Rail travel in Europe gets better all the time Trains: The network covers more than 100,000 miles of track, and travel options suit almost any tourist's needs

Strategies.

December 13, 1998|By Kathryn Straach | Kathryn Straach,Dallas Morning News

London and Paris are classic destinations, but they also can serve as springboards for day trips to other notable locales in England and France.

With Europe's outstanding rail system, it's easy to hop aboard a train for a daylong adventure, returning that evening to your hotel and belongings in the city.

Of course, some destinations are too tempting for a mere few hours. If you must stay overnight, most hotels in the big city will hold onto your bulky luggage while you pack a small bag for a quick overnight jaunt.

Sounding better than a Boy Scout, Europe's trains are punctual, frequent, fast (and getting faster all the time) and affordable, and they generally take you to the city center instead of its outskirts, making accessibility to attractions easy. And some train stations are located within airports.

The network covers more than 100,000 miles of track.

So why wouldn't you see all that Europe has to offer by train? Especially when you have the benefit of Rail Europe, the North American representative for 60 European railroads. That now includes 25 railroads in Britain as Rail Europe bought BritRail last year.

Rail Europe continues to add new products to keep tourists happy.

There are now more than 35 products, including the Eurailpass (the granddaddy of all passes, covering 17 countries), Europass (covering five popular countries), a range of regional and national rail passes, rail-and-drive passes (Italy will be added next year), and now even EuroVacations, which takes care of the whole shebang, including rail reservations, airfare, rental car, sightseeing and hotel reservations.

Rail Europe's Flexotel program features prepaid hotel vouchers for five major hotel chains, providing more than 1,500 hotels in more than 700 European cities.

Each year, more than a million American leisure and business travelers use the convenience of Rail Europe options.

For day trips in England, consider the BritRail Flexipass. Decide how many days you want to travel, then buy that many train-riding days within a one-month period. If you prefer to travel with a group outside of London, BritRail also offers several other pass possibilities. Although BritRail now is part of Rail Europe, it is not included in the Eurailpasses, maintaining its own separate passes.

When traveling through Britain, consider getting BritRail's Great British Heritage Pass, which allows you entry to more than 500 public and privately owned historic properties.

Call 888-BRITRAIL or Rail Europe at 800-4EURAIL.

Next year, the Europass Saverpass will be introduced. It will provide a 15 percent discount when two to five people travel together.

For nearly two decades, the European Union has been finding economical alternatives to saturated air space and highways with the development of high-speed rail service. The goal is to connect most major cities by train rides of three hours or less.

One of its most popular successes is the Eurostar passenger train operating via the Channel Tunnel to London, Paris and Brussels. In three hours, the smooth-moving Eurostar whisks passengers from London to Paris, making 18 round- trips a day. London to Brussels has eight daily departures.

PTC Before the tunnel opened in 1994, the trip from London to Paris took nine hours - three times longer. Eventually, the time will be whittled down even more - to 2 hours, 25 minutes - as Britain upgrades its tracks.

The tunnel itself is 31 miles, of which 23 miles are underwater. About the only difference passengers will notice during the 20 minutes spent in the tunnel is the absence of scenery.

The Eurostar terminals are at Waterloo Station in London and Gar du Nord in Paris. None of the passes cover travel on the Eurostar. But the Eurostar is just one in the European high-speed train network.

The TGV (Trains Grande Vitesse) serves more than 150 cities in France and Switzerland.

Spain has the AVE, Germany has ICE, Italy has the tilting Pendolino, Sweden has the X2000. The distinctive red Thalys train takes passengers from Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.

Reservations aren't necessary on most trains but are required on many of the high-speed trains.

Prices on these unlimited-mileage passes will increase by about 3 percent in 1999, but travelers have until Dec. 31 to buy passes at 1998 prices. Rail passes purchased by then will be valid for six months from the purchase date, but in 1999, the first use of passes must happen within three months after the date of issue.

Good news for those who turn 40 next year: To celebrate the launch in 1959 of the original Eurailpass, anyone who celebrates the big 4-0 in 1999 will get a 40 percent discount on any Eurailpass purchased between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 1999.

Rail Europe tickets must be purchased before travelers cross the Pond. For details about Rail Europe, contact a travel agent or Rail Europe, 800-4EURAIL or 888-382-7245, or see the Web site at www.raileurope.com. For more information about Britain, call the British Tourist Authority, 800-462-2748.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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