not so much because this is a major branded train service, but because so (a) many people want to use this route yet (b) the information online is so poor, with many sites pushing people towards the competing (nastier but admittedly a bit faster) long-distance bus. DB's website won't sell the cheap Munich-Prague fares from €19, you need the Czech website for this (but of course it doesn't tell you this!) and it tries to put you on the Munich-Prague bus it runs in conjunction with Student Agency. So I thought I would try and do something about it.
Spain: I've made the Brittany Ferries section into a separate page, by cruise ferry to Spain. This will make it easier to find in searches and it will make the Spain page faster to load.
South Africa: Good news, it's reported that the Johannesburg-Komatipoort (-Maputo, Mozambique) and Johannesburg-Messina (Zim border) Shosholoza Meyl economy sitter trains have regained a sleeping-car, sleeper fare R250, see the South Africa train travel page.
Thailand: Trains replaced by buses between Uttaradit (485km from Bangkok) and Chiang Mai (751km from Bangkok) from 16 September to 31 October while 2.8bn baht of track improvement work is carried out. This will prevent any further derailments. Warning placed on the Thailand page.
Albania: It seems Tirana's rail station has been closed, and buses are temporarily replacing trains between Vorë and Tiranë, possibly until November or maybe longer, who knows? A new multi-modal station is being built, but so far no-one knows where... I've placed a warning on the Albania page. Feedback would be appreciated! Unbelievably the Albanian Railways website is now working again, www.hsh.com.al but obviously no current info on this situation, that would be far too much to hope for!
Trans-Siberian: I have been revamping the Trans-Siberian page, with extra photos of train 19/20, train 362, dining-car food, the Eastern Dream ferry from Vladivostok to Korea and Japan and more, thanks to seat61 correspondent David Smith. I have simplified and combined the how to book eastbound and how to book westbound sections into one how to buy tickets section, to reduce duplication.
China: I've been able to improve info about boarding trains in Beijing, thanks to seat61 correspondent Sunil Mehta - see the China page.
Portugal: Sud Express to Lisbon... In spite of it being a news item in the editorial of the Thomas Cook Timetable, and mentioned as a change in forums, and verified by timetable data at both renfe.com and bahn.de, feedback from travellers means I'm almost 99% certain that the Sud Express Irun to Lisbon was not in fact extended to start back in Hendaye, and so connect with the 12:27 TGV from Paris. However, it seems the 12:27 has been extended to Irun, so still making this connection, at least on dates when this 12:27 runs. The latest situation will be shown on the London to Portugal page.
Liechtenstein: A long-standing omission has been rectified, a Liechtenstein section has been added to the Switzerland page.
Ukraine: The London to Ukraine and Train Travel in Ukraine pages have been merged.
New video! Belfast to London overnight!
I've now added a video guide to the Belfast-London overnight journey via Stena Line's Belfast-Liverpool ferry, on the Northern Ireland page.
New videos! London to Dublin, the civilised way...
After a recent trip I've added a video guide to the London to Dublin SailRail journey, on the London to Ireland page.
I've also added a video guide to the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train, on the Northern Ireland page.
New timetable in Vietnam...
The Vietnam page now shows the new timetable which came in in June. The best SE1/2/3/4 trains are little changed, although good news is that the SE1/2 now calls at Binh Thuan, the mainline station for hopping in a taxi to/from the resorts of Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. The secondary trains SE5/6 and 7/8 have changed their times significantly.
Diré-Dawa to Djibouti train resumes?
It's reported that the Djibouti-Diré Dawa train has resumed running in the last few days, having been suspended since August 2010. Still no trains to/from Addis Ababa, though.
New page: Train travel in Cameroon...
Thanks to information supplied by traveller Iain Bisset, I've been able to add a Cameroon page. As ever, all feedback gratefully received!
Odds & ends this month...
Track work cancels Warsaw-Vilnius train service from 3rd September until the end of October. A warning has been put on the Lithuania page.
Accompanied children under 15 go free with tickets booked with German Railways at bahn.de. Someone suggested I should better highlight this amazing deal. So I've added this info to the relevant fares sections for journeys such as Munich-Vienna, Munich-Budapest, Munich-Verona, Berlin-Warsaw. Doesn't seem to apply to London Spezials though!
Left luggage page expanded with much more detail, with instructions on how to check left luggage facilities, costs and opening hours in various countries. Left Luggage page.
Trans-Siberian: Updated restaurant car meal and beer costs added for Russia, Mongolia and China, in the travel tips section.
Spain page: Suggested hotels in Barcelona added. This will become important if and when the sleeper trains to Spain are discontinued, as journeys to Seville, Malaga and so on will then require an overnight stop in Barcelona.
London-Moscow via Budapest: I've added this route to the London to Russia page, as many people want to avoid the hassle and cost of a Belarus transit visa by travelling south via Ukraine - as you no longer need a visa for Ukraine - and this whole journey can easily be booked online. I've left the London-Warsaw-Kiev-Moscow details, as this is still the better option if you want to stop off in Kiev (or in Warsaw, obviously!)
Australia: The Ausrail pass has been discontinued. This covered all operators, so you now need to buy a pass for the relevant operator, or regular tickets. More fragmentation!
Flood aftermath causing re-timings & diversions for trains to Berlin...
If you're heading to or via Berlin, specifically on the Paris-Berlin City Night Line sleeper, Cologne-Berlin ICEs or Amsterdam-Berlin ICs, check times online at bahn.de/en. The City Night Line sleeper appears to be leaving Paris earlier, at 18:44 on weekdays (which obviously also affects carriages on the same train to Hamburg and Munich), and it seems to be diverted until further notice to Berlin Gesundbrunnen. I can't keep up with short-notice changes on this site, so do please check online before booking critical connections.
Seat61 recommended on US breakfast TV, CBS This Morning...
I was delighted that CBS This Morning recommended seat61.com all across America on US breakfast TV, see http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50150832n.
Paris-Barcelona direct TGVs in October, and end of the Elipsos trainhotels?
This report - http://www.altavelocidad.org/index.php/alta-velocidad/item/1466-renfe-y-sncf-pactan-un-nuevo-calendario-para-el-despliegue-de-los-servicios-internacionales - suggests that Renfe and SNCF have set a new date at the end of October for the start of direct high-speed trains between Paris and Barcelona, and the new trains between Barcelona and Lyon and Toulouse. It also suggests that both the Paris-Barcelona and Paris-Madrid sleeper trains will disappear at that time.
End of the Thomas Cook European Timetable... Or not?
It's devastating news for regular European train travellers and booking agents. Thomas Cook are closing down their entire timetable and guidebook publishing division, which means the closure of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, which recently celebrated 140 years of publication since its first edition in 1873. The August 2013 edition will be the last. Can any other publishing house take it over? I hear the Timetable covered its costs, so this is presumably a 'strategic' 'business' decision, to heck with people. Forgive Them For They Know Not What They Do... Can anyone out there take this august publication over?
Update 12 July: I hear this morning that the timetable compilers are trying to set up a private venture to take it over. I wish them every success!
I have added 'image maps' to the existing route maps on various European pages such as Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal and the Canada page - in other words, you can now click on a destination or route on the map and be taken directly to the relevant section for train times and information for that destination or route. Please do email me with any comments about how the maps work, and do let me know if I have made any errors!
New Timetable in Malaysia from 1 July...
The Malaysia page now shows the new timetable for Malaysia from 1 July. Journey times are eased out, allegedly to improve punctuality.
Sudan: Wadi Halfa - Khartoum train resumes!
Thanks to a report from an ex-pat in the Sudan, it's reported that the Wadi Halfa to Khartoum train has resumed, with changed operating days. The Sudan page is now being updated.
Where to buy Dutch train tickets? At the Belgian website www.b-europe.com, of course!
An annoying problem for visitors to the Netherlands is that Dutch ticket offices and ticket machines, and indeed the Dutch Railways website www.ns.nl, generally don't accept any normal credit card, only strange Dutch bank cards that only Dutch people have. The ticket machines don't even accept banknotes, only coins! I'm pleased to say that there's now a solution, because the Belgian railways website www.b-europe.com has resumed selling Dutch domestic train tickets, at the same prices as NS, but happily accepting Visa and MasterCard. You simply buy online and print your own ticket.
Odds & ends this month...
How to use voyages-sncf.com: I've completely overhauled the instructions for using the French Railways website, both to make it easier and reduce duplication between the Train Travel in France page and the page I use to warn people how to avoid diversion to Rail Europe when using voyages-sncf.com. There's now one page on How to use voyages-sncf.com.
How to buy train tickets online and by phone. I've re-written the general tips for buying European train tickets to make this clearer, and to reduce duplication. I've separated the agency phone numbers section into a separate page, How to buy train tickets by phone.
Indonesia: Has the Indonesian railway website been changed so it no longer accepts non-Indonesian credit cards? Two reports suggest so, further feedback would be appreciated.
Russia: Have spotted that www.raileurope.co.uk will now book Paris-Moscow and Warsaw-Moscow trains online, so booking instructions amended accordingly.
Direct Vienna-Venice daytime Railjet from December?
Sanity at last... Some years ago, the Italians pulled out of running the two daily daytime EuroCity trains between Vienna and Venice via Villach and Udine. That left just the overnight sleeper train between Vienna and Venice. Austrian Railways laid on buses (ugh!) between Villach and Venice in connection with their trains to and from Vienna, parallel with a perfectly serviceable railway. I'm delighted to say that sanity has broken out, and from the timetable change in December a direct daytime train will link Vienna and Venice Santa Lucia once again, with a second round trip due to be added from December 2014. Initially it's likely to be a conventional Austrian InterCity train, but it's planned to introduce smart modern Railjets complete with restaurant car and those lovely cradling business class leather seats (my favourite!). Rumours suggest the train is likely to leave Vienna bright and early at 06:37, so it would reach Venice around 13:40, with a return train from Venice around 16:15 arriving Vienna at 23:47. It's just a shame that the wonderful Semmering scenery will be in darkness on the northbound run, and in darkness in winter southbound.
And more sanity... Two fast trains will be introduced between Vigo in Spain and Porto in Portugal, a first step towards a 90-minute electric service which the two countries hope to introduce by 2016. Already, the daft arrangement where you had to buy two tickets, one as far as the border, then another one after you crossed the border, have been replaced with proper through tickets which you can buy for the whole trip at either end.
Sud Expressto Lisbon extended to start in Hendaye......
And yet more sanity? With French Railways refusing to extend their 12:27 Paris-Hendaye TGV to Irun (on the Spanish side of the Franco-Spanish border) to connect with the re-timed Sud Express, the Spanish have done the decent thing, and extended the Sud to start in Hendaye. That's a complete break from the arrangement that's been in place for 100 years, with interchange between French and Spanish trains at Irun in Spain going south, Hendaye in France going north. But it now means an easier, faster connection between TGV and Sud Express, and it means easy same-day connections are once again possible from London, see the Portugal page.
Rail link to Tangier Med Port opens......
It's reported that the new station at Tangier Med Port opened on 15 June 2013, with local electric trains linking Tangier Ville with Tangier Med Port in 50-60 minutes. The trains aren't shown in the main journey planner on www.oncf.ma (indeed, Tanger Med Port isn't listed as a station!), but there's a timetable with connections to Casablanca, Marrakesh at http://www.oncf.ma/InfosPratiques/Documents/Telechargement/horaires/KsarSghir-Tanger-Casa.pdf. This only shows 4 trains per day, although this could be a temporary/start-up or partial timetable as another reference on the ONCF website refers to a train running every 2 hours. Feedback would be appreciated!
You'll find new videos of the Danube Express, Vienna-Cologne sleeper train, Zurich-Zagreb sleeper train, and the London to Istanbul train journey, at the seat61 YouTube channel.
After a recent jaunt from London to Istanbul and back by train (naturally!), I've added a page to showcase the excellent Danube Express hotel train.
New Timetable in Europe from 9 June...
All Seat61 European pages should now be up to date for the new Europe-wide timetable starting 9 June. If you find any typos or errors, do let me know.
Odds & ends this month...
Trans-Siberian: Trans-Siberian page has been updated to reflect timetable changes. The Moscow-Vladivostok Rossiya has been retimed by many hours to leave Moscow 13:50 rather than in the evening. No major changes to the Moscow-Beijing trains.
Sudan: There is a rumour (in fact, one post on Tripadvisor by someone in the Sudan) that the weekly Wadi Halfa to Khartoum train has resumed, once more linking Cairo and Khartoum by train, ferry & train. I'm sceptical, but am trying to investigate...
Latest updates on Twitter: Follow my trip to Istanbul from 21 May...
Just a reminder that I'm on Twitter as @seatsixtyone, and will be tweeting updates and notable news as it happens, as well as updates as and when I travel... I shall be travelling from London to Istanbul from 21 May, tweeting on the way, to make a press trip on the Danube Express from Istanbul to Budapest via Bulgaria & Transylvania. These will be the 5th and 6th train journeys between London & Istanbul that I have made since 1995!
Crazy! Deutsche Bahn to stop selling Thalys tickets.
News just in, DB in Germany is to stop selling Thalys tickets, prior to withdrawing from its minority stake in Thalys. That means that if you call DB, you'll be told there are only 4 trains per day between Germany and Brussels! This may or may not affect DB's UK office.
European timetable change on 8 June...
All European railways change their timetables on the 2nd Sunday in June & December. Reservations are often late opening for booking for dates after the timetable change, and Spain and Italy are key culprits. I'm pleased to say that French Railways actually extended their booking period over the summer. I'm not expecting any major changes after 9 June, so use the information on this site on the assumption that little will change.
Latest on international trains to/from Istanbul...
As of 6 May, it's reported that the Bucharest/Sofia to Istanbul train will be terminating at Cerkezköy, 115km short of Istanbul, with a replacement bus laid on to Istanbul Sirkeci. This comes after a period when the train was running as far as Halkali, 27km short of Istanbul, with passengers travelling by scheduled bus into Istanbul, but it's better than the situation from March to December 2012, when the train terminated at the Bulgarian/Turkish border at Kapikule at 01:25 for a bus all the way to Istanbul. With a scheduled arrival in Cerkezköy of 05:44 (plus an inevitable delay, no doubt) you'll at least get some sleep in your couchette or sleeper!
New page, new video: Tito's deluxe private train, click here.
Following a trip last month on Tito's private train from Belgrade to Bar, the first of 6 trips being organised this year by Montenegro Holidays, I've added a page about this unique train, complete with video guide - see the new Tito page.
New video: Bar to Belgrade by train, click here.
One of Europe's most scenic routes linking Montenegro on the Adriatic with the Serbian capital Belgrade, I've been able to improve the Serbia & Montenegro page and add a video guide to this remarkable journey. The video features an unfortunate incident at 00:02:40, when the train hit and killed a horse (in fact, two horses if you look closely) which a local man was leading across the line. See the Serbia & Montenegro page.
Direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs put off until Autumn?
Problems with certifying the TGV Duplex sets to run into Barcelona Sants seem to have postponed the start of direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs until later this year, see www.railjournal.com/index.php/high-speed/technical-problems-delay-paris-%E2%80%93-barcelona-tgv-launch.html. In the meantime, bookings for the current Paris-Figueres service have opened for the summer.
Odds & ends this month...
New e-visa for Turkey: As of April 2013, you can buy your Turkish visa online at www.evisa.gov.tr. You'll still have to get off the train at the border at Kapikule for passport control, but now you won't have to queue at the separate visa window first!
Australia: With the Victorian government fussing about subsidy, the Melbourne-Adelaide Overland is being cut to just twice a week in winter, details on the Australia page. The worst ever service between these two cities?
New video clips added, showing a Hungarian sleeping-car from Munich to Budapest, and the elderly Serbian sleeper from Belgrade to Budapest, see the seat61 Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/markgideonsmith/videos?view=0&sort=dd&tag_id=.
New deluxe Premier Classe train linking Johannesburg & Port Elizabeth twice a week. See the South Africa page. This is great news, as Premier Classe is both affordable and gets rave reviews from those you use it.
Following the trip to Montenegro I've been able to make numerous improvements to the Hungary, Romania, Serbia & Montenegro, Bulgaria pages with extra photos and info, including details of Budapest & Belgrade station facilities.
Latest updates on Twitter...
Just a reminder that I'm on Twitter as @seatsixtyone, and will be tweeting updates and notable news as it happens, as well as updates as and when I travel...
Operation Tito17-23 April...
Follow the Man in Seat 61 on a train journey from London to Montenegro 17-23 April, follow on https://twitter.com/seatsixtyone.
Amsterdam-Warsaw Jan Kiepura reprieved!
It looked almost certain that the Amsterdam/Cologne to Warsaw Jan Kiepura would be discontinued at the end of June, knocking a big hole in east-west rail travel via Poland. The good news is that is seems to have been reprieved.
New Zealand closed for business between May & October?
New Zealand appears to be closing for business in winter, as it's just sadly been announced that the Coastal Pacific (linking the ferry from Wellington with Christchurch) will not run at all from 7 May 2013 until early October, leaving no civilised transport link at all between Wellington and Christchurch in a supposedly developed country. This follows a drop in visitor numbers after the Earthquake. You may wish to postpone your visit until things sort themselves out!
High-speed trains start Eskisehir-Konya in Turkey...
Ankara-Konya & Eskisehir-Ankara high-speed trains are already operating at up to 250km/h. A new curve linking these two lines has now allowed two daily Eskisehir to Konya trains to start. Regular trains take 7 hours, buses take 5, these new trains take just 2 hours. Ultimately, by perhaps 2015, these high-speed trains witll link Istanbul & Ankara, Istanbul and Konya, revolutionising train travel in Turkey. See the Train Travel in Turkey page.
Latest update on start of direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs...
The high-speed Perpignan-Barcelona line is complete, and documents leaked to the Spanish press suggested that the two daily Paris-Figueres TGV Duplexes were going to be extended to Barcelona as from 28 April. This seemed confirmed by the fact that bookings for the existing Paris-Figueres service were only open up to 27 April. Unfortunately, it looks as if this date has slipped, as bookings for the existing service terminating at Figueres (with Spanish connection to Barcelona) were subsequently opened as far as 10 May, and now until 29 May. An unconfirmed source within SNCF did indeed suggest that direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs will not now run before the end of May 2013. See the London to Spain page.
Odds & ends this month...
Australia page revised to recognise that there's now no Red Service (economy) sleepers, or lounge car, on the Indian Pacific or Ghan. If you do Red service (economy) there's now just seats and the Matilda cafe. Or you go Gold or Platinum sleepers with lounge and restaurant, meals included. No economy sleeper-with-lounge option!
Rail Europe UK change their prices slightly again, recognising changes in the pound-euro exchange rate so £ prices on the Elipsos trainhotels and Paris0-Italy trains revised again, this time slightly upwards.
SailRail fares now available via Liverpool, London to Belfast from £57...
Stena Line have now launched combined train & ferry SailRail tickets from any rail station in Britain to Belfast via their Liverpool-Belfast ferry route. The time-effective overnight service means you can leave central London after 5pm, Birmingham or Manchester after 6pm, sleep in a comfortable private cabin with shower & toilet on the luxurious ferry and arrive in Belfast 06:30! This makes eco-friendly business trips or weekends away feasible without the pain of the plane. At this stage, they can only be bought from Stena Line, not rail stations or train company websites. See the Northern Ireland page.
Win a 6-day escorted holiday for two to Belgrade & Montenegro...
In April, I'm travelling aboard Tito's luxurious special train on its inaugural departure from Belgrade. The Belgrade-Montenegro line is renowned for its spectacular mountain scenery, and I've jumped at the chance to travel this route in comfort on such a historic train. Now you've a chance to come along too (or on one of their other April or May departures if you prefer), as www.montenegroholidays.com are kindly giving away a holiday for two as the prize in Seat61.com's first-ever competition.
The end of the Jan Kiepura from 1 July...
It now looks almost certain that the Amsterdam/Cologne to Warsaw Jan Kiepura will be discontinued from 1 July 2013, the last in a series of cuts by Polish Railways. This makes a hole in the journeys to Poland, Ukraine and Russia, especially as it may also affect the Frankfurt to Moscow sleeping-car run by the Russian Railways. I've put a warning on the relevant pages, and will work out alternatives in due course. The Jan Kipeura's last westbound departure from Warsaw will be 29 June, it's last eastbound from Amsterdam will be 30 June.
Direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs to start from 28 April? Or the end of May?
It now looks likely (but not yet officially confirmed) that the first direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs will start running from 28 April. These will be an extension of the current two daily Paris-Figueres TGV Duplexes, so departure from Paris will still be at 07:15 & 14:07 daily southbound, 09:29 and 16:29 northbound from Barcelona as shown on the London to Spain page. In fact, it now looks as if there will be a third daily departure on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays northbound, Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays northbound. Reservations for the new service will open in due course, but nobody yet knows exactly when.
Latest news 29 March: Bookings for the existing Paris-Figueres TGVs have just opened until 10 May. That clearly means direct TGVs won't now start on 28 April. Maybe 11 May? I now believe a report originating within SNCF that suggests direct Paris-Barcelona TGVVs won't start until the end of May.
Just remember that back in January, tickets for the new Madrid-Barcelona-Figueres trains only went on sale 7 days (not the usual 92 days, just 7 days!!) before the first train ran, so just sit tight, stay calm, keep an eye each day on the booking websites, when booking opens and you can actually see trains, then you can book.
Summer train bookings with French Railways...
Just a heads-up! SNCF is extending its summer booking horizon, and travel dates 4 July to 25 August will open on 4 April, travel dates from 26 August to 2nd September will open on 14 May.
Odds & ends this month...
Crossing Paris. On recent trips with family & luggage I've found myself using taxis more to cross Paris. I've improved the information on this option on the How to cross Paris page.
Netherlands: It's reported that from 1 April Stena Line will stop refunding the cost of Dutch train tickets to passengers arriving at Hoek van Holland, who have bought an Any Dutch Station to London Dutch Flyer ticket but who have not received their tickets by post so have had to buy additional NS train tickets to reach Hoek. Basically, this means that if you don't have a Dutch address, you can only book westbound Dutch Flyer tickets starting in Hoek van Holland to London (so the ticket can be emailed to you in pdf format), not from Any Dutch station to London, which requires Stena to send tickets by post, which they will now only do to Dutch addresses. Which in turn means that you'll need to buy a separate NS train ticket to reach Hoek. And yes, this costs a few euros more.
New video guide: London to Cornwall by sleeper...
After a recent trip at the invitation of First great Western, I've added new photos and a short video guide to the London to Cornwall sleeper train page.
Istanbul's classic Sirkeci station closed to long-distance trains from 1 March 2013...
If you've been following the story, since March 2012 the Bucharest/Sofia to Istanbul train has been terminating at Kapikule on the Bulgaria/Turkey border with a rail replacement bus onwards to Istanbul, due to engineering work to rebuild the rail line into Turkey. The good news is that while the weather is poor in January/February/March 2013, the engineering work is suspended and the train is again running through to Istanbul. The not-so-good news is that from1 March 2013, Sirkeci station is closing to allow lines to be rebuilt in connection with the Marmara Tunnel project. That means that even though the train is currently running through to Istanbul, from 1 March it will terminate at a suburban station called Halkali, some 27km short of Istanbul city centre. You can hop on the regular railway-replacement buses from there for the last bit to Istanbul, these are buses that are replacing the Istanbul suburban service. Bus replacement Kapikule to Istanbul Sirkeci may resume some time in March, but there is no set date yet. Sirkeci station itself is still open, serving just a short remnant of suburban train service.
Fyra fiasco update, Brussels-Amsterdam...
Fyra high-speed trains were introduced from 9 December 2012 between Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam & Amsterdam, then withdrawn indefinitely due to serious technical problems. You can now travel Brussels-Amsterdam by high-speed Thalys train, or on the frequent non-high-speed InterCity service Brussels-Antwerp, followed by the hourly local train Antwerp-Roosendaal, then by frequent Dutch InterCity trains Roosendaal-Amsterdam. However, very shortly two daily direct InterCity trains will be reintroduced between Brussels-Antwerp-Roosendaal-Rotterdam-Den Haag, increased to 8 per day from 11 March. Not quite the old hourly Brussels-Amsterdam pre-Fyra InterCity service, but they are trying to extend them to Amsterdam. This may or may not be possible in due course. However, it may be months before Fyra resumes.
Odds & ends this month...
Australia: On the Sydney-Adelaide-Perth Indian Pacific and Adelaide-Alice-Darwin Ghan, Red Service sleeper is being discontinued on all departures from 1 April onwards, so that Gold Sleeper capacity can be boosted. This leaves a Red Service reclining seat, Gold or Platinum sleepers as the only options. No more economy berth option!
Portugal: Whilst in the past the 'web' & 'estrella' fares which appeared for the Irun-Lisbon Sud Express and Madrid-Lisbon Lusitania sleeper trains appeared to be a glitch - they refused to book when selected, and weren't shown on official fare pages - the new Promo and Promo+ fares which appear for Turista seats and Turista 4-berth sleepers on these trains now appear to be real, so I've added these cheap fares to the Portugal page. Madrid to Lisbon with a bed for the night for just €33!
Gabon: Train times revised, now 4 trains per week Libreville to Franceville, down from 6.
Spain: Web & Estrella fares have been replaced by Promo and Promo+ fares. Some promo fares are now cheaper than web fares used to be!
The Prague-Krakow sleeper train can now be booked online at the Czech Railways website, London to Poland and How to buy European train tickets pages updated.
Armenia no longer requires visas for EU & UK citizens, Caucasus page updated.
Night Riviera sleeper train to Cornwall: The Night Riviera page has been updated following a recent trip, with extra photos including photos of the compartments showing the excellent new duvets which have replaced the blankets.
Switzerland: As from December, Lyria now has a dedicated fleet of double-decker TGV Duplex and single-deck TGV POS with the funky Christian Lacroix interiors. The old jaded TGV-Sud-Est units have been retired. The first trains are also starting to appear in a bright new Lyria colour scheme. The photos and text on the London to Switzerland and TGV-Lyria pages have now been revised to reflect this.
Egypt: It now seems that foreigners are not allowed to book sleeper train 86 from Cairo to Luxor & Aswan, so can only book sleeper train 84 which leaves from Giza to Luxor and Aswan. The Egypt page has been updated with this info. Annoying, as it's far more convenient to leave from Cairo than to have to take the metro to Giza.
The new Brussels-Amsterdam high-speed Fyra service has fallen victim to poor construction of its V250 trains by Italian firm Ansaldo Breda. One expects a few faults when any new train first comes into service, but it seems these trains have had more than usual, can't cope with the snow, and when a part fell off a train's underside, the Belgians banned them from their network until further notice. That leaves Thalys as the only train directly linking Brussels and Amsterdam, unless you take the IC Brussels-Antwerp, all-stations local train Antwerp-Roosendaal and Dutch domestic IC Roosendaal-Amsterdam. Which many people are now doing! Belgian Railways will shortly be extending their Brussels-Antwerp IC to Roosendaal, and work is progressing on reinstating the old hourly Brussels-Amsterdam IC.
Italy improves its child age limit for children, sort of...
From 9 December 2012, Trenitalia increased the age limit for child fares from 'under 12' to 'under 15', but only for national trains, meaning the high-speed Frecciarossa/Frecciargento/Frecciabianca services and long-distance InterCity, ICN and sleeper trains. Regional trains retain the long-standing 'under 12' age limit. This will no doubt cause confusion on journeys such as Rome to Siena, where one leg is on a Frecciarossa or Frecciargento, the other on a regional train, with differing age limits.
Turista Plus & lack of Club class in Spain...
In Spain, Renfe have introduced Turista Plus on many but not all AVE trains, which appears to mean Preferente (1st class) seats but without the at-seat meal & wine. Furthermore, some AVEs are being sold without Club class, and on these you may end up in a Club class seat with a Preferente ticket. Indeed, when booking a Preferente ticket on these trains it will pay to use the 'select exact seat' option and make sure you choose a seat in the endmost car with the Club class seating.
Bus replacement between Bulgarian border & Istanbul temporarily over.
The Bucharest/Sofia to Istanbul train has been temporarily replaced by a bus between Kapikule & Istanbul since March 2012 until October 2013 due to major railway engineering work related to the Bosporus Tunnel Project. Trains seem to be running direct to and from Istanbul, but it now seems that the work is not over, this is just a temporary respite while the weather is too bad to work. The bus replacement will resume in mid-March.
UK versus Europe train fares comparison...
Just for fun, with all the fuss over UK having the highest rail fares in Europe (yawn) I thought I'd actually do a test myself. The results surprised even me. It seems that in 10-15% of cases we have the highest train fares in Europe. In the other 85%-90% we have the lowest! See the UK & Continental Europe train fares comparison. Update 9 January: It's nice to be recognised - This page was quoted in the House of Commons this evening, by both Iain Stewart MP and in his summing up by Norman Baker, Under Secretary of State for Transport.
London to Madrid in one day, without flying!
The final section of the Perpignan-Barcelona high-speed line now seems set to open on 8 January 2013 (although they are very late opening bookings!). Several Madrid-Barcelona AVE high-speed trains will be extended to Figueres Vilafant, two with TGV connections to and from Paris. For the first time in history it will become possible to travel from London to Madrid in a single day, see the London to Spain page.
Odds & ends this month...
Denmark It seems DFDS has reduced winter sailings Harwich-Esbjerg from 3 to just 2 per week.
Poland: Thanks to seat61 correspondent Ivor Morgan, I've added photos of the popular Prague to Krakow sleeper train.
Netherlands & other pages: The Dutch Flyer fare has risen from £39 to £45, but still great value.
Bosnia: Amidst all the cutbacks in Croatia, one bit of good news was that the Zagreb to Sarajevo train was due to become a swish modern air-con Talgo train from 20 December. Days later, a second report said it would be delayed a bit. It's now not known whether the Talgos are in service or not.
London-Provence: Links to fares and timetable for Eurostar's trial London-Lyon-Avignon-Aix service on summer Saturdays 4 May to 29 June have now been added to the France and Eurostar pages.
Finland: Train Travel in Finland section added, with photos of Helsinki station & the night train to Lapland, thanks to seat61 correspondent Michael Banbrook.
Burma: A section added on the luxury Orient Express river cruiser from Mandalay to Bagan Road to Mandalay. I'm pleased that I've been able to fill many gaps in the original information thanks to feedback from a number of travellers.
Eurostar downgrades bike policy... See the bikes by train page
Eurostar's new (well, 2008) bike service, where you can book a bike space on the same Eurostar departure as yourself for £30, has been a great success. But as an alternative, you've always been able to take bikes free of charge as ordinary luggage, semi-dismantled in a zip-up bike bag not exceeding 120cm long, which you are allowed to do on almost all European trains right across Europe. Eurostar has now removed the ability to take bikes in bags up to 120cm and is sticking to its general '85cm maximum length' policy for any luggage at all, which pretty much rules out taking anything except folding Bromptons and children's bikes. This is totally at odds with the policy of onwards train operators such as Thalys, Elipsos and most TGV, where you can ONLY take your bike if you put it in a bike bag, semi-dismantled, max 120cm long. And this is in spite of Eurostar and Thalys both being 85% owned by SNCF (French Railways), TGV is of course 100% SNCF, so even train companies within the same group aren't working or thinking together as a team. Does Eurostar expect you to pay £30 to take your bike undismantled to Brussels, and in the 18 minutes connecting time, take it to pieces, stick it in a bike bag that you've brought with you, to take onwards to Cologne or Amsterdam?
On the plus side, I have now improved the bike by train page to make the options for taking bikes to mainland Europe clearer, with better coverage of the Dutch Flyer train and ferry option.
The St Petersburg to Irkutsk Baikal to disappear (almost) in May?
Train 9/10 from St Petersburg to Irkutsk, originally Moscow-Irkutsk, has been a mainstay of the Trans-Siberian route for years. Decades! It's now reported that it will be downgraded to run only Novosibirsk-Irkutsk, a shadow of its old self.
It's on! Fyra Brussels-Amsterdam is go from 9 December!
The new high-speed Fyra service between Brussels & Amsterdam will indeed now start on 9 December with 10 trains a day, rising to an hourly service a few months later. Bookings were due to open on 29 October. They didn't, but finally opened on 3 December just days before the new service starts, after a last-minute political deal between the Belgians and the Dutch allowed the new service to start as planned.
Highlights & lowlights of the new timetable across Europe from 9 December 2012...
The new timetable starts from 9 December all across Europe. Pages are slowly being updated to reflect the new times now. Here are some of the key changes expected in the new timetable.
NEW HIGH-SPEED FYRA TRAINS BRUSSELS TO AMSTERDAM. They may be a few years late being delivered, but it's now going to happen (probably). 250km/h (155mph) Fyra trains will link Brussels Midi, Brussels Central, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Schiphol and Amsterdam Centraal every hour from 9 December, replacing the current 'Benelux' InterCity trains which use the classic route taking 2 hours 55 minutes, cutting Brussels-Amsterdam journey time to 2 hours by using the high-speed line. However, as at 1 December bookings still haven't opened, so who knows what's going on!
NEW PARIS-FLORENCE-ROME THELLO SLEEPER TRAIN. Thello will start a second sleeper train to Italy from 9 December, this one from Paris to Bologna, Florence and Rome. It will serve Florence Campo di Marte rather than the central SMN station, unfortunately. It is expected to be similar to Thello's existing Paris-Milan-Verona-Venice train, see the Thello page.
MORE HIGH-SPEED TGVs FROM PARIS TO FIGUERES for BARCELONA from April. From April 1, the two daily Paris-Figueres (-Barcelona) TGVs will be increased to three per day. From April, you'll be able to leave central Paris after 4pm, arriving Barcelona in late evening the same day.
NEW DAILY GENEVA-FIGUERES TGV with connections for BARCELONA. Though it now looks as if this train won't materialise until later, perhaps April or possible July.
NEW SKI TRAIN on winter Saturdays from London to the Swiss Alps by Eurostar + Lyria with an easy change at Lille, see details here.
NEW DAILY DIRECT PARIS-INTERLAKEN TGV-LYRIA. You'll be able to catch an afternoon Eurostar to Paris any day of the week, change in Paris and take the 17:57 TGV direct to Interlaken arriving 23:43.
NEW MUNICH-MILAN SLEEPER TRAIN. City Night Line have reinstated a connection lost some years ago, good for them!
Three daily direct Nice-Genoa-Milan InterCity trains are on the cards, run by Thello, with no need to change at Ventimiglia. Update: It now seems these will start perhaps in Summer 2013.
Barcelona-Zurich and Barcelona-Milan trainhotels to be withdrawn. Sadly, the three-times-a-week sleeper train on these routes is being discontinued. However, a daily direct TGV from Geneva to Figueres (for Barcelona) will be introduced from December 9.
Paris-Barcelona trainhotel sleeper train will be cut to 5 times per week in winter instead of daily and will leave Paris two hours later, around 22:44, arriving Barcelona just after 10:00. This will allow a later departure from London, but onward connections in Spain will be affected. It will still run every day from 15 March onwards.
Berlin-Krakow EuroCity cut back to Berlin-Wroclaw. The morning EuroCity train 'Wawel' will terminate at Wroclaw. Presumably it will lose the name! This is due to major track rebuilding - a new faster service may resume in a year or two's time.
AMSTERDAM/COLOGNE-MOSCOW through Russian sleeping-car withdrawn. A last minute change without warning! You'll now need to change cars in Warsaw.
Paris-Toulouse and Paris-l'Hospitalet (Andorra)-Latour de Carol overnight trains appear to no longer run every day.
Odds & ends this month...
The London Spezial fares from London to Germany (and Basel Bad Bahnhof and Salzburg) have increased from 'From €49' to 'From €59' - but still great value.
Burma: It's reported that the direct overnight Rangoon to Bagan train will no longer have a sleeping-car from November 2012 onwards, just Upper Class seats. If true, it's a great shame, just when tourism to Burma is surging. I've been sent photos of the departure timetables at Rangoon, enabling me to update most mainline train times in Burma, as well as fares for foreigners.
Italy: I've added Como as a separate destination, as it's so popular. You can get there in a day using a morning Eurostar and afternoon Paris-Milan TGV then a local train; Or you can use an afternoon Eurostar, evening TGV-Lyria to Zurich, overnight there, then take a spectacular ride through the Gotthard Pass by EuroCity train direct to Como.
Cuba: Mainline timetable updated, thanks to seat61 correspondent sending in a new photo of the Havana departures board, plus some internet research.
Turkey: Train travel in Turkey page overhauled. New route Istanbul-Bursa-Ankara added, with ferry-bus-high-speed-train travel, thanks to new info from seat61 correspondent Malte Furhrmann.
Indonesia: Jakarta to Sumatra information re-worked using trains Jakarta-Merak and the every-20-minute ferry to Bakauheni, for taxi or bus to Bandar Lampung. I hadn't been able to prove that the twice-daily direct ferries Merak-Panjang actually ran!
New Zealand: TranzAlpine train page revised, with more and larger photos, and photos showing the new AK carriages which now operate this train.
Dogs by train: P&O Ferries have stopped allowing foot passengers to take dogs, so I've had to re-work the dogs by train page twice, once to remove this option, then to reinstate a ferry to France option as a seat61 correspondent helpfully pointed out that LD Lines allow foot passengers to take dogs.
The Spain page has been re-worked, to reduce duplication and make it easier to maintain, also to reduce page size, and highlight the emerging possibilities of the new high-speed daytime service between Paris and Spain.
Egypt page: Photo sections for the Cairo-Luxor sleeper and day trains improved, thanks to photos sent by a seat61 correspondent.
Seat 61 wins 'Favourite Travel Website' in the Telegraph Travel Awards 2012...
I'm absolutely delighted (not to mention still a little stunned) that seat61.com has won the 'Favourite Travel Website' category in the prestigious Telegraph Travel Awards 2012. 17,000 readers voted on their favourite travel companies, destinations and websites, and seat61 beat tough competition such as Tripadvisor and i-escape.com. The award ceremony was held on 13 November at the very swish ME Hotel in London (which isn't yet open to the public - as ceremony host Clive Anderson put it, what better place to hold a travel awards ceremony than a half-finished hotel?). I'd like to thank everyone who voted for seat61 as their favourite site. For a full list of the winners and runners-up, see www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/9675436/Telegraph-Travel-Awards-2012-the-winners.html.
New motorail route to Slovenia for summer 2013...
Dutch Motorail (Auto Slaap Trein) will be operating a new weekly motorail from the Netherlands to Koper in Slovenia, handy for Trieste, Venice & Croatia, every weekend in July & August 2013. Meanwhile DB Autozug have discontinued their motorail to Verona and Trieste for 2013. See the Motorail page.
Odds & ends this month...
It seems the Tbilisi-Baku train has been modernised. New 2-berth and 4-berth air-conditioned sleepers, the first class 2-berths even have a flat screen TV. Photos on the Georgia/Armenia/Azerbaijan page.
Peru: At last, photos now show what the Lima to Huancayo train is like, thanks to traveller Lynne Quayle. And wow, what a journey it looks! Thanks Lynne...
Spain & Portugal: I've added some all-daytime journey options, with overnight hotel in Irun, for London to Santiago de Compostela/Vigo/A Coruna, and also a daytime option from London to Portugal with hotel stops in Irun and Vigo. Feedback would be appreciated!
Romania, Poland: I've added some daytime options with overnight stops, for those who prefer scenery and hotels to sleeper trains. Funnily enough, these turn out to be the cheapest option, apart from the cost of the hotel, with some amazing fares available. London to Warsaw for €88!
When will bookings open for dates after the European timetable change on 9 December?
Reservations for dates from 9 December onwards always open late, as train operators are always late loading the new data. Expect bookings for most trains to open from mid-October, the usual 90 day booking period squeezed to 60. Just sit tight until reservations open.
French Railways opened bookings for dates from 9 December onwards on 11 October. This also applies to many international trains to or from France.
German Railways will open bookings for dates from 9 December onwards on 16 October. This applies to international routes to, from and through Germany, including many City Night Line sleeper trains, too.
Paris-Berlin & Paris-Munich City Night Line sleepers won't open until 26 Oct, the EuroNight to Warsaw will also open late.
Thello (Paris-Italy sleeper trains) hope to open bookings on 30 October.
Italian Railways are also now open for reservations for dates after 9 December.
Eurostar & Thalys appear immune from these problems, and seem able to maintain their normal booking horizons across the timetable change date.
Italo start their new Venice-Florence-Rome route from 3 October...
...in competition with State-run Trenitalia. See www.italotreno.it. Initially, there'll be 3 trains a day.
The demise of the Berlin-Kiev 'Kashtan' from 1 October 2012
Without warning, with just weeks to go, UZ (Ukrainian Railways) announced that the long-standing 'Kashtan' sleeper train between Berlin and Kiev will be discontinued permanently as from 2 October 2012. That leaves all passengers having to travel to Warsaw then take the daily 'Kiev Express' to Kiev. A great shame.
Odds & ends this month...
Search fixed! I've finally managed to fix a problem with the site search displaying correctly on the search results page in Firefox and Chrome.
In Vietnam, I now have a photo of the Golden Trains private sleeper between Saigon and Nha Trang.
New videos: Morocco to Madrid, Madrid to London via Brittany ferries
I've added two new videos following a recent holiday - Morocco to Madrid on the Morocco page and Madrid to London via Brittany ferries Santander-Portsmouth on the Spain page. The videos show the ferries, trains and scenery on these routes.
London to Vienna, Salzburg & Switzerland
I've now added an alternative route to Switzerland via Brussels and Cologne, as this avoids the need to cross Paris, and with clever use of German Railway's 'London Spezials' from €49 can actually be the cheapest way to Switzerland. Thanks to tweaks made recently by Eurostar and DB, the 06:50 Eurostar from London once again officially connects with the 10:25 ICE to Cologne, so it's once more possible to travel from London to Vienna in a day. I've added this option to the Austria page. And as Salzburg is classed as a German station even though it's in Austria, you can buy a 'London Spezial' all the way from London to Salzburg from €49, making this the cheapest way to reach Austria, so I've added this option to the Austria page too.
Odds & ends this month...
Photos of journey by Grimaldi Lines ferry Barcelona to Tangier added to the Morocco page.
Details and photos of Twin City Lines Danube express ferry Vienna-Bratislava added to Slovakia page.
Various tweaks aimed at making the new design iPad-friendly, as an increasing number of visitors use iPads to surf.
New seat61 site design...
I hope you like the new design - using the word 'design' loosely, of course, as the emphasis has always been on content rather than swish graphics. But the new design should solve the one regular piece of negative feedback I get, that the small white text on a dark background is hard to read. The new design:
uses very dark grey text on a white background;
uses proportionate font that appears the right size even on large-resolution monitors;
uses fixed-width pages so are easier to read on widescreen monitors as they will no longer spread right across the page.
There's now a site search box on all main pages;
There are now Twitter/Facebook/Print/YouTube follow and share buttons on each page.
Currently, all the UK, European, train type and great journeys pages use the new design, but the 'worldwide' country pages still use the old design and will be switched over in stages. I simply can't keep two sets of European pages updated (one old and 'live', one new and waiting in the wings) while I finish transmogrifying all the pages, so please excuse the site being 65% new design and 35% old design while I finish the job. Do let me know what you think! Also, do let me know of any glitches, it's highly likely that a few things won't have been carried across to the new pages correctly.
'Overlander' page becomes 'Northern Explorer' page...
This month, many thanks must go to Seat61 correspondent James Chuang who recently tried out the new Kiwi Rail 'Northern Explorer' train from Auckland to Wellington. Thanks to James I've been able to update the Overlander page, replacing the old Overlander photos from my own trip a few years ago with photos of the new Northern Explorer train which replaced it in June.
Odds & ends this month...
Turkey: Izmir to Bandirma trains (for ferry to Istanbul) seem to have switched back to using Basmane station again, not Alsancak, at least until November. I wish they'd make up their minds!!
Burma: new ferry operator Bagan-Mandalay? ferry section tweaked, but info still inconsistent and difficult to get.
New Amtrak baggage policy from 10 September. Only 2 (formerly 3) bags can now be checked in, and maximum bag 'linear dimension' (height + width + length) falls to 75" from 36" x 36" x 36". Oversize bags $20 extra.
Online booking for Indonesian trains? Allegedly, you can now book trains in Indonesia at http://www.kereta-api.co.id/ - but only in Indonesian, not English. Worth a try with Google Chrome's built in translator, but I haven't had a chance to test it myself yet. feedback would be welcome!
Zimbabwe & Botswana: The 3 times weekly Bulawayo-Francistown train is reportedly been cut to twice-weekly, with no Wednesday departure from Bulawayo. The 'dropped' day from Francistown isn't known.
Eurostar French Alps ski train: Ski page now updated with new times and dates of running for 2012-2013 season. Ski train booking opened on 31 July.
Greece reconnected? But only once a week, July until September!
Greece cancelled all its international passenger trains in February 2011, cutting itself off from the rest of Europe other than by ferry. However, there's now a glimmer of hope, as they have just reinstated a weekly train between Skopje and Thessaloniki, at least until September. It departs Skopje at 05:05 every Saturday from 14 July to 30 September, arriving Thessaloniki 10:24. Northbound, it departs Thessaloniki every Sunday at 20:11 arriving Skopje at 23:11. For trains between London/Paris/Munich and Skopje, see the Serbia & Macedonia page. You will need to stay overnight in Skopje. The fare is 756 dinars one-way, about €10.
Online booking from Budapest enabled: Budapest to Warsaw or Krakow from €49 with sleeper
Hungarian Railways have enabled online booking of couchettes and sleepers on direct international trains from Budapest to places such as Bucharest, Belgrade, Krakow or Warsaw, with all the local cheap book-ahead prices such as 'sparnight' available, making it far, far cheaper than using any agency based in the UK, USA or Australia. Budapest to Krakow starts at just €49 per person including a bed in a 2-bed sleeper if you pre-book at www.mav-start.hu. It's a little fiddly, and switches back to Hungarian half way through, but using the Google Chrome browser with built-in translation sorts that! Read the tips for using it on the How to buy cheap European train tickets page.
Canada to cut back trains...
VIA Rail Canada has announced that the three-times-per-week 'Canadian' from Toronto to Vancouver will be trimmed to twice weekly off-season, and the 6-times-weekly 'Ocean' from Montreal to Halifax is to be cut to 3 times per week.
New video added showing the interior and exterior of a Eurostar Italia Frecciarossa, refurbished with four (yes, four!) classes of accommodation instead of the normal 1st and 2nd, http://youtu.be/Xp3A59Xh-ZE.
New video added showing the interior and exterior of a double-deck TGV Duplex, http://youtu.be/KrXUqOPU9wc.
New video: Milan to Zurich by Bernina Express...
New video added showing the Bernina Express and the superb scenery, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5AyEe5xWkQ. Information about the Milan-Tirano train connection is totally absent from the Bernina Express website or brochures (which keep mentioning some Lugano bus link or other, forgetting the major train connection to Italy!), so this video puts that right, showing how to combine a Milan-Tirano regional train with the Bernina Express with a connecting train to Zurich, to travel from Italy to Zurich and even Paris or the UK this way. More info on the Bernina Express page.
New video: Paris to Milan by TGV...
New video added showing the train itself, on board food and scenery, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B09t_WJz_mM. I've also updated the Eurostar video guide with shots showing first class seating and food.
European timetable change from 9 June...
As always, all European timetables change on the second Sunday in June. No major changes are expected, some pages have already been updated, others will be updated shortly.
Zurich-Milan Gotthard route closed by landslide, at least until July...
A major landslide has completely blocked the Gotthard route for at least a month, blocking both the Basel-Milan and Zurich-Milan train routes. Buses are replacing trains for the part of the Milan-Zurich/Basel journey. I travelled from Milan to Zurich myself last Saturday, but fortunately had chosen to come up via the spectacular Bernina Route and so avoided the problem. Geneva-Lausanne-Milan route is OK, as is the Milan-Tirano-Chur-Zurich slow but scenic Bernina Route, see the Bernina page.
Direct Paris-Barcelona TGVs delayed again, until 3rd quarter 2013...
Completion of the Figueres-Barcelona section of the high-speed standard-gauge line from France to Barcelona has been delayed again. High-speed TGVs were due to start running direct from Paris to Barcelona from December 2012, this has been put back to the third quarter of 2013. Until then the connecting service of Paris-Figueres TGV and connecting Figueres-Barcelona Spanish-gauge train will continue, see the Spain page.
Eurostar to introduce Quiet Coaches in September...
From 11 September 2012, Eurostar will designate a 'Quiet Coach' in Business Premier and Standard Premier classes (but not Standard class) with a quiet working environment, no noisy kids and no mobile phones. This will normally be cars 8 & 11, and you'll be able to select this when you book, at least if you book direct with Eurostar.
Odds & ends this month...
South Africa: Gautrain was extended to Johannesburg Park Station from 7 June. You can now travel by safe modern air-conditioned Gautrain service between Pretoria, Sandton and Jo'burg Park station to connect with Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Classe long-distance trains to and from Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth.
Greece: It looks as if Minoan Lines have dropped their Venice-Patras route, leaving only Anek Lines operating this route.
Spain: I've added links to Petrabax.com, a US-based Spanish holiday specialist which sells Spanish train tickets online through a direct link to Renfe (Spanish Railways) own system. Naturally, Petrabax mark up the prices slightly, but given that Renfe's own site occasionally has credit card acceptance problems, and other sites do not necessarily offer the full range of Spanish trains and prices, Petrabax could come in handy.
New Thello sleeper train from Paris to Florence & Rome will now start in December...
It was due to start in June, then this slipped to July. Thello, a consortium of Trenitalia and Veolia who run the current Paris-Milan-Verona-Venice sleeper train, now plan to start their second service, a sleeper train from Paris to Bologna, Florence and Rome, from the timetable change on 9 December 2012 (although a more recent official Trenitalia news release simply says 'after the summer').
Estonia-Russia: Tallinn to St Petersburg train relaunched from 27 May...
After a 4-year gap when the only way between Tallinn and St Petersburg was to endure a 7 hour bus journey, a train is finally set to resume. GoRail will restart a daily morning train from Tallinn to St Petersburg, returning in the late afternoon/early evening. See the Estonia page.
Odds & ends this month...
Italy: Fully-illustrated instructions for using Trenitalia's self-service ticket machines have been added to the Train Travel in Italy page.
Sri Lanka: A new privately-operated carriage has been added to certain Colombo-Kandy, Colombo-Badulla and Colombo-Batticaloa, the Rajadhani Express. This is in addition to the 'Exporail' carriage already in operation on the Kandy route. See the Sri Lanka page. It's also now reported that the bus replacement/track work on the Matara and Galle route is over, and trains are once more running all the way from Colombo to Galle ad Matara.
Albania: There have been a few changes to trains times, and it seems there are now no more trains to Pogradec, Elbasan and Librazhd is now as far as they go.
Eurostar 'any Dutch station' fare now once more available online, London to Any Dutch Station from £50 one way, £89 return. The Netherlands page booking instructions have been updated to reflect this.
Turkey: Details of the Istanbul-Izmir train and ferry service via Bandirma updated and improved.
Philippines: new trains introduced to Ligao, not far short of Legazpi. Info on the Philippines page updated.
Italo is go! Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples...
As of 28 April 2012, private operator Italo is now running its first trains between Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples, in competition with State operator Trenitalia. You can check times and buy tickets at www.italotreno.it/EN/. In Milan, Italo uses the less-known but still central Porto Garibaldi station. It uses the main stations in Bologna, Florence and Naples, but a secondary (less than central) one in Rome, Tiburtina. It has three classes all with free WiFi and leather seats, see the virtual tour at www.italotreno.it/EN/NTV Tour/classic/intro.html.
Big changes to the Auckland-Wellington Overlander from 26 June 2012
KiwiRail have announced that from 26 June 2012, the Overlander will be replaced by a new train, to be called the Northern Explorer, intended to become a more upmarket tourist experience. It will run 3 times a week all year round, using smart new air-conditioned panoramic 'AK' carriages. It will be speeded up, only calling at Hamilton, National Park, Ohakune and Palmerston North - all the smaller places will be missed out. I sincerely hope it will not become so 'tourist-orientated' that only wrinklies aged 70+ on £10k holidays can afford it, with families, backpackers and New Zealanders themselves priced off. See KiwiRail press release.
New videos added: Arlberg route & Brenner route...
I've added two new videos, one showcasing a ride through the Arlberg Pass between Zurich and Innsbruck on a Railjet train en route to Vienna and Budapest, the other a ride through the Brenner Pass from Innsbruck to Verona on a Munich-Verona EuroCity train. the scenery on both routes is excellent!
Problems at Trenitalia.com: Until further notice, use www.fsitaliane.it, not www.trenitalia.com...
It seems that Trenitalia (Italian Railways) are switching to a new IT platform, but are having problems. www.trenitalia.com and www.fsitaliane.it should be alternative addresses for exactly the same Italian Railways website, but the web address 'Trenitalia.com' has been switched to the new computer system, and for some reason the search results now open on Trenitalia's high-speed train mini-site www.lefrecce.it, which won't show regional trains or InterCity trains or international trains, and it won't recognise English place names such as 'Florence' or 'Venice' even though you switched it to English. So it's now as much use as a chocolate teapot, as my Grandmother would say. However, www.fsitaliane.it is still using the old platform (which works!) so I have temporarily switched all the links to Trenitalia.com (the address which most people know) on Seat61 to open at www.fsitaliane.it, so you can buy all the tickets, in English.
Buy your Dutch train tickets online ... But at the Belgian Railways website!
I wasted 15 minutes trying to buy a Dutch train ticket at www.ns.nl before discovering that it only accepts obscure Dutch bank cards, rendering it useless. I then had a brainwave. I tried the Belgian Railways site, www.b-europe.com, and hey presto, a Hengelo to Arnhem ticket for 15 euros (which is actually €0.20 less than NS quoted) with 21st century payment options including Visa, MasterCard and Amex, and in this case no fees. I simply printed out my own ticket at home. There's no need to pre-book Dutch domestic train tickets, of course, as prices are fixed and reservation isn't necessary on Dutch domestic trains, but it saves time at the ticket office, allows you to pay with a card not cash and saves €0.50 (as Dutch ticket offices only accept cash and charge a €0.50 fee). This tip has now been placed at the top of the Netherlands page, and on the European train tickets page.
Odds & ends this month...
New Zealand: Sadly, with visitor numbers still down after last year's earthquakes, the Picton-Christchurch 'Coastal Pacific' will be reduced to running only Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon from 11 May to 11 September 2012. It used to run daily all year.
Bulgaria: It now seems Bulgaria's sleeping-car shortage (and BDZ's dire financial straits) means that the direct Bulgarian sleeping-car Budapest-Sofia has been discontinued. You can still take other sleepers on the same train from Budapest to Belgrade, though it also seems the daytime connection from Belgrade to Sofia isn't running at the moment, allegedly because of engineering work. That leaves the Belgrade-Sofia sleeper train, which may or may not have a sleeper. The route via Bucharest may now be better, and details have been added.
Italy: Photos of Trenitalia's Frecciargento 125 mph tilting trains have now been added to the Train Travel in Italy page. These trains now run an hourly high-speed service between Venice, Florence and Rome.
Kenya: Nairobi-Mombasa train now confirmed as running again. However, as from 4 May, the Nairobi-Kisumu train is reported as cancelled again.
Transatlantic: 2013 Southampton-New York sailing dates for Cunard's Queen Mary 2 added.
Netherlands: After a recent research trip on P&O Ferries superb Hull-Rotterdam route, the Scotland & North of England to Amsterdam section on the Netherlands page has been made into two separate sections, North of England to Amsterdam via P&O from Hull and Scotland & Newcastle to Amsterdam via DFDS Seaways, each with its own info and photos.
Egypt: Cairo-Alexandria and Cairo-Luxor-Aswan timetables updated. Unfortunately, intermediate times at Isna, Kom Ombo and Edfu are now guesstimated, as the Egyptian Railways website isn't working, most agency sites have simply copied my own timetables(!) and the Egyptian online ticket system doesn't cover these smaller stations.
Morocco: Ferrimaroc seems to have disappeared without trace, but details of two other cruise ferry operators from Barcelona to Tangier have been added, Grandi Navi Veloci and Grimaldi Lines.
USA: Amtrak's 'Sunset Limited' between New Orleans & Los Angeles gets a new schedule from 7 May, which will reduce wasted layover time in San Antonio, and restore connections in LA with the 'Coast Starlight' to and from San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. The United States page now shows the new times and days of running.
Thailand: SRT have announced a revised timetable on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route as from 1 June. Thailand page now updated.
Silk Route - Central Asia: Times and days updated. It seems the weekly Astana-Urumqi train has been dropped, in favour of returning the weekly Almaty-Urumqi to twice-weekly. The Moscow-Tashkent train now runs 4 times a week, not 3.
Sunday Telegraph Vietnam article...
I'm delighted that an article by me made the front page of the Sunday telegraph on 4 March, see www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/vietnam/9118732/Vietnam-a-view-from-the-train.html.
Latest situation with trains to Istanbul... See the Turkey page for latest info.
It now seems the flood damage in Bulgaria has been repaired and the Bosfor Bucharest-Istanbul and Balkan Express Belgrade/Sofia-Istanbul will resume on or shortly after 3 March. However, the long-term engineering work in Turkey on the line into Istanbul has now started as from 19 March, and both these trains now terminate at the Turkish border at Kapikule with a replacement bus into Istanbul.
How to buy train tickets for India online... See the India page for info.
Cleartrip.com has until recently been the only way for foreign visitors to buy Indian train tickets online. They are a private website which provides a user-friendly front end to the official irctc.co.in online booking service. Unlike irctc.co.in itself, Cleartrip accepts non-Indian credit cards, and originally did not require you to have an Indian mobile phone like irctc.co.in. However, IRCTC recently forced Cleartrip to require its users to sign up for an account with irctc.co.in. This requires an Indian mobile phone number to which the account activation code is sent. The good news is that there's a workaround for this, involving emailing irctc's customer care department with a scan of your passport, and this works, giving you an activated irctc.co.in account on the Cleartrip website. A step-by-step guide with all necessary workarounds has been put on the train travel in India page. Indian Railways now quite possibly qualifies as the Most Bureaucratic Online Train Ticket Sales in the World.
Odds & ends this month...
France: 'Lunéa' rebranded as 'Intercités de Nuit'. 'Téoz' rebranded as 'Intercités' along with other non-TGV daytime long-distance trains, but as it's then impossible to distinguish trains with the smart Téoz coaches from other run-of-the-mill Intercités I will continue to use the term Téoz!
New page: Train travel in the Philippines...
A new Philippines page has been added to show the Manila to Naga City 'Bicol Express' that has resumed operation.
New video: London to Scotland by Caledonian Sleeper...
You'll now find this on the Caledonian Sleeper page.
Indian train booking problems for foreign visitors...
In 2011, IRCTC.co.in (Indian Railways' own online booking service) rendered its train booking website useless for foreign visitors by insisting that your account activation code is sent to an Indian mobile phone number. Until now, I have suggested using Cleartrip.com which allowed registration without an Indian number. Unfortunately, it seems IRCTC has now forced Cleartrip to require an Indian mobile phone number too, which means foreigners cannot book Indian trains online anywhere unless they use this workaround: If you register online at www.irctc.co.in, then email their customer care department (email@example.com) they can help you activate your registration without an Indian mobile number. They will ask you to email them a scan of your passport and then they will email you the activation code, allowing you to activate your account.
New page: Train travel in Gabon...
Thanks to traveller Clive Leatherdale, I've been able to add a Gabon page, with details of the SETRAG train service from Libreville (Owendo) to Franceville.
Videos added to the site...
I've been able to add some video guides to the site: - Paris to Venice by Thello sleeper train; - How to cross Paris by metro, Paris Nord to Paris Lyon; - inside a Christian Lacroix TGV
Engineering work affects trains to Istanbul on the European side...
According to a normally well-informed German rail website, the 'Bosfor' from Bucharest will be replaced by a bus between Kapikule and Istanbul in both directions from 1 February until the end of 2012. There is nothing yet shown on the official TCDD website, but that is sadly not unusual. Feedback would be appreciated if you go this way! This is in connection with line rebuilding, which will ultimately link Europe with Asia through the new Bosphorus rail tunnel. Latest update 2 February: It now looks as if the work will start on 22 February, with the Bosfor terminating at either Kapikule or Cerkezköy (it hasn't yet been decided which) and a bus will take passengers on to Istanbul. This will apply in both directions from 22 February 2012, for up to two years. This is while railways in Istanbul are transformed with the new Bosphorus rail tunnel, and a new underground station in European Istanbul, serving train to both Europe and Asia.
..and on the Asian side
Istanbul's Haydarpasa station closes down for all long-distance trains from 31 January until 2013. This is while the high-speed line and Bosphorus Tunnel projects are completed, that will ultimately link Istanbul (European side) to Ankara in just 3 hours. Some trains will start from Arifiye, including the Bogazici Express to Eskisehir with high-speed connection to Ankara, and a re-timed 'Içanadolou Express' to Konya and Adana. The Istanbul-Konya 'Meram Express' is cancelled. Trains to/from eastern Turkey will start in Ankara.
Odds & ends this month...
UK: Rail Europe's Travel Centre on Regent Street has closed. It will reopen in late February at 193 Piccadilly.
India: Looms like the booking horizon for Indian trains will be experimentally extended from 90 days to 120 days as from 10 March. See http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Now-book-railway-tickets-4-months-in-advance/articleshow/11800198.cms.
Indonesia: It's reported that the Medan-Penang ferry has ceased running. A forwarded email from www.langkawi-ferry.com confirms this, although their site still shows it as running.
Railjet trains, Germany/Switzerland-Austria-Hungary: These trains have three classes, economy, first and premium. Premium is a 25 euros supplement over normal first class, with free drinks and meals. From 1 April 2012 it will be replaced by Business class, with just a 15 euro supplement over normal first class, with free drinks but without the free meals. There is also an ongoing programme to replace the bistro with a 14-seat restaurant area.
SailRail problems seem to be sorted...
From 31 January, SailRail tickets once again can be bought online at least at Raileasy, London to Dublin from £38, see the Ireland page. Tickets can be bought from any station in Britain to any station in Ireland, covering both train to Holyhead, ferry to Dublin, and onward trains within Ireland. A bargain!
Slow travel? Italy late morning, Switzerland late afternoon, Aylesbury late evening. Who needs planes?!
Returning from the Thello trip to Italy (see the item below), we left Milan's magnificent Centrale station at 11:25, with lunch and superb Swiss red wine in the dining-car as we passed Lake Maggiore, trundled through the Simplon and Lötschberg Tunnels, past Lake Thun in Switzerland to arrive in Basel at 15:29. We left Basel at 16:34 by TGV to Paris, arriving on time at 19:37, in plenty of time for the 21:13 Eurostar arriving in time at London St Pancras at 22:36. Hurling myself into a taxi, I just made the 22:57 from Marylebone to Aylesbury Vale Parkway, arriving 23:59. Who needs planes?!
Thello: The 'new' Paris-Venice sleeper train.... Watch the Thello video New Thello page
In a lightening trip to Italy a few days ago I checked out the 'new' Thello sleeper train from Paris to Italy and have already posted new information and photos on the Paris to Venice by Thello sleeper train page. Although it uses the same fairly old sleeping and couchette cars as its lacklustre predecessor Artesia, I'm glad to say everything else is significantly improved. Staff were friendly, beds comfortable, the ride smooth, and we had an excellent dinner in the restaurant car washed down with some great Chianti. The train now leaves from the historic Gare de Lyon not the awful Gare de Bercy, and we left and arrived spot on time. The sleepers lacked carpet and had been cheaply refurbished by Trenitalia a few years ago before being inherited by Thello, that is where Thello needs to concentrate its efforts next.
Kenya: Nairobi-Mombasa train cancelled until April...
News just in, it seems the famous Lunatic Express between Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya has been cancelled from 30 January until at least April 2012. This is while Kenya Port Authority works to clear massive freight congestion at the Mombasa Port. The line will be used to haul cargo away from the port to inland dry ports on the outskirts of Nairobi. See the Kenya page to see what you're missing...
Major problems booking SailRail tickets to Ireland...
It's been two weeks since the new range of SailRail fares were introduced on 2nd January, and the requirement for seat reservations seems to have totally stuffed anyone's ability to buy these tickets! Online systems are failing to find the London-Dublin £38 'Advance' fare, they are picking up the walk-up £43 fare, but even this fails to book, producing an error message saying that there are insufficient reservations available! (Update: The new tickets apparently make use of the rail industry booking system's 'sleeper' functionality, requiring capture of names and phone numbers for the ferry company, and as Raileasy.com can't do sleepers they cannot now sell SailRail to Dublin at all. Thetrainline.com can do sleepers, but they haven't modified their system so they can't sell these new SailRail tickets either. It's a shambles). Phoning a railway telesales line is no good, as the staff seem to have the same problem. I hope they sort this out soon. In the meantime, if you have a UK postal address, tickets from London and a few other key cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool & Birmingham to Dublin can be booked with no reservation problems at www.stenaline.co.uk instead.
City Night Line sleeper fares...
After several years at the same price level, these have risen a bit this year, the starting price for a couchette from Paris to Berlin or Munich is now 59 euros rather than 49 euros, a bed in a 2-bed sleeper 99 euros rather than 79. However, the task of compiling one consistent coherent table of fares for these CNL trains is driving me up the wall. A man with one booking system knows the fare, a man who checks several alternative booking systems is never quite sure... The cheap 'Savings' fares in my fares tables are now all taken from the German website bahn.de, which shows Paris-Munich in a couchette from 59 euros, as Rail Europe shows £63 so bahn.de is cheaper. Yet full price in a couchette seems to be £129 on Rail Europe but 196 euros (£170) on bahn.de, so for the full price part of the tables I've taken the Rail Europe prices as for these, Rail Europe is for some strange reason significantly cheaper. Although Rail Europe seems to show £63 as the full price for a seat, which is presumably a glitch as full price is really 180 euros, so I've had to use the German price for the first box in the full-price row of fares that are otherwise taken from Rail Europe. Oh, by 'otherwise' I mean apart from the full-price fare for 4-berth couchettes which I always have to take from the German system, as Rail Europe can't book 4-berth couchettes on these trains for some reason. Simple, eh? And there's a senior and youth discount on the full price, too. Or is there? A lower full price fare appears in the search results if 'senior' or 'youth' is selected instead of adult at Rail Europe, clearly indicating the existence of such fares (in fact, it's confirmed in the Rail Europe trade fares tables), but the age of the passenger makes absolutely no difference to the price when using bahn.de. So do senior and youth fares exist, or not on the CNLs? Then we have the Cologne-Vienna Austrian EuroNight. DB seems to have applied their own new prices to this, so a couchette starts at 59 euros, yet on the Austrian railways website oebb.at the same train still starts at 39 euros with a couchette. I've decided to show two rows of 'savings' fares for this particular train, one if booked at bahn.de, one if booked at oebb.at! Finally, it seems a couchette supplement is no longer one simple fixed price whatever type of ticket or railpass is held. A higher supplement is charged if you have a railpass than if you have a normal ticket. So even DB and ÖBB now think a railpass is worth less than a regular ticket! Aargh!
Long-term engineering work affects trains into and out of Istanbul from 2012...
It's been threatened for a year or two, with many false starts, but this time it looks like it's really going ahead. The line from Istanbul Haydarpasa to Izmit (on the line to Eskisehir and Ankara) will close for long-term rebuilding in January 2012, affecting all trains from Istanbul Haydarpasa station into Asian Turkey until June 2015. Work is also being carried out in 2012 affecting trains into Sirkeci station on the European side. Details will be shown on the London to Turkey page and Train Travel in Turkey page, being progressively updated as more info becomes available.
Rail staff 'priv' travel in Europe...
I've now added a page on 'priv' travel in Europe for rail staff. Feedback to help add to this page would be very welcome. It's now some time since I lost my own free and reduced rate travel facilities!
Odds & ends this month...
UK: Rail Europe's Travel Centre on Regent Street closes on 31 January. It will reopen in late February in a new location on Piccadilly.
Malaysia: A new sleeper train, the Malay Tiger, has started running 3 times a week between Johor Bahru and Tumpat, details on the Malaysia page, Jungle Line section.
France: It seems idTGV trains can indeed now be booked with non-French credit cards. Warning removed.
Kenya: Nairobi-Mombasa fares have gone up, from $50 to $75 for a first class sleeper, but details of actual fare in shillings are not yet available. It's also now reported that the Nairobi-Kisumu train is cancelled until April 2012.
Greece: I've reinstated details of an overland option from London and Paris to Greece, using trains from London to Sofia, then a bus from Sofia to Thessaloniki, then train to Athens. This follows the withdrawal of all international trains to and from Greece by the Greek government, due to the dire economic situation in Greece.
News items from 2001 to 2011
For old news items from 2001 to 2011, see the news archive page...