Q&A – August 2017 Interrail ideas

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James is travelling around Europe on an Interrail ticket from 7th to 14th August 2017 and has asked for some pointers on interesting routes and traction to include in his itinerary.

A week-long Interrail ticket with the flexibility of travelling anywhere in the continent is a fantastic thing to have.  One of the defining moments of my life was as the stereotypical backpacked teenager, walking out of Paris Gare du Nord with the endless possibilities of travel to, from and through 30 countries that my ticket afforded me.

It’s purely a personal view, but I’ve always preferred to maximise haulage and travel when I am on rovers such as this, rather than to go spotting or photographing whilst I have a fairly expensive ticket burning a hole in my pocket.  Similarly, I’ve tended to shy away from “insect leaps” with the sole aim of travelling behind as many locos as possible whilst on global Interrails, preferring to make longer journeys over interesting routes that don’t have cheaper ticketing options for another day.  I also find that a global Interrail is a good way of “testing” out countries I’ve not been to before.

With that in mind, I’d recommend a fairly fast-paced adventure around the continent, not spending much time in any particular place, but taking in as much as possible in the short amount of time.

Overnight Trains

A good way to cover as much ground as possible is to use overnight trains, which both give you the “immediacy” of finishing a day in one place and being able to start the next somewhere else, and also save the money of a hotel booking.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend a week of solid overnights though – I had a phase of doing them in my late teens, and it did me no favours!  Reservations and/or supplements are compulsory on most overnights, so do check before travel with the information you get with your Interrail and/or the operator.

The amount of overnights on offer across the continent reduces year-on-year, but there are still a few useful ones.  A useful run-down of sleeper trains can be found here, although there are plenty of seated-only overnights all over the continent.  These can be entirely variable in quality, however.

One of the most interesting overnights in Europe, though, is EN300/EN301, the “Berlin Night Express” between Berlin and Malmö (Sweden), which travels on the Sassnitz to Trelleborg train ferry overnight.  The section on German metals is currently the only place to travel behind one of the 7,200hp class 155 heavy freight electrics – 155 110 and 155 159 of Wedler Franz Logistik are currently the staple motive power for these.  For the 2017 season, these replaced the previously-booked class 109 “Holzrollers” that had worked this diagram for years, as none of the 109s were serviceable – however 109-3 (109 073) had a test run with 155 159 today (20th July 2017) so this may lead to a reprieve.

The “Berlin Night Express” leaves Berlin Hbf at 19:07 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and Malmö at 17:00 on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays – until 14th August.

Train Ferries

Sassnitz to Trelleborg is not the only passenger train ferry in Europe, indeed there are two others, both of which see daytime services.

The other one in the area is that from Rødby (in Denmark) to Puttgarden (in Germany), due to be replaced in the next decade by a fixed link, however the only trains that use this are now DMUs; those on the København to Hamburg route.  However, on weekends, Puttgarden also sees a loco-hauled service on Saturdays and Sundays – a DB class 218 works the 08:21 and 14:26 from Hamburg Hbf, returning from Puttgarden at 11:10 and 17:10 – although it must be said that this stopping train across the slow-paced flatlands of Schleswig-Holstein does not exactly give the loco the opportunity to stretch its legs.

In theory, you could travel on the Friday night Berlin to Malmö, arriving in Sweden on the Saturday morning – then crossing to København in Denmark before catching an ICE via the Rødby train ferry to Puttgarden, dropping back onto the 17:10 Puttgarden to Hamburg 218.

The third European passenger train ferry runs between Villa San Giovanni in Italy and Messina on the island of Sicily.  Due to the time involved in getting to the very foot of the Italian “boot” and back to sample it, I might not recommend it for a week’s global Interrail, but it is still well worth experiencing.

Interesting Haulage

In terms of traction, it would be easy to say “well, all the best stuff is withdrawn now” and indeed that sentence could probably have been said (with some truth) for the last 50 years.  My honest opinion is that there is still plenty to go and experience on the continent – indeed, that’s the reason I set this website up.

I shan’t cover absolutely everything, as that would not be possible, but I will pick out selected highlights that I feel should be covered in a week’s Interrail.  If you think I’ve missed anything, please comment below!

In terms of heritage diesel and electric loco haulage, do check out the haulage calendar on this very site, which lists a number of railtours, galas and events that are happening – although, again, if I was in possession of an Interrail I’d probably prefer to spend my time travelling on trains it was valid on, rather than specials.  However, I would strongly recommend the Bocq railway diesel gala on 12th and 13th August in Belgium, and you can also join us for 7408 and 8040 at the heritage railway at Maldegem on the Sunday morning.

James expressed a particular interest in sampling the DB class 218 diesel-hydraulics, and I can’t recommend the 06:55 Hamburg Hbf to Berlin Ostbahnhof highly enough.  This is a temporary diagram running to the end of August 2017 (excluding Sundays) and really gives the locos a chance to show what they’re made of.  It’s definitely the best diagram to experience them on; they can also be found on Intercity workings between Itzehoe and Westerland, the weekends-only Puttgarden regional diagram as mentioned above, trains between Ulm and Lindau, Eurocity workings from Lindau to München, as well as one or two other routes where they either are not taxed or can be hard to pin down at times.

Another diesel loco type with a sizeable following amongst British enthusiasts is the class 749/751/752 of the former Czechoslovakia.  In terms of passenger diagrams, there is now very little.  The best bet is the “Rakovnický rychlík” Saturdays only service: 08:42 Praha hl n to Rakovník (R1581) and 15:32 return (R1580), which has produced the booked loud 749 on all but one occasion that it has operated so far this year.  749 107, 121 and 264 also see limited use around Praha, mainly at weekends – link to spreadsheet here.  749 259 has also recently seen use on a daily diagram for Regiojet between Komarno and Bratislava in Slovakia, however it looks as if motive power for this has reverted to a KDS “goggle” now, with 753 197 hauling the train on 24th July 2017.

Heading south-west, the Iberian peninsula has a lot of interesting diesel loco haulage to offer you.  This summer sees a diagram for the English Electric class 1400 diesels in Portugal, along with a turn for metre-gauge Alsthom diesel no.9004 on Saturdays only not too far away.  Spain still has a fair amount of main line long-distance diesel loco haulage too, which can be sampled on the way to and from Portugal quite easily.

The south-east of the continent also has plenty of traction interest, although given the distance and time involved in getting there and back, I might not recommend much of an excursion into the Balkans for a week’s Interrail.  However, it’s difficult not to endorse the Croatian class 2044 GMs on the scenic route out of Split.

Interesting Routes

This leads me on nicely to the scenic routes of Europe.  Sadly, the “perfect marriage” of fantastic scenery and decent diesels does not occur in many places on the continent these days; the Split route probably being the best remaining example.

This list of scenic rail routes in Europe is hard to argue with, many of which do see loco haulage, but solely of the electric variety.

Switzerland is often described as the most scenic country in the world, and it is home to plenty of scenic railways, many of which are narrow gauge – although check if your Interrail is valid if you intend to travel on any of them.

I would be tempted to head to Scandinavia, as an astonishingly scenic region, but also one that is notoriously expensive to travel in whilst on “normal” tickets, and also one where long distances are involved.  A possible itinerary would be to travel up the Nordlandsbanen in Norway, 453 miles from Trondheim to Bodø, in the Arctic Circle with GM Di4 diesel power, then by bus or plane to Narvik, before returning electrically-hauled through Sweden.  Getting there and back would, however, take up most of your week – although it would be a proper Interrail adventure.

Whatever you end up doing, please post what you see and travel behind to the various appropriate gen groups!

 

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