10 top European rail-air links

30 Apr 2013 by Alex McWhirter
Modern, efficient rail links benefit passengers and airports alike. Passengers gain from speedy, economical and reliable transfers for their flights. In turn, airports benefit because long-distance rail links free up runway space that might otherwise be used on short-haul routes for more lucrative long-distance services, while shorter links verify their green credentials. The big hubs in mainland Europe boast the best rail-air connections. Passengers using Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt or Paris CDG, with their built-in stations, are spoilt compared with UK travellers. They take high-speed trains from cities that may be more than 100 miles from the airport in question. In some cases, these trains cross borders, allowing even more choice. It must present the management of Brussels airport with a headache. No wonder it has so few long-distance flights when Belgian travellers can hop on a high-speed train and arrive in the likes of Schiphol or CDG, with their huge selection of airlines and routings, in just over an hour. In some cases, the rail journey can be included in the price of the air ticket – ask your travel agent. The advantage is that, in the case of a missed connection or service disruption, you will be guaranteed a place on the next plane or train at no extra charge. A further benefit for travellers using the Air France rail-air links between Brussels Midi and Strasbourg to Paris CDG is that they are automatically upgraded to first class. Likewise, Lufthansa offers AIRail links into its Frankfurt hub from both Cologne and Stuttgart with streamlined procedures for passengers. Sadly, UK travellers share none of these benefits, with the sole exception of Heathrow Express. By global standards it’s a top-class product, but it runs only between central London and Heathrow. One link that would go down well would be between London and Paris CDG. It was mooted in the past by Air France to compete with Eurostar, but never happened. What a pity, as we could then avoid paying APD. Here is a top 10 of quality rail-air services covering both short and long connections. Brussels Midi–Amsterdam Schiphol, Thalys High-speed Thalys trains link the centre of Brussels with Schiphol every hour. KLM’s hub boasts worldwide flights with Skyteam members plus Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Singapore Airlines, among many others. The journey time is 92 minutes for the 200km trip, and food and drinks are served free in first class. There’s a café bar in standard class. Typical one-way fares range from E79 (US$103) in standard and E109 (US$142) in first class. www.thalys.com Strasbourg–Paris CDG, TGV This high-speed service started on April 2, linking the Alsatian capital to Air France’s hub four times a day. The journey time for the 480km trip is 2hrs 30mins. Air France passengers should book the rail trip together with their flight so they can travel first class at no extra cost – they may also receive an advantageous rail fare. Note that you arrive at CDG’s station within T2 (the home of Air France, Skyteam and several others) so you will have to change terminals if using T1 (used by Star Alliance airlines). Passengers using other carriers can book locally or in the UK with Rail Europe. The latter quotes one-way prices of £61 (US$93) in standard and £108.50 (US$166) in first class. www.airfrance.com; www.tgv.com; www.raileurope.co.uk Cologne–Frankfurt, ICE Every half-hour, Deutsche Bahn’s flagship ICE trains link this business and trade fair city with Lufthansa’s main hub in Frankfurt. Passengers can check in at the station. The ICE fairly whistles along and accomplishes the 177km trip in only 48 mins – no wonder Lufthansa withdrew air service on this route. Lufthansa passengers can incorporate the train ride into their air ticket – check for details. Typical one-way fares for other passengers range from E35 (US$46) in standard and E66 (US$86) in first class. www.lufthansa.com; www.bahn.com 4 Brussels Midi-Paris CDG, TGV Eight TGVs a day sprint between the centre of Brussels and Paris CDG, with the fastest ones taking 75 mins for the 300km journey. Air France passengers can check in for their flights, and luggage is taken care of during the train ride and returned to you at CDG. There’s a Cybelys lounge at Midi for premium passengers and high-tier frequent flyer programme members. One-way fares are £66 (US$101) for standard and £97 (US$149) for first class. As with the Strasbourg link, all Air France passengers go first class and passengers destined for T1 must change terminals on arrival. Other airline passengers can book tickets with TGV or Rail Europe. www.airfrance.com; www.tgv.com; www.raileurope.co.uk London Paddington–Heathrow, Heathrow Express The slogan used to be “In 15 mins, every 15 mins”, and although pricey compared with the London Underground, the Heathrow Express is still easily the fastest and most relaxing way to reach our premier airport. However, as Heathrow has expanded, the original 15 mins claim now applies only to T1 and T3, which are served by Heathrow Central. Passengers continuing to T5, the home of British Airways, must allow another six mins. Those bound for T4 must change at Heathrow Central and take a connection, so the overall trip takes 27 mins. One-way fares are £20 (US$31) in standard and £28 (US$43) in first class, but this still represents a fraction of the taxi fare, which can run to more than £100 (US$153) in a black cab. www.heathrowexpress.com Stuttgart–Frankfurt, ICE Germany’s “Motown” boasts a top-rate rail connection with Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub. ICE trains run roughly every 30 mins and cover the 210km in a best time of 72 mins. Lufthansa passengers can check in and have the train ride built into their ticket. Other passengers pay upwards of E35 (US$46) in standard, E61 (US$80) in first class. www.lufthansa.com; www.bahn.com Stockholm Arlanda–Stockholm city centre, Arlanda Express The one-class Arlanda Express covers the 38km (according to the OAG Pocket Flight Guide) between Stockholm’s main airport and the downtown Central station in 20 mins. Trains operate up to six times an hour, and one-way fares are Skr 260 (US$41). www.arlandaexpress.com 8 Oslo airport–downtown, Flytoget The Norwegian capital has an airport of which to be proud, but one drawback for visitors is that it’s 51km outside town. So thank goodness for the fast Flytoget train, which zips downtown in only 19 mins. One-class trains operate every 20 mins and cost Nkr 170 (US$30). www.flytoget.no Zürich airport–downtown, Swiss Railways Unless weighed down by heavy luggage, it’s foolish to take a taxi between the airport and downtown – typically it will cost you between Sfr 50 (US$54) and Sfr 70 (US$75), almost 10 times the price of the train. Local and S-Bahn (suburban) trains run every few mins and cover the 13km between the airport and the Hauptbahnhof (central station) in a mere 11 mins. A one-way trip costs Sfr 6.60 (US$7) for standard, Sfr 10.80 (US$12) for first class. www.sbb.ch 10 Munich airport–downtown, DB S-Bahn Here’s another way to save a packet on costly taxi rides. Munich is served by S-Bahn lines 1 and 8. Together they provide a 10min frequency into the heart of downtown. Although the 45min journey time to Munich Hauptbahnhof might be considered excessive, consider that the airport is 37km outside town. A taxi typically costs E60-80 (US$78-104), whereas an S-Bahn ride is E10.40 (US$13.60) and will cover any destination in the Munich central zone. Pay E11.20 (US$14.60) and you will also benefit from a day’s unlimited travel on public transport. www.s-bahn-muenchen.de
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