U.S. business travelers sometime develop the mindset that flying is the only way to go – probably because in the U.S., rail travel just isn’t very practical from a time standpoint except maybe in the Northeast Corridor. But if a trip to Europe is in your plans this summer, you might want to consider the advantages of a rail system that is not only much faster and more widespread than in the U.S., but can offer intermodal links with air travel as well.
So here are seven reasons why you might want to take trains to get around Europe.
1> They’re fast. If you think France’s TGV trains and the London-Paris Eurostar are the only high speed rail routes in Europe, you are way behind the times. Europeans have been developing high-speed routes all over the continent for the past few decades. Spain alone has four domestic high-speed rail networks, plus a fifth that links it to France. Depending on the route, high-speed trains in Europe travel 125 to 200 mph. Here’s a list of the major high-speed networks in Europe.
2> They can even be faster than flying. While jets are still a lot faster than trains, and thus more time-efficient for longer trips, there are many city-pairs where it’s actually faster to take the train when you consider total travel time – i.e., getting to the airport early for heightened security checks; travel time to and from the airport instead of a city center train station, etc. GoEuro (www.goeuro.com), a search engine that compares air and rail travel times, put together a list of 10 key routes in Europe where travelers can save one to four hours if they go by rail instead of flying.
3> Intermodal connections can be very efficient. Some key gateway airports have built-in rail stations right next to or underneath the terminals where travelers can easily transition from air to train travel. At Frankfurt International Airport, for instance, travelers can connect to trains going all over Germany and beyond, including the nation’s high-speed ICE network. And French National Railroads has a TGV station at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Lufthansa and Air France even sell air and connecting rail trips combined in a single ticket – Lufthansa’s Rail&Fly program and Air France’s Air&Rail.
4> They’re comfortable. Seats are generally bigger than airline seats, with plenty of legroom – especially in first class. Many trains have bar/buffet cars; for first class travelers, meals and drinks are included in the ticket price, and may be served at your seat or in the bar/buffet car. Increasingly, European trains have on-board Wi-Fi. And you can sleep on some trains: For longer rail journeys, some routes operate overnight with trains that offer private sleeping cabins. Here’s a list of Europe’s night trains.
5> They take you to the heart of town. Airport stations aside, European rail terminals are generally in the center of cities, so you can easily get to or from your hotel with a short cab ride. In fact, there are usually some hotels within walking distance.
6> Forget about delays. While a big storm can play havoc with airline schedules, trains keep operating through all kinds of weather. And they’re not subject to the kinds of air traffic control congestion that can disrupt on-time flight operations. In terms of operational efficiency, about the only thing that can (and sometimes does) disrupt train travel in Europe is a labor strike.
7> They can be quite scenic. You won’t see much of Europe from the air, but trains bring you up close to alpine vistas, dramatic forests, majestic rivers and other things to see through those big windows from the comfort of your seat. Here’s a list from Eurail of some of Europe’s most scenic train routes.
Here’s a list of the 10 most popular high-speed rail routes in Europe:
Readers: Have you traveled around Europe by train? How was your experience?
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