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European high speed rail network taking a giant leap

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  • 3/29 USA Today
    Published Thursday, March 29, 2007, in USA Today European rail lines taking a giant leap By César G. Soriano Europe s map is about to get a lot smaller. The
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2007
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      Published Thursday, March 29, 2007, in USA Today

      European rail lines taking a giant leap

      By César G. Soriano

      Europe's map is about to get a lot smaller.

      The opening of several high-speed train lines this year will
      dramatically shrink travel times across the continent that, in some
      cases, will be faster than flying.

      For Americans flocking to Europe this summer, the change will be most
      noticeable in France with the opening of the TGV-East <http://www.tgvest.com>
      line on June 10 that will finally connect the French and German
      high-speed rail networks.

      Travel times from Paris to the popular northeast provinces of
      Champagne, Lorraine and Alsace will be slashed in half, allowing
      visitors to tour the region's famous Champagne houses by day and be
      back in Paris for dinner.

      Or how about lunch in Strasbourg to sample its famous foie gras? The
      journey time from Paris to Strasbourg, on the German border, will be
      cut from four hours to two hours, 20 minutes.

      Also opening this year:

      * The 21-mile-long Lötschberg tunnel <http://www.blsalptransit.ch>
      beneath the Swiss Alps will trim journey times by up to 50% between
      Germany and northern Italy when it opens June 16. The Lötschberg base
      tunnel also will earn the title of longest land tunnel in the world.

      * London and Paris will be within day-tripping distance of each other
      -- just more than two hours -- when the High Speed 1 line from London
      to the Channel Tunnel, or "Chunnel," opens Nov. 14. [BATN: Worse than
      useless Flash-ridden website <http://www.lcrhq.co.uk>]

      * Spain's largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, will soon be just
      2-1/2 hours apart by train, down from four hours. New trains will
      make the 375-mile journey at up to 220 mph, one of the fastest in
      Europe. The opening date is expected to be announced by year's end.
      <http://www.adif.es/infraestructura/accesobarcelona.html>

      * The Netherlands' long-delayed high-speed line will begin partial
      service in December, shaving travel times among Amsterdam, Rotterdam
      and Antwerp. Amsterdam will be just 90 minutes from Brussels and
      three hours from Paris when the line is completed in mid-2008.
      <http://www.hslzuid.nl>

      Europe is investing heavily in expanding its high-speed network.
      By 2020 it will stretch from Portugal to Poland.

      "We're at the foothold of a revolution in short-haul travel in
      Europe," says Simon Montague, spokesman for the Eurostar high-speed
      train service, which operates between London, Paris and Brussels.
      <http://www.eurostar.com>

      Traveling by train has always been a rite of passage for U.S.
      visitors. Over the past decade, trains have taken a back seat to
      airplanes, spurred by a boom in low-cost airlines.

      But in recent months, a greater awareness of the environmental
      effect of traveling and the growth of "green travel" is swinging
      the pendulum back in favor of trains, says Mark Smith, rail industry
      consultant and editor of <http://www.Seat61.com>, a guide to
      traveling around the world solely by train or boat.

      "We certainly are seeing something of a backlash against short-haul
      flights in Europe," Smith says. "People here are very concerned
      about lowering their carbon footprints."

      A recent British government study concluded that although the aviation
      industry produces less than 2% of carbon dioxide worldwide, it is the
      fastest growing sector of greenhouse gas emissions.

      Britain responded in February by doubling a tax on airline passengers,
      adding about $20 a ticket on short-haul flights and $80 on long-haul
      flights originating in the United Kingdom. The travel industry has
      sued the government over the tax increase. But for the time being,
      the price increase is pushing people toward train travel.

      "In Europe, there is a fast-growing alternative to short-haul air
      travel that produces less carbon emissions and causes less
      environmental damage," Montague says.

      The rail industry is also pushing the convenience factor. For
      example, security checks at European airports have become longer,
      stricter and widely inconsistent since British authorities uncovered
      a suspected terror plot last August to blow up passenger jets.

      There are fewer such concerns for trains, which also are not beholden
      to delays caused by bad weather, slow baggage handling, crowded
      runways and air traffic.

      High-speed trains whisk you city center to city center, avoiding
      pricey transfers. In November, Euro-star will move its London
      headquarters from Waterloo to St. Pancras, a more convenient station
      with greater connections to the rest of England and Scotland.

      "If you travel low-cost airlines, you have to budget the time and
      expense to schlep to a weird, out-of-the-way airport at least two
      hours ahead of your flight," says Chris Lazarus of Rail Europe.

      As for those low-cost airfares, the tickets aren't as cheap as they
      appear on paper. That 2-cent advertised airfare from London to Rome
      quickly climbs to more than $100 after taxes, and that's not counting
      fees for such extras as checked baggage and reserved seats.

      Europe's rail operators are taking a page from the airline industry
      with the creation of Rail Team, a seven-country alliance that will
      soon offer through-ticketing, fast connections and simple timetables.
      Some airlines such as Continental and KLM offer code-sharing with
      high-speed trains and the ability to earn frequent-flier miles.

      Some train aficionados wistfully complain that the romance of European
      train travel is in danger of extinction as rail companies continue
      operating more like airlines. They point to the extinction of the
      Orient Express -- after more than 100 years in service. The current
      Orient Express, the overnight train from Paris to Vienna, will cease
      running in June when the TGV-East high-speed line opens.

      "High-speed trains have a panache of their own that makes airlines
      look dowdy," Smith says, noting that the new TGV high-speed trains
      will have interiors designed by Christian Lacroix.

      "Americans coming over here taking a dozen flights will have the same
      experience a dozen times," Smith says. "If you take the train, every
      journey is different. Taking the train is a unique European
      experience."

      "There's more to travel than the destination," Smith says. "It used
      to be called a journey."


      ALL ABOARD FOR FASTER TIMES

      Travel times in hours between select European cities, before and
      after the opening of new high-speed rail lines:

      Key: Current time -> Future time

      As of June 10
      Paris-Reims: 1:25 -> 0:45
      Paris-Nancy: 2:40 -> 1:30
      Paris-Luxembourg: 3:35 -> 2:05
      Paris-Strasbourg: 4:00 -> 2:20
      Paris-Frankfurt: 6:30 -> 4:30
      Paris-Zürich: 6:10 -> 4:30

      As of Nov. 14
      London-Paris: 2:40 -> 2:15
      London-Brussels: 2:28 -> 1:51

      By late 2007
      Basel-Milan: 5:08 -> 4:10
      Bern-Milan: 3:56 -> 2:58
      Basel-Torino: 7:36 -> 6:38
      Madrid-Barcelona: 4:00 -> 2:30
      Brussels-Amsterdam: 3:00 -> 2:30

      By late 2008
      Brussels-Amsterdam: 3:00 -> 1:30
      Amsterdam-Paris: 4:00 -> 3:00
      London-Amsterdam: 7:40 -> 3:30


      Sources: SNCF, Eurostar, HSL-Zuid, International Union of Railways


      [BATN: See also:

      Schwarzenegger says private sector should fund high-speed rail
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/34326

      HSR projects to make European rail travel even faster
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33977

      Schwarzenegger orchestrating a slow death for high-speed rail
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33603

      Planned Europe-Africa rail link underlines US shortcomings
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33569

      Letter: Schwarzenegger wrong to kill high-speed rail
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33548

      Schwarzenegger budget would starve high-speed rail to death
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33528

      California high-speed rail needs funds to get underway
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33497

      Schwarzenegger may kill high-speed rail to widen roads, warm planet
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33437

      Comment: Schwarzenegger ignores transit-enviroment link
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33437

      Schwarzenegger: high-speed rail not a priority
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33281

      Schwarzenegger may postpone high-speed rail indefinitely
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33280

      Europeans remain serious about HSR, while US is all talk
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33279

      US rail infrastructure likened to that of a 3rd-World country
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/33053

      USA, land of worse-than-3rd-world intercity public transit
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/30895 ]
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