Europe’s high speed trains: Romancing the rails

Japan introduced high speed Photo: Eurostar exits the Chunnel Photo: Rail Europe

EUROPE, April 13, 2013 – Europe’s modern high speed rail networks have forever changed the way travelers visit the continent.

A variety of high speed trains

Thanks to modern rail technology, traveling by train through Europe has recaptured the romance of travel that existed in a bygone era. Once again the simple act of coming from and going to is a pleasure to be enjoyed with contemporary comfort and efficiency.

In 1964, when the hoopla of the Tokyo Olympic Games over and the world departed, the crowded island nation waved good-bye and went back to work.  But something was different.  Something remained.  Something had changed the world of transportation and travel, forever. 

In Japanese they are known as Shinkansen, but to the world they became commonly known as “bullet trains.”

Due to concerns about population density combined with rising costs of gasoline, countries like France and Germany quickly began developing high speed rail services of their own.  Today, France takes national pride as a leader in conventional rail technology, establishing a world record speed of 357.2 miles per hour in April of 2007.

A TGV speeds through France

Commercial high speed trains in many countries currently reach scheduled speeds of 186-mph while some of France’s TGVs (Train à Grande Vitesse) travel at 200-mph.  In larger European countries, such as France and Germany, it was feasible to design sdedicated tracks which are straighter to allow for higher rates of speed.

Countries with less revenue to devote to infrastructure or that are not large enough to support the extensive lengths of dedicated track necessary for high speed rail services, ingeniously developed the concept of tilting trains.  While tilt trains do not travel at the super speeds of their faster cousins, they have the advantage of being able to operate on existing rail lines.

A sleek German ICE

Another innovation, which has also been incorporated into modern French TGVs and German ICEs (Inter City Express), is double deck trains which provide added passenger capacity along with the high speeds.

Technological advances in conventional high speed rail travel has made the long awaited dream of connecting the United Kingdom with continental Europe through a tunnel beneath the English Channel a reality.

The project officially opened in May, 1994 with the 31.4 mile underwater rail tunnel linking Folkstone, Kent in England with Coquelles Pas-de-Calais in northern France.  Today, Eurostar trains make day trips between England and France or Belgium a convenient proposition for holiday travelers or businessmen.  Trains travel between London and Paris in 2 hours 15 minutes, while trips  to/from London and Brussels can be done in just under 2 hours. 

Thalys is called The Big Red Train

Private companies have also gotten into the high speed rail marketplace.  Known as “the Big Red Train,” Thalys unites Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) with Paris.  Popular stops en route include Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.

Even a small country like Switzerland, which has no need for high speed rail of its own because of its size, has cleverly negotiated alliances with France, Germany and Italy to utilize their rapid train services between the bordering countries.  The result has been a tourism boom for all four destinations by providing easy access for visitors.

A tilting Cisalpino

Several other countries in Europe also have extensive, growing, high speed rail services, particularly Sweden and Spain.  Competition among the countries is keen, and services vary widely depending upon the length of the journey.  Short hauls feature food carts with snack and drink services or bistro cars, while longer trips provide full-service dining cars.  Depending upon the time of day, some trains offer meal services at your seat.

Ground transportation is frequently the last thing travelers consider when planning a trip.  For Americans, renting a car is often the first consideration and, indeed, at first glance a rail pass may sometimes seem expensive by comparison.  But when you consider the high cost of gasoline in Europe, the convenience of going city-center to city-center by rail, the hassles of reading road signs and finding parking, the advantages of having accessible food and restroom services and the ability to sit back, relax, read a book or paper, work at the computer, enjoy a nap or simply stare out the window at the passing array of panoramas, a European rail pass is a bargain.

Even with supplemental fees for some high speed rail services, the convenience of traveling between many European destinations of relatively short distances, or the ability to do day trips that were once regarded as impractical, has changed the face of travel forever. 

Italo, inspired by Ferrari

It is now considerably easier, in many cases, to base yourself in a city without changing hotels every day.  Not only does it save time from packing and unpacking, it allows more opportunities for sightseeing or shopping and fewer hassles of constantly being on the move.

High speed trains in Europe have reinvented travel on the continent, and the variety of rail passes available today come with bonuses that add even greater value to a pass.

For now, consider using Europe’s fabulous modern “bullet trains.”  All it takes is a little basic training.  (

Contact Bob at  <ahref=””>Google+</a>

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in CharlotteNCTaylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to SwitzerlandFrance and Italy for groups of 12 or more.

Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.




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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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