Help! The Germans are coming!
Germany watchers, young and old, will have had their antenna twitching in recent days at the news of the first trial run of a Deutsche Bahn ICE train through the Channel Tunnel.
Surprisingly, this trial wasn’t greeted with jingoistic headlines in the British red-tops about the Germans finally invading via the backdoor, and if there were jests about the unrolling of towels on the sunloungers of St Pancras, I didn’t see them.
No doubt there will be some reactionary old buffers in England who will think that the world is about to come to an end. They will hold up the example of the Russians, who deliberately changed the gauge of their railway tracks for the specific purpose of preventing any outside powers from being able to run their trains straight through. Well listen up, guys, it’s too late: Deutsche Bahn has already established a sleeper cell, and is currently running all the rail services of Newcastle upon Tyne.
So let’s embrace their arrival. These days, high speed trains are competing head to head with low cost airlines in terms of journey time from city centre to city centre, and the onboard experience is far superior. Comfort aside, you can get the feel of a place from a train, looking into people’s back yards. Whereas in a car you just stare at the back end of the lorry in front, and on a plane all you can see is the backs of other people’s heads.
And then there are the stations. St Pancras is a fabulous place to begin a journey, Gare du Nord has tons of character, and Cologne has a wonderful location right by the Rhine and the soaring Cathedral. Passengers heading for Germany would be delighted to miss out that (current) change of trains at the dump that is Brussels Midi.
At the moment the debate is about safety, and in particular about power cars: Eurostar has two, one at either end, but the ICE only has one, so is perhaps more vulnerable to breakdown. Surely that will be resolved eventually, and we could start getting some competition into St Pancras. In France, the TGV now has full service trains and low-cost equivalents, both on the same journeys. Sounds like a good scheme to me.
And then there are the sleeper possibilities. Thus far, no high speed train journey has been long enough to justify having sleeper trains, but if they can run through the Tunnel, that could change. Deutsche Bahn’s City Night Line is the best sleeper service in Europe, so I look forward to the time when I can have dinner in London followed by breakfast in Munich, having slept soundly all the way between. The Golden Age of rail travel could be about to return.
And by the way, Germany is not just good at state-of-the-art trains. Have a look at the Harz Mountain Railway.
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