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!

2 Comments

  1. Ulrike

    Funny, the comment above made me think of a scene in the German mute movie “Berlin symphony of a big city” from Walter Ruttmann, from 1927. There, quite in the beginning, you can see a train that goes from Berlin to Palermo. Indeed another cross border connection that was lost! The future was in the past!

  2. Vladimir Broz

    Thank you for your campaign, here below some more information, through a letter to friends who gave us your contact.

    Dear all,

    Our recent journey for family reasons to Milano prompted us to take some action to lobby for investments in train connections between Italy and Northern Europe.

    We had to take a low-cost flight and flew over Alps without snow, to reach an over-heated Po plane, covered by CO2 where once upon a time rich in water rivers were almost dry.

    Considering the general stress of travelling by plane that implies being at the airport two hours before departure, standing in several queues, departure delays, transfer from airport to city center in Milano, we considered that we did not spare so much time and took the decision to travel by train in the future. This is however quite challenging.

    We enclose some information asking you to help us think which is the best way to reach European infrastructure decision makers, as well the national institutions of the countries involved.

    Thank you for your attention and understanding.

    Best wishes

    Monica and Vladimir

    LIMIT AIR TRANSPORT
    CONNECTING EUROPEAN CITIES WITH TRAIN TRANPORT

    • According to available data, taking a train instead of a car for medium-length distances would cut your emissions by ~80%. Using a train instead of a domestic flight would reduce your emissions by ~84%.13 oct. For example, whereas the carbon dioxide footprint of a domestic flight is 255 grams per km, it is only 6 grams per km for a Eurostar train trip.
    https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint

    • Some twenty years ago there were two trains connecting Brussels to Milano via Luxembourg and Strasbourg: a night train and a day train. City center to city center, no cumbersome travel to and from the airport nor lost time at airports. Then, for some reason, this connection was terminated, coinciding with the introduction and proliferation of low-cost air travel.

    • Today available connections between Luxembourg and destinations in Northern Italy mainly involve air travel.

    • Presently, taking a train from Luxembourg to Milan is a complicated procedure. A faster the connection between Brussels and Milano passes through Paris, skipping Luxembourg.
    A train journey from Luxembourg to Milano implies two transfers (there’s not even a direct train from Luxembourg to Basel).

    • Travel times depend on the departure date. For example, there is a train leaving Luxembourg at 07.24 am arriving in Milan at 16.40 hours. The one-way train fare is rather steep at 156 euros and there are no discounts for seniors or weekend travel.

    • Part of the problem arises from the Brussels/Luxembourg poor connection.
    Present connections, although frequent and relatively inexpensive take far too long (3.25 hours). A fast connection, reducing travel time by one hour, scheduled for 2023 was abandoned last year apparently due to costs involved (300 million euros) although some 70 million euros were allocated to the project. A new opening date (2028) has been given.
    It is an anachronism that it takes 3.25 hours to cover the 200 odd km between the two main European capitals, whereas a similar distance from Cologne to Brussels is covered in slightly less than two hours. The same goes for the Thalys High-speed train from Brussels to Amsterdam (one hour and fifty minutes travel time).
    Apparently, there is not much political will to give the project its necessary priority.
    https://delano.lu/article/delano_faster-lux-brussels-train-not-2028

    • The above is in stark contrast to existing fast connections between Paris and Berlin. Other examples abound. There is an international High-speed train that connects France with Switzerland (TGV Lyria). The Eurostar
    connects Great Britain with France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Deutsche Bahn ICE express covers a wide network of lines such as Cologne with Brussels, Frankfurt with Paris or Amsterdam.

    • Great many people would take the train if being given the possibility of a fast, ecologically friendly and flexibly priced option.

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