What’s the perfect accompaniment to Europe’s gradual easing of its pandemic rules? A burgeoning international rail network for 2022.
The continent’s night trains have gone from being on the verge of extinction to a Europe-wide resurgence, spearheaded by Austrian carrier ÖBB, with new, private companies springing up to offer more options.
Meanwhile as more day trains are laid on across the continent, prices are falling. Italy’s two high-speed networks are knocking out ever more fancy carriages to attract customers, while low-cost, high-speed trains have been rolled out in France and Spain.
So where to ride the rails in 2022? Here are the new routes that have opened up Europe over the past few months – and ones to look forward to for the rest of the year.
NOW IN SERVICE
Vienna to Paris
OBB’s Nightjet train from Vienna to Paris launched in December 2021 and runs three times a week in both directions. It’s one of several trains connecting major European cities – it runs via Salzburg, Munich and Strasbourg – and follows the route of the original Orient Express (for a much lower price). The 14-hour journey departs from Vienna at 7.40 p.m. and arrives in Paris at 9.42 a.m., just in time for a croissant and a café au lait; if you’re taking it the other way, it runs 10 minutes later. Fares start at $101 in a private cabin.
Amsterdam to Zurich
Another Nightjet sleeper train, this December 2021-launched route connects Amsterdam and Zurich. It calls in at German stations on the way, including Cologne, Bonn and Frankfurt Airport, before crossing into Switzerland at Basel. The full journey takes just under 12 hours, arriving at Zurich shortly after 8 a.m., and Amsterdam after 9 a.m. for those traveling the other way.
Genoa to Naples
It may be Italy’s sixth largest city, but Genoa is poorly connected with the rest of the country; to reach the capital, your options are either to take a regular train down the west coast, or to go northeast to Milan and change to a high-speed train down south. At least, that’s how it was until Italo – Italy’s rival high-speed network to state-owned Trenitalia – started a route from Genoa all the way down to Naples. Yes, it still routes upwards via Milan, but then heads nonstop south to Rome and Naples. The whole journey takes six hours and 45 minutes, shaving 80 minutes off the previous direct route.
Brussels to Prague
This is one big European odyssey, launching summer 2022. European Sleeper’s night train will wind its way across the continent in the dark, leaving Brussels at dinner time and passing through major cities including Amsterdam, Hannover and Berlin, before arriving at Prague in time for a late breakfast, around 10.30 a.m.. It’ll run three times a week, with tickets going on sale in spring. The company is a Dutch-Belgian cooperative running in partnership with Czech operator RegioJet, and it says it’ll launch a Brussels-Warsaw route in 2023.
Madrid – Barcelona
High-speed rail usually comes at a premium, unless you’re talking about Spain’s hyper popular Madrid-Barcelona route, which has seen no fewer than two low-cost, high-speed options open up. Ouigo, a subsidiary of France’s SNCF, launched in May 2021, and Avlo, part of Spanish Renfe, a month later. Since September, Ouigo has made intermediary stops at lively Zaragoza and Tarragona, while some Avlo trains continue on to Figueres.
Paris to Milan
Italy’s sassy Frecciarossa, its flagship high-speed train, started a new service from Milan to Paris in December 2021. While this isn’t a new route – French TGVs already connect the two cities – it’s a much more glamorous way to do it, particularly if you book the Frecciarossa’s Executive class, whose grand armchairs rather resemble those on a private jet. The route is a great one – via Turin, Chambery and Lyon – and it knocks 20 minutes off the TGV time, too.
London to Edinburgh
Again, this isn’t a new route as such, but it’s opening up a popular route to those on a budget. The new Lumo service, which launched in October 2021, aims to provide an alternative to low-cost airlines, which normally cash in on the route, since UK trains are notoriously expensive. Having started running three services a day, they’ll upgrade to five in April. However, check your fare carefully – although prices start at $20 each way, the cheapest we could see on one day we checked, two months in advance, was $58. Lumo says that 60% of tickets are sold at $41 or less.
Cuneo to Nice
The ride from Cuneo, in the mountains of Piedmont, down to Nice, on the Cote d’Azur, is so beautiful that in 2021, members of non-profit heritage organization, FAI (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano) declared it one of the most precious things in Italy. Descending 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) over 60 miles, it’s a jaw-dropping ride through mountains, across high viaducts, and down to the Mediterranean Sea, crisscrossing between Italy and France all the while. No wonder it’s known as the “Ferrovia delle meraviglie” – railway of marvels. A section had been closed since October 2020 due to storm damage, but the line fully reopened on December 21, 2021.
Ancona to Fabriano
Italy has a great collection of “tourist trains,” and this, which launched in September 2021, is one of the most spectacular, starting from the coast at Ancona and riding up into the Apennine mountains, seeing the breadth of the Marche region. On a 19th-century single-track railway – one of the oldest lines in Italy – using a vintage diesel locomotive, it calls at Fabriano (the medieval home of paper) before riding through the Cesano valley, to Sassoferrato and to Pergola, where it turns back.
Ljubljana to Graz
ÖBB’s route from Ljubljana to Budapest launched in December 2021, but its circuitous route through Austria means it’s not the fastest on that stretch. However, it has opened up a direct line from the Slovenian capital to Graz. Taking three hours and 17 minutes, it leaves Ljubljana just after 4 p.m..
Vienna to Frankfurt
Another of ÖBB’s December launches, this is a Railjet train, extending the current Railjet Vienna-Innsbruck route, which previously finished at Bregenz. Now, it goes all the way to Frankfurt – a route you can also reach with an Intercity Express (ICE) on OBB.
Palermo to Messina
Until now, you’ve been able to get a high-speed train from the north of Italy, all the way down the boot to the southern tip, at Lamezia Terme. Now, you can fast-track across Sicily too – the first high-speed service on the Med’s largest island started in November 2021. It connects capital Palermo with second city Catania, slicing through less-visited central Sicily, via Caltanissetta and Enna, before emerging on the coast at Catania and heading north to Messina, where hydrofoils connect to the high-speed trains on the mainland. It’s not super high-speed yet – the whole journey takes around three hours, though it should be reduced to two hours and 15 minutes within two years. The swanky Frecciabianca train is also a serious upgrade on the slow regional trains that currently ply the central Sicily route.
Vienna to Cluj-Napoca
This nearly 11-hour journey, which launched in December 2021, meanders through Austria, Hungary and Romania, skirting the Slovakian border and the Danube before stopping at Budapest, then crossing the Romanian border just before Oradea. Cluj-Napoca is the unofficial capital of Transylvania, known for its cobbled streets, medieval buildings and thriving nightlife. Nearby is the cathedral-like Turda salt mine, as well as what’s said to be a haunted wood, Hoia Baciu. It’s also, of course, the gateway to the famously gorgeous Transylvanian countryside.
Graz to Warsaw
June 2022 sees the launch of a night train from Graz to Warsaw, stopping at Krakow before reaching the Polish capital. A partnership between PKP (Polish Railways) and Austrian ÖBB using PKP rolling stock, the train will depart Graz at dinner time, calling at Ostrava in the Czech Republic, before crossing the Polish border at Chałupki, continuing through Krakow at 6 a.m., and ending in Warsaw just before 9 a.m..
Paris to Lyon
From April 2022, low-cost line Ouigo will run a service from the French capital to the country’s food capital. This one isn’t exactly high speed – trains are capped at 100 miles per hour – but fares start at just $11 for the five-and-a-half hour route. What’s more, it passes through Dijon – one of CNN’s places to go for 2022.
Graz to Berlin
ÖBB is also launching a NightJet service from Graz to Berlin in June 2022. Effectively, it’s an extension of the current Vienna-Berlin service.
Stockholm to Hamburg
Sweden is the home of Europe’s “flight shame” movement, and Swedish operator SJ is capitalizing on that with a new night train from Stockholm to Hamburg, slated to start in the second half of 2022 under the name EuroNight. Departing early evening from Sweden, it’ll call in at Copenhagen on its journey through Denmark, arriving in Hamburg before 7 a.m.. Going the other way, the service will be running around three hours later.
Zurich to Rome
Another NightJet venture, this is set to launch in December 2022.
International daytime journeys are also being expanded. The Railjet route that currently links Vienna, Innsbruck and Bregenz will be extended to Frankfurt. And new trains linking Graz with Budapest are also in the works, according to ÖBB.
Prague to Lviv
RegioJet was due to start a night service from Prague to Lviv this year, postponed from 2021. However there is no sign of it yet, and with the current unrest in Ukraine, expect this to be pushed back again.
Top image courtesy Fondazione FS