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Dear fellow travellers
This weekend sees the launch of new railway timetables across Europe. This ritual takes place on the second weekend of December every year, with rail operators revamping service patterns and tweaking their schedules to reflect changing demand.
Swiss winners and losers
In western Europe, this December's headline story is the routing of passenger trains through the new Gotthard Base Tunnel. It is six months since the 57-km tunnel was opened, but only from Sunday is the new tunnel being used by regular passenger traffic. Within Switzerland, the new tunnel has been promoted as a way of bringing the southernmost canton of Ticino closer to the big cities in the north of the country. The travel time from Lugano to both Basel and Zürich is trimmed by 33 minutes.
Travellers looking for fine Alpine views won't welcome the new tunnel. But hourly regional trains will continue to run over the old Gotthard route, serving local stations along the way. Some of these trains will run right through to Como and Milan, thus introducing the novelty of international departures from Göschenen.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel also brings faster timings for Eurocity trains from Zürich to Milan. The existing thrice-daily Basel to Milan Eurocity services via the Simplon route will continue just as now, but from Sunday there will be a useful fourth daily train linking the two cities. This new international service will use the Gotthard Base Tunnel route.
There are communities which lose out with every new timetable. There is much grumbling, we hear, in the lakeshore city of Locarno, which has hitherto enjoyed direct trains to both Zürich and Basel via the old Gotthard route. From Sunday, Locarno is relegated in status and passengers will need to take a local train to Bellinzona, connecting there onto main-line trains running north via either the new Base Tunnel or the old Gotthard route.
New routes in Norway, Italy and England
A new 12-km tunnel opened in southern Norway on 28 November, bringing improvements to train services between Oslo and Skien. During the first week or two of service, trains using this new route have travelled at only modest pace but, with the new timetable starting this Sunday, there will be some big savings in travel time on this busy commuter route.
There's an improvement to rail infrastructure in Lombardy (Italy) with the opening on Sunday of the 39-km high-speed line from Treviglio to Brescia. This will bring faster travel times on journeys from Milan to Verona and Venice.
A mile or two of extra track in Oxford opens on Sunday, so that Chiltern Railways' trains from London Marylebone will be able to run to the university city's main station, rather than terminating at Oxford Parkway. This means that London commuters from Oxford's city centre station will now be able to choose between Great Western trains to Paddington and the new Chiltern route to Marylebone.
This month sees major changes in the pattern of train services on some international routes. For example, Russian sleeping cars will be seen for the last time in Belgrade this evening, with the departure at 21.50 of the night train to Budapest. Since this time last year, this train has conveyed through carriages for Moscow. But Russian operator RZD is revamping its international links. Apart from Belgrade, three other European capitals lose their direct trains to Moscow: Budapest, Bratislava and Sofia.
But it's not all bad news from RZD. New rolling stock will bring a big cut in journey times on the important route from Moscow to Berlin. For a fuller account of changes to international trains to, from and through Russia, see our article published in European Rail News on 4 December 2016.
The Dutch cities on Europe's night sleeper network see their final departures this evening. The sleeper services from Amsterdam, Utrecht and Arnhem to Bavaria and Switzerland run for the last time tonight. In the new timetables, there are no night sleepers to or from the Netherlands. Dresden and Warsaw lose their overnight trains to Cologne.
But there are plenty of new links which debut this weekend. The Prague to Zürich night sleeper, which hitherto ran through Germany, now takes a completely new route via Linz and Innsbruck. Restless souls who cannot sleep can enjoy some fine views of the Austrian Alps and a brief glimpse of Liechtenstein. The train takes 12 minutes to traverse the tiny principality.
Starting this weekend there are new direct overnight services with sleeping cars from Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Hannover to Innsbruck. Cars and motorbikes will be conveyed every evening from Hamburg and on three nights each week from Düsseldorf. These new services will be run by Austrian rail operator ÖBB which this weekend takes over a number of trains hitherto run under the City Night Line brand. You can read more about the demise of City Night Line in our article published in European Rail News on 2 December 2016.
The new timetables see improved overnight links to eastern Slovakia. The existing night sleepers from Kosice to both Prague and Bratislava continue as now, but there will be two new useful links: from Kosice to Vienna and from both Presov and Kosice to the Moravian city of Brno.
Riviera and Adriatic links
This Sunday sees the reopening of the railway along the Riviera di Ponente in Liguria. This important rail route running west from Genoa to Sanremo and the French border has been closed for rebuilding during the autumn. So the direct Eurocity service from Milan to Marseille (operated by Thello) will be reinstated from Sunday, with the first train from Marseille back to Milan running on Monday.
During the period that this route has been closed, the weekly night train from Moscow and Vienna to Nice has terminated at Genoa. The service right through to Nice will be restored from the middle of this month, with the first departure from Moscow on 15 December and the first eastbound run leaving Nice on the evening of Saturday 17 December.
There are improvements to rail links to and from Istria with new year-round services from the Adriatic port of Rijeka to both Budapest and Munich.
A new issue of the European Rail Timetable (ERT) will be published next week, containing the new schedules for most main-line train services across Europe. With monthly digital editions and bi-monthly print editions, the ERT contains up-to-date rail and ferry timetables for all of Europe. The upcoming issue is being sold as the Winter 2016/17 edition.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)