Dear fellow travellers
A new month, and the sun shines. It's summer! And guess what? One European country has just closed down its entire rail network. For the whole month of June, not a single train will operate within its borders. It's unlikely that such a cavalier approach to railways could ever prevail in Britain. Just imagine the fuss if there were a month without trains. Ditto Germany. But in Liechtenstein they take a more relaxed approach to life. Just as some people opt for a dry January, eschewing alcohol for 31 days, so Liechtensteiners - all 35,000 of them - are having a train-free month.
There is only one railway which crosses Liechtenstein. It is the line which links Feldkirch (in the Vorarlberg district of Austria) with Buchs (in the Rhine Valley in eastern Switzerland). That might sound as though it's no more than a quaint Alpine branch line, but the reality is that this is the principal east-west route through the Alps. The sleek red Railjets which dash from Vienna to Zürich come this way. Sit on a summer evening by that railway which cuts through Liechtenstein and you'll probably see Czech, Croatian, Slovenian and Hungarian carriages on overnight trains heading east.
But not this month. For the Austrian rail infrastructure company (which looks after the tracks in Liechtenstein) has decided to have a summer festival of track renewal. The line through Liechtenstein is closed until Monday 3 July. Night trains are diverted via an alternative route through Dornbirn and St Margrethen, while passengers on the long-distance daytime Railjet and Eurocity services must detrain at either Buchs or Feldkirch and travel by bus for a short stretch.
On Mondays to Fridays there are normally nine local trains between Feldkirch and Buchs, and nine in the return direction, all serving a handful of local stations on Liechtenstein territory. Those stations are closed at weekends. The local trains are all replaced by buses until Monday 3 July.
It's always been a curiosity of this main route through the Alps that many passengers on fast trains heading from Zürich to Vienna, Graz or Budapest probably don't realise that their journey traverses Liechtenstein. The stretch of line through the Principality is just nine kilometres in length. But the track work now underway will trim the transit time through the country by a couple of minutes, and that will please the Swiss rail authorities who, with their striking attention to punctuality, take a dim view of westbound trains not arriving at Buchs bang on time.
Liechtensteiners seem rather pleased at the improvements too. They may have to forgo trains for a whole month, but a taste of high-speed rail seems to appeal. They point out that in Germany it takes five hours for a high-speed train to cross the country. Yet the high-speed trains through Liechtenstein will be even better than Germany's when the line reopens in July. Fast trains will then take just five minutes to cross from one end of the country to the other!
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)