Are masks compulsory? How do you do social distancing on a train? Where can you go within the EU?
As the number of flights between EU countries slowly starts to ramp up following the reopening of borders on 1 July, a lot of people are also starting to consider other ways of getting around. Europe’s extensive rail network is one such way: environmentally friendly, with a huge choice of routes and times, all at reasonable prices.
So let’s look at some of the routes available, and which countries are providing what services to where.
Approximately 90% of train routes in western and central Europe are back to normal
Around 90% of international trains in western and central Europe are now back up and running and, sensibly, many routes are now putting on extra services to cope with the number of people who want to travel for the first time in months, as well as to ensure that even with increased numbers, those routes won’t be too crowded.
The Czech company RegioJet, for example, started advertising their special overnight services to Croatia from Prague, Brno, and Bratislava as early as the start of June, knowing that demand for Czechs to make their annual pilgrimage to the seaside would not be easily satisfied.
In fact, many regional high-speed services have been recently reinstated, such as routes between France and Spain, Serbia to Bulgaria, and Hungary to Romania. Eurostar services are restarting, but at a slower rate, with more trains being added from 9 July. However, they’re easing their booking conditions, meaning more choice for travelers.
Traveling by train comes with a number of perks
New flexible booking options mean also that often, if the train you’ve booked seems a little too full for comfort, there will almost certainly be another one in a couple of hours that you can take using the same ticket. Pop back into town, have a coffee, and come back in a while. Yet another advantage of traveling by train is, of course, that you’re almost always departing from the center of a city.
When it comes to social distancing, a number of operators are varying how their sleeper services run. If you’re a family or a couple wishing to book a cabin together, no problem, but as an individual traveler wanting a berth in a mixed compartment, that won’t happen. What may happen, however, is that by booking a berth in a mixed compartment, the rail operator will just give you the compartment to yourself! Different operators are running different schemes, so you’ll have to look around.
Face masks and social distancing will generally be required
The same applies to mask requirements. Generally, you will have to wear your mask for boarding and leaving the train; after all, stations in summer are hot, crowded places, so masks on for everyone’s safety! Once on board, however, you’re generally okay to remove them if you’re in your seat, although pop it back on if you need to move around.
Dining cars will almost certainly be running as usual, but at a reduced seating capacity due to having to keep some tables empty to comply with social distancing measures.
It might also be a good idea to think about where you’re traveling to. Rural regions offer a reduced risk (plus will be even emptier than usual), while many smaller towns and cities will be happy to have your custom as local economies try to recover.
So maybe it’s the perfect time to take advantage of having a holiday by train. Use the journey as part of the adventure, seeing Europe sweep by as you stretch your legs, have a meal, read, or talk to your fellow travelers.
The pace of life has been necessarily a little slower of late. Maybe we shouldn’t be in such a rush to speed up again.
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