New European Train Travel Opportunities in 2021

Zurich <> Milano and Bologna and Genova

Amsterdam <> Wien and Innsbruck

Montreux <> Interlaken by the GoldenPass Express 

Wien/Vienna <> Trieste by direct train

Stockholm <> Berlin by overnight train in summer 2021

Zurich <> Munchen/Munich transformed

Budapest <> Wien/Vienna becomes an hourly service

The second Sunday in December is always a key date for European rail services, because the major annual changes to train timetables are co-ordinated so that they commence on this particiular day, so in 2020 this will occur on December 13th.
So each December ShowMeTheJourney typically produces summaries of these key annual changes to the rail timetables, once the trains are already heading off to their destinations - a patterm which will then be in place for the following year.

However, with thoughts already turning to seizing, perhaps thwarted, opportunies to travel by train in 2021, ShowMeTheJourney is already looking to the future and shining a spotlight on these exciting enhancements to this golden age of rail travel.

Measures to protect rail travellers aganst Covid-19 have enabled the overwhelming majority of temporaily suspended rail services to be resumed and these steps will also no doubt be applied, if need be, to these very welcome additions to European rail timetables.
Whether they do or don't depart and arrive on and after December 13th, it is almost certain that they will be available for most of 2021.

1 - The transformation of rail services between Zurich and Italy

One definite change to the timtetables from December 13th, is that the EuroCity services on the ‘Gotthard Route’ between Switzerland and Italy will begin to use the latest Swiss mega rail tunnel, the Ceneri Base Tunnel.
As a result the journey time of the Zurich <> Milano services will be reduced by twenty minutes to around 3hr 20mins and the rail service on this route will also become more frequent than ever before.
The current service in alternate hours, which comprises 8 x trains per day will increase to 10 x daily trains, with the additions resulting in hourly morning departures from Zurich and hourly service from Milano Centrale station after 15:00.

Though what particularly caught ShowMeTheJourney’s attention is that a long-term fixture of our European rail travel wish-list will be finally ticked off, because a change of train in Centrale station will no longer be required when travelling by train between Switzerland and destinations to the south of Milano.
There is already a daily rail connection between Zurich (and Geneva) and destinations to the east of Milano, thanks to the Zurich <> Venezia/Venice and Geneva <> Venezia services
However, rather wonderfully, one of the additional services on the Zurich <> Milano route will have its journey extended to and from Bologna, while another will operate direct to and from Genova, thereby transforming rail journeys between Switzerland and both the Cinque Terre area and the Italian Riviera.

Another impact is that the Basel <> Milano journey on the  'Gotthard route' via Luzern, Bellinzona and Lugano, will now come much closer to matching the journey times of the more frequent trains which take the 'Lotschberg route' to and from Basel and travel via Bern, Brig and Stresa.
Though it seems as though the frequency on the alternative Basel <> Milano route via Luzern won’t increase for the time being.
However, as the train between Frankfurt (Main) and Milano takes the route Gotthard route via Luzern and Lugano on its southbound journey, it will get to northern Italy 20 minutes faster.

The increase in frequency of the Zurich <> Milano service has also required work to double the railway line between Zug and Arth-Goldau, which will be completed, so the trains will again revert to their usual route along the spectacular eastern shores of Lake Zug.
The improved train service between Milan and Zurich will travel by Lake Zug
Which will partially compensate for the EuroCity trains being diverted away from what had been one of the most spectacular sections of the Zurich <> Milano journey, to the south of Bellinzona station.

The EuroCity services won’t be the only trains taking the faster route via the new Ceneri Base Tunnel.
The Swiss IC trains between both Basel and Zurich to and from Lugano via Bellinzona will also begin to use it, thereby cutting their journey times.
According to an exciting report on the Europe by Rail website, from mid-April there will also be faster Regionale trains between Milano and Lugano, which will connect there with those Swiss IC services to and from Basel and Zurich.
The end-to-end journey times with the connection, won’t be much slower than taking the direct EC trains, which will be a boon in particular for Eurail and InterRail users looking to avoid the rail pass reservation fees on the EC trains.

2 - Overnight trains restored to Amsterdam (and to Arnhem and Utrecht).

One of the most welcome recent additions to European rail timetables was the restoration, after a gap of more than 10 years, of the overnight train between Bruxelles and Wien/Vienna, meaning that Belgium was back on the sleeper train map.

Now a year later it is Amsterdam and The Netherlands that will experience the resumption of once lost overnight train services.
Not only will the existing Dusseldorf <> Wien/Vienna and Innsbruck via Munchen/Munich Nightjet service be extended, so that it commences and terminates at Amsterdam Centraal, travelling via Arnhem and Utrecht, it will also operate nightly instead of just five evenings per week.

Southbound the train will depart Amsterdam at 19:30, allowing for plenty of time for an early evening meal in the city after the arrival of the 11:04 Eurostar departure from London – a handy option on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday when the Bruxelles to Wien service won’t be available.
It will be scheduled to arrive in Wien Hbf at 09:19 for easily timed connections on to Budapest and Graz.
It will be due to arrive in Munchen Hbf at 07:09, so will offer a very convenient connection into the EC train departing just after 08:15, which heads to Zagreb via Villach and Ljubljana.

An Innsbruck arrival at 09:14 will offer a tightly timed 10 min connection into an EC train on to Bologna (Mon-Friday) or Venezia/Venice* (Sat/Sun) via Bolzano and Verona, but a more relaxed option will having a brunch in Innsbruck before leaving on the 11:24 departure for Bologna.
*A daily train on to Venezia/Venice via Vicenza and Padova/Padua should depart Innsbruck at 13:18, so an option is to deposit any bags in a left luggage locker at Innsbruck hbf between trains and set off to explore the charming city – plenty of time to make the spectacular return trip on the wonderful Hungerburgbahn.

Northbound the train will depart from Wien at 20:13, from Innsbruck at 20:44 (only 8 mins after the usual scheduled arrival of an EC train from Bologna, but the daily EC train from Venezia/Venice is due into Innsbruck at 18:36) and from Munchen Hbf at 22:50.
The Nightjet from Austria will be scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam at 09:58.


Also that service between Bruxelles and Wien/Vienna is being increased to operate three nights per week instead of two.
So the southbound Thursday departure from Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid is being dropped, but from December 13th the days of departure will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Northbound from Wien/Vienna the train will depart on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays in place of the current departure pattern of Wednesday and Sunday evenings.

For the section of the journey in both directions between Wien and Koln/Cologne the coaches travelling to and from Bruxelles will be attached to the Amsterdam service.
However, the coaches which currently travel between Bruxelles and Innsbruck via Munchen/Munich are being discontinued, but the Innsbruck route will be served by the part of train which will be operating to and from Amsterdam.
So travelling overnight between Bruxelles and both Innsbruck and Munchen/Munich will involve transferring between different parts of the train, before (northbound) and after (southbound), tthe station calls in Koln/Cologne.

3 - Introducing the GoldenPass Express, Switzerland's newest spectacular direct train journey

Hopefully ShowMeTheJourney isn't jumping the gun, but there is (was) a definite plan to introduce this wonderful new service from the timetable change on Dec 13th.
Whether these new trains do or don't commence on this date, the GoldenPass Express service will be providing a direct rail link on the incredible journey between Montreux and Interlaken during 2021.

The new service will remove the need to make connections at Zweissimen station when travelling between Lake Geneva and the central area of the Bernese-Oberland.
So not only will there be a fabulously useful new railway service across central Switzerland, the Glacier and Bernina Expresses will have a new rival for the honour of providing the most spectacular Swiss train service.

During its journey the GoldenPass Express will provide second-to-none views over Lake Geneva, traverse spectacular Alpine scenery either side of Gstaad, travel through the lovely Simmetal Alpine valley and provide an incredible vista over Lake Thun.
Highlights of the journey taken by the new GoldenPass Express service
(In SMTJ’s humble opinion the GoldenPass Express will take the bronze medal position behind the Bernina Express and the full Glacier Express route, but the Montreux <> Interlaken journey is more wonderful than the western half of the Glacier Express route between Andermat and Zermatt).

The journey on the full length of the Golden Pass Route between Montreux and Luzern will also require one connection instead of two - which will be the simple as can be, change of trains at Interlaken Ost station to and from the Luzern-Interlaken Express services.

Rail pass users will also be able to hop on and off the GoldenPass Express, as seat reservations won’t be available on these trains.

4 - A new Epic European Express Train Route will serve Trieste

One can learn many wonderful things watching a typical episode of the BBC television series, Great Continental Railway Journeys, but when viewing the Wien to Trieste episode, SMTJ was surprised to discover that the spectacular railway route over the Semmering Pass was primarily constructed in order to link the capital of the Austrian Empire, with its major port city.

The history of the Austrian Empire wasn’t featured on SMTJ’s educational journey, so I wasn’t then aware that Trieste has had several periods of its history in which it was within Austrian borders.
The fact that a railway had been built between Vienna and the city on The Adriatic still required a joining of the dots, for at the time of broadcast in 2015, following in the presenter Michael Portillo’s fabulously flamboyant footsteps would have required a fairly complicated itinerary with at least two connections.

But rather thrillingly from Sunday December 13th a direct Trieste <> Wien/Vienna train will once again be available, a daytime journey that hasn’t been an option in the 25+ years that SMTJ has been riding the European rails.
Heading south the existing ‘Emona’ EuroCity service, which usually departs Wien Hbf at 07:58 will have its journey extended beyond Ljubljana to Trieste - though it seems that convenient connections in Slovenia to and from Zagreb won't be available.

The route, which includes the passage over the Semmering Pass,the shores of the Worthersee, the spectacular valleys carved by the Savinja and Sava Rivers and the crossing over the Karst Plateau, is an obvious future inclusion on SMTJ’s list of Most Epic European express train journeys.
The spectacular route taken by the new Vienna to Trieste train service
The ultimate experience will be to have a lunch in the restaurant car as the train passes through the spectacular Sava gorge to the east of Ljubljana.

Although in the opposite direction, the northbound train will travel over the spectacular Semmering Pass after night fall as the departure from Trieste won’t be scheduled to arrive in Wien until shortly after 22:00.

5 - A new direct rail service between Stockholm and Berlin

Looking ahead to summer 2021 a hugely significant addition to the European night train network will be the planned Stockholm <> Berlin service which will be provided the Swedish rail operator, Snalltaget.
The new direct link, which will revolutionise rail travel between Scandinavia and Germany, should be departing at weekends in April, May and September and is to be a nightly service from June to August.

This new service will be a more than adequate replacement for the now permanently withdrawn ‘Berlin Night Express’ which used to provide a summer rail link on certain nights of the week only between Malmo and Berlin, but that train spent the majority of its journey time on a ferry which traversed The Baltic Sea.
In contrast the new service will remain on terra firma, aside from its passage across the Oresund Bridge which connects Sweden to Denmark.

It will maintain Malmo’s link with Berlin, but will be a very welcome alternative to having to make two connections on most dates when taking a train journey between the Swedish and German capitals.
It will also call in Hamburg hbf for connections to and from the majority of German cities, but it seems as though it won’t call at Kobenhavn H, the principle station in the Danish capital.
Instead it will call outside the city centre at Hoje Tasstrup, but straightforward connections will presumably be available to and from central Copenhagen.

6 - The transformation of the train service between Zurich and Munich/Munchen

It seems as though the already supremely well-connected city of Zurich will be a key beneficiary of the next round of timetable updates.
Not only will Switzerland’s largest city gain new direct rail links with Bologna and Genova and more frequent and faster trains to and from Milano, the Zurich <> Munchen/Munich route is also being revolutionised.

Works to electrify the railway line along the entire length of the route have been completed, which will allow the very smart ‘Astoro’ trains to provide the improved service.
Not only is the frequency being doubled to six trains per day in each direction, but the journey time will also be around 25 mins faster than it ever has been previously.
The quicker journey is possible because the ‘Astoro’ trains can tilt around the curves in the track, plus a new station in Lindau means that the trains will no longer have to reverse direction there.

However, on the revised timetable Basel will lose its daily direct link to and from Munchen, because all services will only be departing from and terminating at Zurich.

7 - More frequent trains between Budapest and Wien/Vienna

Despite the main rail route across the Austria/Hungary border operating to a reduced timetable as result of the pandemic, the Hungarian national rail operator MAV has announced an intention for the Budapest <> Wien/Vienna route to be provided with an hourly service of express trains.
MAV already provides express a service of express ‘D trains’ in some of the hours between the approximately two hourly service of Railjet trains, that the Austrian operator OBB uses on the Budapest <> Munchen/Munich via Wien/Vienna route.

As a result of MAV’s investment in new railway coaches, which provide a similar on-board experience to the Railjets, they can be deployed on more departures, which will provide the hourly train service between the Austrian and Hungarian capitals.

The additions to the timetable will enable particularly good connections in Wien HBf between trains to and from Budapest and the new Nightjet service between Wien and Amsterdam.