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Ten top global rail links

Published: 02/06/2012 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2012 » June 2012 » Special Reports »

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To satisfy the rail buff in all of us, I have put together a selection of trips suitable for business travelers. There is something for everyone. The trips include those for which the train will be an essential business tool, some that are scenic rides for those with time on their hands, and some for which the train is a viable alternative to the plane.

One-way fares are displayed as these enable travelers to “open-jaw” their itineraries. In other words, a canny reader in Singapore or San Jose planning to visit both London and Paris would organize their trip to arrive in London and return from Paris. Not only would that save time but, by flying home from mainland Europe, they would avoid the expense of the UK’s air passenger duty (APD).

Another advantage of using the train in mainland Europe is that if the route is not served by a budget carrier, you will find tickets are much cheaper than one-way air fares. Check the rail fares for Zurich-Milan and compare them with Swiss’s cheapest one-way tariff on this route, which costs a hefty CHF703 ($756). Or consider that Austrian charges from 429 ($554) for Vienna-Budapest, which is many times more than the Railjet fare for travel between the same two cities.

Note that all fares quoted are subject to change.

London St Pancras to Paris Nord 

This has to be the most interesting and prestigious rail link between two major capital cities. Running at up to 186 mph, Eurostar’s two-hour 15-minute transit beats the plane hands down if you have city-center appointments. There are as many as 18 trains a day at busy times and by taking Eurostar from the UK, you avoid APD. Meals are served free to Standard Premier and Business Premier passengers. Standard class fares typically range between £39 and £141 ($63 - $227), Standard Premier between £107 to £200 ($171 - $321), and Business Premier tickets are £276 ($443). Visit eurostar.com

Brussels Midi to Paris Nord

There’s not much in the way of scenery so consider this Thalys route as an efficient business tool. Its TGV-style trains sprint the 165 miles between these two capitals in 82 minutes. Remarkably, this is only about 20 minutes longer than airline gate-to-gate timings. (Brussels Airlines, the sole carrier plying Brussels-Paris, allows 60 minutes for the trip.) Snacks and meals are served free in first class, named Comfort One. Standard fares typically range between 29 and 99 ($38 - $128), first class from 59 to 141 ($76 - $182). Visit thalys.com

 3 New York Penn to Washington Union

Amtrak’s Acela “high speed” service makes a pleasant change from flying the busy northeast corridor. These TGV-derived trains take two hours 47 minutes, but note that they hit their 150 mph top speed on only 35 miles of track.For the remaining 170 miles, they run on conventional rails, hence the low average speed. Meals are served free in first class. Fares typically range between $145 and $218. Add a flat $109 for first class. Visit amtrak.com

Moscow to St Petersburg 

Sapsan (Peregrine Falcon) is Russia’s version of high-speed rail. In Soviet days, many travelers took the night train between Russia’s two leading cities owing to lengthy journey times. But the Sapsan train, introduced in 2009, has made daytime travel a piece of cake. Russia’s high-speed train resembles Germany’s ICE, which is unsurprising seeing as it was built in Germany by Siemens. There are eight services a day covering this popular 400-mile route in three hours 55 minutes, running at speeds of up to 155 mph. Meals are free in first class. To save time and temper, it’s best to buy tickets before you arrive in Russia. Fares start at $123 for second class, and $200 for first class. Visit russiantrains.com

5 Tokyo Central to Osaka

No trip to Japan is complete without sampling the famous Shinkansen or “bullet train.” The fastest “Nozomi” Shinkansen services cover the 343 miles between Tokyo Central and Shin-Osaka in two hours 36 minutes. What is remarkable is that these Nozomi trains operate every ten minutes, so passengers have commuter-style frequency over this most important of business routes. After leaving Tokyo, make sure you sit on the right-hand side of the train. You get the best views of Mount Fuji from around Shin-Fuji station some 40 minutes after leaving Tokyo. Tickets cost ¥18,690 ($234) for Green car (first class), or ¥14,050 ($176) for Ordinary (standard) class. Note that seating is four-across (2-2) in Green and five-across (2-3) in Ordinary coaches. Buy tickets locally. Visit hyperdia.com 

Beijing South to Shanghai Hongqiao

The world’s newest, and one of its longest, high-speed lines opened in July last year. It has more than halved the rail journey time between China’s two most important cities. It has also aroused a lot of interest from our online forum readers (see businesstravelerusa.com/discussion/forum/train-operators). The fastest “G” trains operate several times an hour, covering the 820 miles in about five hours 30 minutes at around 186 mph. Approximate prices are: VIP/Deluxe (spacious reclining seats configured three-across, 1-2) 1,750 yuan ($227), first class (disposed four across, 2-2) 935 yuan ($148), standard class (five-across, 2-3) 555 yuan ($88). It’s not a particularly scenic route so look upon this trip as an experience. 

7 Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Munich Hauptbahnhof

Here’s a typical business route with a touch of scenery thrown in. Hourly trains cover the more than 310 miles in three hours 15 minutes. Germany’s ICE rivals France’s TGV for the title of best high-speed train in Europe. Meals are free in first class. Fares typically range between 49 and 95 ($63 - $123) in standard, and 79 to 154 ($102 - $200) in first class. Visit bahn.com

8 Vienna Meidling to Budapest Keleti

Railjet is Central Europe’s high-speed service, but rather than splashing out on fancy rolling stock, the rail companies invested instead in less costly conventional trains. That means you pay less for your ticket. Railjet operates every two hours at up to 125 mph. Journey time is two hours 40 minutes, and all meals are at extra cost. Standard class typically ranges from 23 to 36 ($30 - $46); first from 36 to 57 ($46 - $74). Visit oebb.at

9 Zurich Hauptbahnhof to Milan Centrale

This spectacular trans-Alpine route connects German-speaking Switzerland with the Italian-speaking part via the 9-mile Gotthard Tunnel. The sudden contrast in scenery between Northern and Southern Europe when you cross the Alps overland is not something you can enjoy on a plane. Eurocity trains operate every two hours and cover the trip in three hours 41 minutes. Standard class typically costs from CHF36 to CHF82 ($39 - $88); first is CHF128 ($138). Visit rail.ch 

10 Paris Lyon to Geneva Cornavin

TGV-Lyria’s high-speed international service is a cut above SCNF’s regular domestic TGVs. It links Paris with Geneva every hour with a journey time of three hours five minutes. Free catering is served to passengers in first class. Admittedly, there’s no Alpine scenery to admire but TGV-Lyria offers both a civilized and fast way to travel between these two important cities. Standard class typically costs from 25 to 89 ($32 - $115); first class between 67 and 159 ($87 - $205). Visit tgv-lyria.com 


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