Dear fellow travellers
As summer slips into autumn, many travellers will already be planning for 2008. While the train schedules for next year won't be published for some time yet, we've had our ears to the ground and can preview some likely developments.
It is years since the blue and white sleeping cars of Russian Railways (RZD) have been seen in the Netherlands, Switzerland or Bavaria but all three look set to feature on a daily basis in the RZD schedules for 2008. A major revamping of east-west night train services will create a raft of new journey options. The existing daily train from Moscow to Cologne will be recast to give through RZD sleeping cars from the Russian capital to Amsterdam, Basel and Munich, augmented by direct sleepers from Minsk in Belarus to Amsterdam.
This is quite a change and recalls the days, back in the eighties, when RZD carriages were regularly seen in such far flung spots as Geneva, Paris, Oslo, Oostende and Hoek van Holland.
Overnight services from Prague get a boost with new direct night trains to both Amsterdam and Basel. There are rumours of an intriguing development on the weekly train from Berlin to Saratov and all points east - long revered by all savvy travellers as Europe's most extraordinary train service. From mid-December, this train looks set to carry a through carriage from Berlin to Irkutsk. This will be a journey of seven thousand kilometres, without the need to change trains, and one that spans over ninety degrees of longitude - more than a quarter of the way around the world.
Changes are afoot in the German Baltic region too, among them the demise of the long standing night train connection from Dortmund to the island of Rügen. But travellers in Austria and the Czech Republic will acquire a new daytime direct train to northern beaches with a daily service, operated by Czech Railways, from Vienna via Prague to the Baltic port of Stralsund - extended in the 2008 summer season over the causeway to Binz on Rügen. A new fast daytime train will link Berlin with Copenhagen, with the entire train being shipped on a ferry between Puttgarden (Germany) and Rødby (Denmark).
Further west, the opening of the new fast route from Paris to Lorraine (in eastern France) last June transformed train services between the French capital and central and southern Germany. Expect further developments there in 2008 as the number of direct fast trains from Paris to Frankfurt-am-Main leaps from one to five daily. The existing thrice daily Paris to Stuttgart TGV service will be augmented by a fourth daily train which will run right through to Munich. From Paris to Zürich, the number of fast TGV services will increase from three to four daily.
The opening of the new Lötschberg tunnel in Switzerland will transform train services heading south from Berne towards Brig and northern Italy. Cutting under the Alps in the longest land tunnel in the world, train times between Berne and Milan will be cut by up to an hour. For devotees of subterranean train travel, another interesting tunnel opens this coming November, as Eurostar switches its approach to London, substituting a tunnel into its new much vaunted and very elegant St Pancras terminal for the old route that crept through some of south London's more colourful suburbs. For those in a rush, it is surely a welcome development. Those of us who always rather liked that splash of south London life might be less enthusiastic.
One book we quite like for keeping up to speed with developments in European rail schedules is the monthly timetable published by Thomas Cook, a note on which you will find here on our website.