In early April I took a leap into the unknown, asking my blog readers and followers on Twitter to help me fund the #CrossBorderRail project. Within four days my fundraising appeal was a success, and I could start the project planning in earnest – sorting out the timetables, tickets and logistics for a trip that will total more than 27000km, more than 150 trains, and spread across 40 travel days. With less than three weeks to go until the start of the project all the main aspects are ready, or as ready as can be. It’s going to be an insanely intense period but I am looking forward to it a lot!
The demand and the need are obvious – if in Europe we are to decarbonise our transport systems, we need to get more people out of planes and cars and into trains. But railway systems within individual countries always work better than when you have to cross a border from one country to another. Improving that is why this project matters.
In some places cross border railways used to exist, but have fallen into disrepair – I will examine some of these and assess whether rebuilding them makes sense.
In other places the tracks still exist, but passenger trains do not run. I will try to work out why that is the case, and ask what could be done to restart services.
Even where the service is good, sometimes cross border ticketing is a problem – it costs a lot more to reach the first station after the border even if that is just a few kilometres from the last station before the border.
And even if all of those issues do work at a border, there are a slew of other headaches that can crop up – poorly coordinated or intermittent timetables, lack of e-ticketing, and complexity caused by compulsory reservation trains.
There are going to be a lot of stories to tell from this project! So how am I going to tell them?
The whole route I will take is mapped on umap here, with the course of every train I will take plotted in detail – the routes are from Pierre Beyssac’s excellent tool. The background is all explained on a dedicated micro-site that explains all the border crossings and the background, and the events that will happen en route (signup for the first events is already available). Perhaps most important of all is the detailed timetable for the whole trip – currently at version 5.0!
But so much for the planning. What about how to follow the trip?
Most project updates will be posted on Twitter using the tag #CrossBorderRail – each day will have its own thread. I will also start and end each day with a short Twitter live video explaining what I am going to do that day, and summarising what happened at the end of the day. Key updates will also be posted in the Updates section of the project website. If you prefer updates by email rather than on social media, you can sign up for daily email updates here. Occasionally there will be posts on Facebook and Instagram as well. There are not going to be many (or even any!) updates here on my personal blog.
All of the photos and video from the entire trip will be made available for free for anyone to use – if you would like access to the unedited material as the trip is ongoing, please contact me. Otherwise this will all be processed and uploaded at the end of the project – in August.
Last but not least there are going to be dozens of events along the #CrossBorderRail route – some formal discussions, and plenty of meetings over a beer or a coffee to discuss transport policy. Even coming along on one of the trains, or one of the bike legs, is very welcome. All I’d ask is if you could let me know if you intend to come to an event – using this form.
If there is some other way you can help – by putting me in touch with journalists for example, or even with book publishers as there might be enough information for a book in this project, please do get in touch!