Madrid Hotels Articles

August 16, 2010

Train travel recommended for vacationers

With increasingly-strict security, and advances in rail technology, European railways are giving airlines, including discount carriers, a run for their money these days.

Rail travel has a long and distinguished history in Europe. Its value was prolonged long after economical train journeys in the United States and Canada had fallen by the wayside by the shorter distances from one European destination to another and, until recently, overpriced regulated air fares across the continent.

But while airline deregulation has led to a sharp increase in the number of low-cost airlines in Europe, most short- and medium-haul journeys are faster and cheaper by train. The TGV in France, the Eurostar from London to Europe, the Thalys from the Netherlands through Belgium to Paris, ICE trains from Germany, EuroStar Italia, and the AVE in Spain all offer speeds that were unheard of just 20 years ago.

For example, you can travel from London to Paris to spend a day or two and pay less than $150 U.S. on the Eurostar train. The high-speed train takes less than 3 hours to make the run, downtown to downtown. Compare that to the cheapest airline fare of about $100 from easyjet for a flight of about 1:15. However, you must add to that the time and expense to get to London’s Luton airport, then from Charles De Gaulle airport to downtown Paris. Add at least an hour to get to Luton, then at least another hour to check in and get through security, plus another hour to get out of CDG and into Paris itself. The extra commuting costs alone bring the price to about $150, and all of a sudden, the total travel time has stretched out to more than four hours.

Don’t get me wrong – discount airlines in Europe can play an important role in cutting your travel costs. In many cases, it might be cheaper (although more time consuming) to find an inexpensive flight from North America to a popular major gateways like London, Paris, or Madrid, then board a discount flight for your final destination. But once you are established in Europe, railways are still the way to go for the short and medium distance runs.

While Europe has generally lagged behind the U.S. and Canada in terms of exploiting the Internet, many national railway companies now have sophisticated websites established which will allow you to check schedules and book tickets. Many will offer “ticketless” service, where the confirmation e-mail they send you will either be your ticket, or the receipt to pick up

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