High-Speed Rail

European High-Speed Rail Expands Across the Continent with Five New Line Segments

High-Speed Europe

» December brings faster speeds to Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Truly high-speed train travel, once confined to a few isolated corridors in France, Italy, and Germany, is rapidly expanding across Europe. With the opening of five new track segments to operations at more than 250 km/h (155 mph) on Sunday, the trend continues.

The biggest winners will be the residents of Italy and the Benelux countries. Italians will get access to quick Frecciarossa trains running the full 1,000 km distance between Salerno and Torino as a result of the completion of construction on three new track segments: between Novara and Milano (50 km); Bologna and Firenze (79 km); and Napoli and Gricignano (19 km). The intermediate line sections had been constructed in previous years, but this month’s openings will make seamless fast train travel possible along almost the entire length of the country. With a change in Roma, commuters will be able to travel between Torino and Napoli in a minimum of 5h45, more than the 4h40 possible on the equivalent-length Lille-Marseille line in France, but still quite quick.

The new link between Bologna and Firenze will allow 2h45 services between Milano and Roma, the country’s two most important cities. This is down significantly from the 3h30 minimum travel times available today, and was made possible only with the construction of 73 km of tunnels along the new line, which runs through the Apennines mountains. On February 3rd, Trenitalia ran a train at 362 km/h through one of the tunnels, breaking rail speed records in Italy. Typical operations will be limited to 300 km/h.

Meanwhile, in northern Europe, Thalys will begin running its trains on new tracks between Bruxelles and Köln and between Bruxelles and Amsterdam on Sunday. The new routes will allow trains to travel 51 minutes more quickly between Paris and Amsterdam (from 4h09 to 3h18) and 36 minutes more quickly between Paris and Köln (from 3h50 to 3h13); the latter route decreases trip times significantly for journeys continuing towards other destinations in Germany, such as Hamburg and Berlin.

Belgium is responsible for the new links between Antwerpen and the Dutch border, HSL 4, and between Bruxelles and the German border via Liège (and its remarkable new station), HSL 2 and 3. These new segments complete the Belgian high-speed system, which also includes HSL 1 between Bruxelles and the French border.

Faster speeds to Amsterdam are primary a result of the Netherlands’ investment in 100 km of new track on HSL Zuid between Antwerpen and the country’s capital, via Rotterdam. Some Netherlands rail NS Hispeed trains began using the tracks in September at speeds of only 160 km/h because of problems acquiring equipment from AnsaldoBreda, which is planning to deliver new 250 km/h-capable trainsets next fall after years of delays. Those services, which will extend as far south as Bruxelles, will be operated under a new brand called Fyra, which is jointly owned by the Belgian rail operator SNCB, NS Hispeed, and Air France.

Thalys plans to operate on segments of the track between Antwerpen and Rotterdam at 300 km/h beginning Sunday; in June of next year, speeds on the section from Rotterdam to Amsterdam will increase to those levels after signal upgrades, reducing overall travel time by five more minutes.

Thalys expects to take full advantage of the construction of these new corridors to dramatically expand its market share. While air traffic currently has 53% of the market between Paris and Amsterdam, 3h18 running times will likely convince hundreds of thousands of commuters to change their travel patterns. As a result, Thalys expects a 35% gain in traffic for 2010 and 65% by 2013. It is unclear what effect the new competition from Fyra on the Bruxelles-Amsterdam route will provoke. The less-used Paris-Köln route will see a 30% gain in passengers by 2013 according to projections.

26 replies on “European High-Speed Rail Expands Across the Continent with Five New Line Segments”

High-speed rail is lovely, to be sure, but the tickets are very, very expensive. However, traveling by regular rail throughout Belgium was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had, and it was done very inexpensively for four travelers. I keep thinking what high-speed rail might look like here, and keep coming back to the prices: As long as Southwest Airlines is offering $79 tickets from St. Louis to Chicago, I wonder how many people would be willing to give up their 45 minute flight and switch to rail?

Jennifer, where are you getting your information on HSL pricing?

I recently took AVE from Barcelona to Madrid for €59 or about $85 – and that’s almost a third further than your St. Lois – Chicago example (2:43).

On another trip I used the TGV from Tours to Paris for about €55 – a slightly shorter distance than your Southwest example (70 min.).

That’s compared to Amtrak’s Acela – $100 from Philly to NYC – under 100 miles – half the distance of your trip (75 min.!).

Eurostar can be expensive, but there are frequently deals for £59.

Amtrak is, by far, more expensive than any HSL I’ve used for much worse service.

Wow, there is so much information in the map you provided, you could write a different post about each little segment. Any idea on when the entire system will be completed? What’s interesting to me are the cities that have no service, existing or planned. The German cities of Munich, Hannover, Bremen, and also Zurich in Switzerland are glaringly left out. These each have millions of people and are so close to existing network, it’s curious as to why there is no current plan to include them.

The dream would obviously be able to go to a ticket desk in say, Barcelona, and buy a ticket to Birmingham or Vienna and have the whole trip be seemless and fast. (I know flying would be faster and more economical at these distances, but still.) I took a train from Rome to Barcelona once (24 hours) when I had a eurail pass, so there would be some people who would utilize these services.

By the way, why are train travelers referred to as “commuters?” I understood you, but that’s a weird term for someone traveling hundreds of miles.

Alex, the fact that a high speed line doesn’t reach a major city doesn’t mean it doesn’t have high speed service. It only means that the train has to slow down to below 250 km/h for the last few miles of the tryp, something it would have to do even on a HSL when it got close to the city given the fact that high speed trains require several kilometers to stop.

I’m curious–why say “Napoli”, “Köln”, and “Bruxelles”, but not say “Italia”, “Deutschland”, or “Belgique”? And my mythical Dutch grandma is rather incensed that you failed to mention either “België”, and would like to point out that “Brussels” is what you call the place in Dutch. I mean Nederlands.

Yours in political correctness! :)

I un-compliment the use of foreign names. :-)

In believe style guides will tell you that in an English article, the “proper” names of cities are the English names. And many people are somewhat familiar with Florence and Cologne but have never heard of Firenze or Köln. (…not to mention that the Flemish will be very annoyed at the suggestion that the proper name of Brussel is “Bruxelles!”)


That map is incomplete. There are routes under construction between St Petersburg and Helsinki and between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. That’s all Europe, in that case you didn’t know.

What I don’t get is the lack of a Hamburg/Berlin connection. It’s not even planned? I would have thought that route would be a priority in Germany…

Norway is also pondering HSR connecting Oslo with Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim. It is a real issue being debated in mainstream politics so I suppose a “proposed” status for those lines would be in order.

In reference to questions about which names to use for cities in non-English speaking countries: This is a hard question to answer, especially for countries like Belgium, which as some comments pointed out, has multiple official names for its cities (for Brussels/Bruxelles I used the French term because it’s primarily a French city and I lean French, rather than Dutch).

I’m obviously of mixed minds about this, because the names on the map are the English names and the names in the post are (mostly) the native names. But obviously, yes, I didn’t call Germany Deutschland. So I don’t have any concrete answer for this problem.

George –
The route between St. Petersburg and Helsinki is planned for 200 km/h, as far as I know. The map above specifically designates routes that would run at speeds over 250 km/h. I’ve added the link to Nizhny Novgorod (though its terminus unfortunately falls off the map).

BS –
I’ve added the routes in Norway that you mentioned, Thanks.

What about Ulm – Wendlingen (near Stuttgart)? Part of the controversial Stuttgart 21 project — which will replace Stuttgart’s terminal station with an underground through-station — it will put the Stuttgart airport on the ICE network and decrease travel times on the (Munich) – Ulm – Stuttgart – Paris / Mannheim*Frankfurt axis by about half an hour. Design speed 250 km/h.

James —
Thanks for update on Germany — I’ve added the section on the map. If any one has any more information on planned routes in Germany, I’m willing to add to this map; so far, I’ve been unable to find any other planned 250 km/h+ corridors.

I’m impressed by how far Europeans have gotten in their HSR efforts, and how much more they want to build. They seem to like the lines once they are built; trying to finance their construction is another story, I’m sure.

Also notice an emerging continent-scale network. There isn’t any deliberate plan for a network from Glasgow to Naples or from Tallinn to Cadiz or from Konya to Rennes, but the pieces are gradually being built, and their combination produces such a network.

The lines are being built mostly for relatively short trips, but if lines are built from A to B, then B to C, and then C to D, one can travel the entire A – D length if one wants to.

This is a lesson for US HSR efforts. There is no need to plan a line from Portland, ME to San Antonio, TX or from New York City to Minneapolis, MN. All that’s necessary is to build lots of shorter lines with good connections between them, and large networks will emerge.

The European distances add up: Glasgow-Naples: 1700 mi, Tallinn-Cadiz: 2800 mi, Konya-Rennes: 2600 mi. Even after the last two down, one still gets impressive distances: Berlin-Cadiz: 1800 mi, Vienna-Rennes: 1000 mi.

By comparison, the eastern-US HSR proposals add up to lines with distances Portland-San Antonio: 2200 mi, NYC-Minneapolis: 1200 mi. Rather similar distances, it must be said.

Even the Northeast Corridor may be interpreted as such a multiline system: NYC-DC and NYC-Boston.

I think it’s really cool that you used the original spellings for the cities. Although I’m kind of surprised you didn’t mention any of Spain’s HSR lines which is a very efficient system that I’ve had the pleasure of riding numerous times between Zaragoza and Madrid. The main thing missing is to connect Spain’s El AVE to France’s TGV via Barcelona y Montpellier, once that is achieved, Spain will truly be integrated into the European HSR system. Great article! Please continue to write more about European rail affairs, it’s amazingly interesting, thank you so much!


BS @14 –
Presumably the reason Berlin–Hamburg isn’t a priority is that they already run ICE trains on that route at speeds in excess of 200kph (but below the 250kph threshold for Yonah’s map), and that there are lines more in need of an upgrade. There’s a map on wikipedia showing those ‘slower’ routes below Yonah’s cut-off, but it only shows currently operating routes.

Just wait until January, when FRA announces the winners of 8 Bn in HSR funding.
That will show them were not messin’ around here.
And OUR trains aren’t limited to hundreds of Km/Hr. We can go any speed we want… even 90 mph! (now where’s that conversion chart?)

To BS: Hamburg – Berlin is a so-called “Ausbaustrecke” (an upgraded line), operated at speeds up to 230 km/h. That’s why it did not get a colored line on the map.

Hannover is the end point of the Hannover-Würzburg HSR, and the continuation to Hamburg is operated at 200 km/h, as far as it does not go through densely populated areas. München-Augsburg has been operated at 200 km/h for almost 40 years now, and it is too short to justify a higher speed.

Zürich (actually the whole of Switzerland) has other issues than 250 km/h running; the Swiss network is operated at fixed intervals, and in that case, it is sufficient to reach the next node in time, and not as fast as possible. The two 250 km/h segments in Switzerland are the alpine base tunnels (Lötschberg in operation, but no trains at 250 km/h, Gotthard to open some time around 2017). Also, the Swiss network is at or over capacity, and the priorities are therefore to handle the traffic.

Many of the black lines on the map are operated at 200 km/h.

My best train ride ever was from Paris to marseille for 25 Euros (PREMS deal). 3h10 for a train ride that covers a distance greater than Washington to Boston. Now back living in America, what is most depressing is that the line between Strasbourg and Basel is the TER 200… going 200km/h and far faster than our Acela. Many of the other non-high-speed lines average more quickly than Acela does.

But, 2.5 billion in the THUD approps which will be passed this weekend (probably) is good news. Now, if only the NEC gets its EIS finished.

Yonah, you could also show the proposed lines from Aveiro to Salamanca, Évora to Faro and Faro to Seville in Portugal and Spain. They have been debated extensively by both governments. They’re all planned for 250 km/h plus running.
And your Lisbon to Madrid HSL is incorrectly placed. It goes directly from Lisbon across the river Tagus and through Évora. Trains from Lisbon to Oporto and from Lisbon to Madrid won’t share tracks

There is the project of a Y shaped (“Y-Trasse”) ABS-NBS between Bremen, Hamburg & Hannover. The Wikipedia german page is not translated :
The map on the Pdf downloaded from the first weblink after the article says that the NBS part (Neubaustrecke = “new built line”, 300 km/h) would go from Lauenbrück to Isernagen; I suppose the other pink branch to Langwedel, also NBS, would also be > 250 km/h, but the legend doesn’t say it. The rest would be ABS (Aufbaustrecke = “up built”(upgraded) line) for 160 km/h. The project seems to meet some opposition… (My german is very poor, I’m French).
I have seen a Swedish project of a new line, also Y shaped, faster than the present classic lines operated with tilting trains, I’ll try to find it again…
Great map, Yonah, as usual; and great blog…

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