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 particular day, so in 2020 this occurred 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 pattern which will then be in place for the following year
However, with thoughts already turning to seizing, perhaps thwarted, opportunities 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 against Covid-19 have enabled the overwhelming majority of temporarily 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 have or haven't already commenced, it is almost certain that they will be available for most of 2021.
One definite change to the timetable is that the EuroCity services on the ‘Gotthard Route’ between Switzerland and Italy have begun to use the latest Swiss mega rail tunnel, the Ceneri Base Tunnel.
As a result the journey time of the Zurich <> Milano services has been reduced by twenty minutes to around 3hr 20mins and the rail service on this route has also become more frequent than ever before.
The previous service in alternate hours, which comprised 8 x trains per day has increased to 10 x daily trains, with the additions resulting in hourly morning departures from Zurich and an hourly service from Milano Centrale station after 15:00 - at other times trains will continue to depart in alternate hours.
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 was 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 has its journey extended to and from Bologna (departs Zurich at 06:33), so by remaining on the same platform/track at Bologna Centrale, simple as be connections will be available on to Firenze/Florence, Roma and Napoli.
Another new service operates direct to and from Genova/Genoa (departs Zurich at 08:33), thereby transforming rail journeys between Switzerland and both the Cinque Terre area and the Italian Riviera.
Another positive 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 Basel <> Milano trains which take the 'Lotschberg route' via Bern, Brig and Stresa.
An additional service is departing Basel SBB station at 15:03 and travelling to Milano Porta Garibaldi station (not Milano Centrale) via Bellinzona, Lugano, Chiasso and Como, and in Basel connections into this service to Italy will be available when heading south from Berlin and Frankfurt (Main).
This additional train to Milano will also usually be scheduled to depart Basel SBB station 16 minutes after the daily ICE train will have arrived there from Amsterdam via Koln.
The train between Frankfurt (Main) and Milano still takes the Gotthard route via Luzern and Lugano on its southbound journey, but it now gets 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 has now been completed, so the trains have reverted to their usual route along the spectacular eastern shores of 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, into that new Ceneri Base Tunnel.
The EuroCity services aren't 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 have also begun to use it, thereby cutting their journey times.
The other train services between between Bellinzona and northern Switzerland have also been transformed for the better.
The direct Swiss IR services to and from Locarno which take the superbly beautiful older Gotthard route via Airolo, have been re-instated by a new operator on the route, SOB, which has branded the route as 'Treno Gottardo'.
SOB now operates trains every other in both directions between Basel and Bellinzona (number of departures increased from April 4th), while in the alternate hours they now travel between Bellinzona and Zurich.
So in the hours when no direct IR trains are available to and from Basel and Zurich, simple as be connections are available at Arth-Goldau station.
From April 4th, these 'Treno Gottardo' services to and from Basel and Zurich will be travelling beyond Bellinzona and reinstating the direct rail service between Locarno and the cities in northern Switzerland.
As a result connections in Erstfeld station are no longer required when travelling north and south on this older Gotthard Route.
Towns and villages including Goschenen, Airolo, Faido and Biasca once again have direct services to and from Basel, Luzern and Zurich.
During the day the 'Ticino' regional trains between Locarno and Milano via Lugano, Chiasso and Como operate hourly
According to an exciting report on the Europe by Rail website, from mid-April those Regionale trains between Milano and Bellinzona will be operating to a faster schedule.
As a result the end-to-end journey times with the connection in Bellinzona , won’t be much slower than taking the direct EC services, which will be a boon in particular for Eurail and InterRail users looking to avoid the rail pass reservation fees on the EC trains.
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 has experienced the resumption of once lost overnight train services.
Due to current travel restrictions as a result of Covid 19, the plan is for this service to commence operating on February 9th.
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 Sundays when the Bruxelles to Wien service won’t be available.
The train from Amsterdam (and Bruxelles) will be scheduled to arrive in Wien Hbf at 09:19 in time for comparatively straightforward connections on to Budapest and Graz.
It will also be due to arrive in Munchen Hbf at 07:09 (a separate part of the train), 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.
Due to current travel restrictions this service has been been suspended until at least February 9th.
So the southbound Thursday departure from Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid has been dropped, but 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 previous departure pattern of Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
For the section of the journey in both directions between Wien/Vienna and Koln/Cologne, the coaches travelling to and from Bruxelles will be attached to the Amsterdam service.
However, the coaches which did travel between Bruxelles and Innsbruck via Munchen/Munich have been discontinued, but the Innsbruck route is being 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 now involves transferring between different parts of the train, before (northbound) and after (southbound), at the station calls in Koln/Cologne.
Train travel between Germany and the cities in southern Poland has been transformed for the better thanks to the re-introduction, after an absence of 6 years, of the direct EuroCity express train service in both directions between Berlin and Krakow.
Heading east the train service, which also named the 'Wavel', IS NOW departing from Berlin Hbf at 10:37.
So there is time to make connections when travelling to southern Poland from the likes of Frankfurt, Hamburg and Hannover and Koln.
The train also calls in Lubin (13:57), Wroclaw (14:47) and Katowice (16:44) prior to arriving in Krakow at 17:39.
Heading west the train is departing from Krakow Glowny station at 10:18; Katowice (11:12); Wroclaw (13:05) and Lubin at 13:55 before arriving in Berlin Hbf at 17:16; in both directions it will also call at Berlin Ostbanhof.
Hopefully ShowMeTheJourney isn't jumping the gun, but there is (was) a definite plan to introduce this wonderful new service) in summer 2021.
This GoldenPass Express service will be providing a direct rail link on the incredible journey between Montreux and Interlaken.
The new service now scheduled to being in summer 2022 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.
(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.
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, will 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.
It seems as though the already supremely well-connected city of Zurich is the key beneficiary of the next round of timetable updates.
Not only has Switzerland’s largest city gained new direct rail links with Bologna and Genova and more frequent and faster trains to and from Milano, the Zurich <> Munchen/Munich route has also been revolutionised.
Works to electrify the railway line along the entire length of the route have been completed, which has allowed the very smart ‘Astoro’ trains to provide the improved service.
Not only has the frequency been doubled to six trains per day in each direction, but the journey time has also been reduced by around 25 mins so it is a faster journey than ever before.
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 no longer have to reverse direction there.
However, on the revised timetable Basel has lost its daily direct link to and from Munchen, because all services are now only departing from and terminating at Zurich.
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.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.