NTV Italo train at Turin station (photo © Antonello Marangi / dreamstime.com).
Travel restrictions and curbs on socializing are now being imposed as Europe tackles a second wave of Coronavirus. So it’s no surprise that Europe’s long-distance rail operators are trimming their schedules to reflect lower demand.
In Germany, Flixtrain is suspending its entire rail operation from 3 November 2020. This is not just for a matter of a few weeks. Media sources suggest that Flixtrain may not be back until March 2021.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic are both cutting most domestic Intercity (IC) services from this week. Passengers who still need to make essential journeys are being directed to alternative, slower services which often make more stops than the Intercity trains.
Changes in the Czech Republic and Slovakia also affect some international services. Czech operator Ceské dráhy is cancelling two of its daily Eurocity services on its Prague to Berlin route from this week. Also affected are the direct IC 44/45 from Košice in eastern Slovakia to Vienna and back; these trains are cancelled from Tuesday 3 November.
Slovenia acted early and introduced revised timetables from Monday 26 October with services cut on many routes. The main line from Ljubljana to Villach in Austria is closed at the moment beyond Jesenice due to engineering works in the Karawanks Tunnel, so that had already led to some international trains being cancelled. From Monday 2 November, buses are replacing trains on the section from Kranj to Jesenice.
Italian operator NTV Italo introduces major changes on the Milan to Rome axis from 3 November, halving the number of weekday non-stop runs between the two cities. These trains, which dash from Milan to Rome in just over three hours, appeal mainly to business travellers. Passengers booked on the cancelled services will be able to travel on other Italo trains which take up to 30 minutes longer for the journey.
Also from 3 November, Italo trims the schedules on its Milan to Venice route, dropping back from four to three direct trains per day. And a week later, on Tuesday 10 November, the number will be reduced to just two trains per day in each direction. This compares with a normal pre-pandemic service of nine trains a day in each direction on this key route across northern Italy.
It’s not just NTV Italo business routes which are affected. The link to Calabria, introduced with much fanfare only last year, is also being cut. Latterly there have been two Italo trains each day from Reggio di Calabria to northern Italy, one terminating in Milan and the other continuing right through to Turin. The direct train from Reggio di Calabria to Turin runs for the last time tomorrow. The Milan train survives for another week but is then suspended after 9 November. This will leave no Italo trains running south of Salerno.
Austrian operator ÖBB takes the lead in coordinating Europe’s wonderful range of Nightjet overnight trains (although many other operators are also involved in the Nightjet network). ÖBB and its partners have taken the difficult decision to trim the Nightjet network for a few weeks. So from early November, Nightjet will be cancelling many overnight trains from Germany to Switzerland and Austria (and vice versa). The date of the last train varies by route and is from 4 to 8 November. Nightjet hopes to reinstate these key overnight links in December 2020. Also cancelled for this period is the twice-weekly overnight service from Brussels to southern Germany and Austria.
Here’s a note of overnight connections which won’t be running for a while:
However, the overnight train from Berlin to Vienna is expected to continue running as normal, along with the through carriages from Berlin to Przemysl in south-east Poland.
Early November sees Russian Railways trimming capacity on many domestic routes as the country tries to tackle a rising tide of Coronavirus infection. In some cases, this is being done by thinning out the normal timetable – eg. by cancelling one of the regular Swallow daytime trains from Pskov to St Petersburg and back. Similarly one train a day is trimmed from the Orenburg to Samara schedule.
On longer routes involving overnight travel, many services which would ordinarily have operated daily will from early or mid-November run only on alternate days. Examples of the latter are the premium overnight services (Train Numbers 1 and 2) from Moscow to Kazan and back, which normally run nightly. From this week until at least mid December, these trains will depart Moscow only on even dates while departures from Kazan will only be on odd dates.
In some markets, services never returned to normal after the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020. Across Spain, Renfe has operated a much-reduced schedule on prime business routes like Madrid to Barcelona. Train services across the French-Spanish border were restored, but latterly there’s only been two high-speed trains each day, viz. the morning TGV from Paris to Barcelona and the afternoon AVE from Lyon to Barcelona.
Some key routes which were axed in March, as the pandemic spread, have never been restored. That’s left some significant gaps in the European network. Night sleeper services from France to Milan, Venice, Lisbon and Berlin have not run for many months now. Domestic night trains in Spain are still not running.
The direct trains from Moscow to destinations in the EU all remain cancelled until further notice. These services have not operated since mid or late March. So Russian destinations no longer feature on the departure boards in Helsinki, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Genoa, Riga, Innsbruck and a score of other stations in the EU which normally enjoy direct trains to Moscow. Trains from Kaliningrad to other Russian cities were however been reinstated in the summer but now transit Lithuania (and for that matter also Belarus) without stopping. This means a run of about 12 hours without any scheduled stops between Chernyshevskoe and Smolensk.