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Five brand-new train routes that could revolutionise European rail travel

From chic ‘hotels on rails’ to 1,200-kilometre-per-hour ‘Hyperloop’ pods, these are the railway journeys of the future

Written by
Ed Cunningham
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Trains are demonstrably better for the planet than planes, cars and coaches. Why, you ask? For starters, they can carry lots of people – so, per head, they release far less emissions. But not just that: if a train is entirely electric, it can also be powered entirely by renewable sources. You can’t get much greener than that.

In short: trains are vital to a lower-carbon future, so all manner of companies across Europe are working on brand-new train routes and services that could make cross-continental rail trips far more appetising. Here are five that could revolutionise European travel over the coming years.

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The brand-new train routes that could revolutionise European rail travel

The chic sleeper-train start-up
Photograph: Midnight Trains

The chic sleeper-train start-up

Tons of sleeper trains used to criss-cross Europe, but in recent times the sector has found itself unable to compete with air travel. That’s all set to change thanks to a French start-up called Midnight Trains, which is re-launching night trains between a dozen or so destinations across the continent. Billed as ‘hotels on rails’ and a modern alternative to the Orient Express, the Midnight routes will be centred on Paris and take passengers as far as Edinburgh, Porto and Copenhagen. It’ll launch its first route in 2024.

Midnight Trains isn’t the only company looking to make a splash in the night-train market. Centred around Germany and Austria, the Nightjet network is looking to launch five new cross-continental routes between now and 2024, while the German Green party has also floated ideas for a Euro Night Sprinter network for continent-wide sleeper services.

The eco-friendly line linking Poland and Finland
Image: Render by Negative

The eco-friendly line linking Poland and Finland

Tucked in Europe’s north-eastern corner, Rail Baltica will link Poland and Finland via Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And it’s not just any old (admittedly very long) train line. Rail Baltica promises it will be super-eco-friendly: the trains will be entirely electric, the track will avoid nature reserves and there’ll be animal passages to protect wildlife.

The project should be complete by 2026, with the final Tallinn-Helsinki leg being operated by ferries to start with. In the not-too-distant future, an undersea tunnel spanning the Gulf of Finland might eventually connect Helsinki and Tallinn by train, thereby providing one of the EU’s most distant states with a direct link to central Europe.

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The ‘hyperloop’ pods that could reach 1,200 kilometres per hour
Image: Nevomo

The ‘hyperloop’ pods that could reach 1,200 kilometres per hour

In Nevomo, Europe is very close to having its first ultra-high-speed ‘hyperloop’ network. Set to come into service in 2023, the company’s initial route will take passengers between the Polish cities of Krakow and Gdansk in just 35 minutes (that trip takes around six hours by conventional train).

Having an super-speedy line between two Polish cities might not seem that revolutionary to most Europeans. But the Nevomo could have implications for transport systems across the globe. Its ‘pods’ can supposedly operate on existing rail lines (reaching up to 550 kilometres per hour), meaning it could be implemented practically anywhere. The eventual plan is to build dedicated infrastructure that can enable vehicles to travel at up to an astonishing 1,200kph.

The super-scenic route connecting Berlin and Palermo
Photograph: Shutterstock

The super-scenic route connecting Berlin and Palermo

Stretching an enormous 2,200 kilometres from the heart of central Europe to the tip of Sicily, a new high-speed Berlin-Palermo line will cut through Germany, Austria and Italy. The project has been in the works for more than 20 years, and will eventually link Munich, Innsbruck, Rome, Naples and Sicily (making use of existing ferry services that carry trains on to the island).

The route is being completed in phases. One of the chunks currently under construction is the Sicilian leg, which is set for completion in 2023, but another important part of the line won’t be finished until 2032 – when the huge, 55-kilometre-long Brenner Base Tunnel is scheduled to open under the eastern Alps between Austria and Italy.

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A bigger, better, snazzier Trans-Europe Express?
Photograph: svic / Shutterstock.com

A bigger, better, snazzier Trans-Europe Express?

Just a few years ago, a revived Trans-Europe Express was but a train enthusiast’s pipe dream. But with a valid alternative to plane travel needed now more than ever, it could be making a comeback. In fact, European leaders have signed a ‘letter of intent’ to create a ‘TEE 2.0’, so plans are certainly afoot.

Like the original, this new network will offer direct, hassle-free travel between the majority of EU member states. And what’s more, the revamped TEE will be far bigger than its predecessor. Now that the EU includes former Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, it’ll hopefully be even bigger and better than its predecessor.

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