SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TRAVEL NEWS

Could rail passengers soon see direct trains from the UK to Germany?

Thanks to a merger between two major rail operators, there's speculation that climate-conscious travellers could soon be able to hop on a direct train from London to Germany and vice versa. Here's what we know so far.

Eurostar The Netherlands
The Eurostar train arrives at Roosendaal station in Roosendaal, The Netherlands. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Robin Utrecht

What’s going on? 

A handful of media outlets, including the UK’s Daily Mail, have been reporting that train routes between the UK and mainland Europe could be about to get a little bit simpler.

For the first time ever, rail passengers may be able to take a direct train from London to several cities in western Germany, including Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Aachen, Connexion France reported on Tuesday. 

The train route would be an extension of existing Eurostar routes that currently run from London to Brussels, Paris, Lille, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the French news site explained. 

They added that the direct train to Cologne would take around five and a half hours. 

If the reports are true, it would be the first direct train from the UK to Germany in the history of Eurostar. 

At the moment, passengers travelling between London and Germany by train generally have to change in Brussels from a Eurostar to an ICE train. People going anywhere other than western Germany would have to change trains again – usually once they reach Cologne.  

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

Is this definitely going to happen?

Despite the optimism of Connexion France and the Daily Mail, it doesn’t seem like anything like this has been officially announced just yet. 

However, there has been one significant change that could make these new routes possible.

Previously, different stretches of the railway network between London and Germany were operated by two different rail operators.

Eurostar connects the UK to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam via the Channel Tunnel, while French operator Thalys runs a number of routes between France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. This made it difficult to run a direct train between the two.

Since 2019, however, the two companies have been attempting to merge into a single company called Eurostar Group. 

Once it’s fully established, the Group will connect two high-speed rail networks spanning five countries – the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany – and make it possible to offer rapid, direct routes from London to several German cities.

The merger was pushed back amid the pandemic but was finally granted approval from the European Commission back in March, who found that it wasn’t in breach of its competition laws. 

France’s state-owned operator SNCF held majority stakes in both Eurostar and Thalys and is now in the process of merging the two entities.

READ MORE: How will Germany’s €9 travel ticket work?

What’s likely to change after the merger? 

According to a spokesperson for Eurostar, the first item on the agenda is a joint loyalty programme. This means customers can “benefit from more upgrades, discounts and complimentary journeys with early access to partner offers as well as lounges and other personalised benefits”.

Another benefit is likely to be improved ticketing and scheduling across the network. 

There’s also speculation around whether we could see a whole host of new Eurostar routes, including direct trains from London to Cologne, Bordeaux, and to Belgian cities such as Antwerp and Liège.

However, a spokesperson for Eurostar told Connexion France that it was “too early” to confirm any dates for new routes. 

Eurostar St. Pancras London

Passengers walk on a platform at the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras International station in London. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Andy Rain

On a broader scale, the companies are hoping the introduction of faster, smoother train journeys across Europe will encourage customers to transition away from cheap air travel to a more eco-friendly option.

“The challenge of climate change and the demand for eco-responsible travel calls for an ambitious response,” said Guillaume Pepy, chairman of SNCF. “Bringing together the strengths of Eurostar and Thalys [is] a powerful response to this challenge. High speed is an opportunity for Europe, and Europe is an opportunity for high speed.”

Under the moniker of Project Green Speed, one of the goals of the merger is for the Eurostar Group to increase its passenger numbers to 30 million per year by 2032 – up from 18 million in 2019. 

READ ALSO: How to find cheap rail tickets in Germany

Would new direct trains create issues with immigration controls? 

It’s a good question, and something that the Eurostar Group would no doubt have to consider when changing routes around.

At the moment, passport checks for Eurostar are done at the point of departure, for example at St. Pancras in London or at Gare du Nord in Paris. That means there’d be no issues with controls when heading from the UK to Germany, but there could be issues on a return journey. 

Writing about the merger and possible new train routes, the UK’s Daily Mail speculated that people may have to leave the train at Brussels to pass through border controls if a direct route were set up from Germany to the UK.

Another option, of course, is to set up border controls at Cologne’s central train station and check passports there upon departure to the UK. 

READ ALSO: Does transit through Germany’s neighbours affect Brexit 90-day rule?

When could the new routes be in action?

It’s still unclear whether the direct UK to Germany route is even a definite plan for the newly merged company, but if it does happen, it’s likely to take some time.

A spokesperson to SNCF, the parent company of Eurostar Group, said that the initial priority for the company would be increasing the number of services on the busiest lines across Europe. 

“Eurostar Group and the stakeholders are thinking of increasing the capacities and answer to customer demand, where Thalys and Eurostar are already present,” she said. “At the end, we will study the possibility of launching new routes. But nothing is decided for the moment.”

It seems that things like the joint loyalty programme, ticketing and scheduling issues are priorities for Eurostar Group in the early months. 

Once these parts of the merger are done, they could start looking into whether Thalys trains could head all the way to London or Eurostar trains could head all the way to Germany – and working out the practical details of it, like how border controls would work. 

But fr now, it seems like it’s yet another case of “wait and see”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TRAVEL NEWS

€9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

Germany's €9 monthly transport ticket is coming. Here's everything you should know about the deal that will allow you to to travel the country for next to nothing this summer.

€9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany's cheap travel deal

What’s all this about cheap transport?

Germany is about to launch a mega cheap transport ticket – and a lot of people are getting very excited about it.

The “€9 for 90” ticket is a monthly travel card that people can buy for just €9 per month over a three-month period. It’s a fraction of the price of a normal monthly travel card and – even more incredibly – can be used anywhere in the country on local and regional transport. 

The deal was initially announced back in April as part of an energy relief package put together by the government. And despite some anger from state leaders over funding for the scheme, the ticket cleared its final hurdle in the Bundesrat on Friday.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

So far, the €9 ticket has received a lot of publicity and attention. That’s probably because it’s one of the more fun measures to combat the energy crisis – one that doesn’t involve complicated claims and write-offs in your tax return.

Instead, the government is hoping that the new ticket will cut monthly transport costs for households and encourage people to use more eco-friendly transport options. With fuel prices spiralling, it’s a great time to leave the car at home and travel around for next to nothing, while doing your bit for the environment. 

Sounds great. Can everyone buy it?

Yes! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist on a weekend trip from Austria, a part-time Germany resident or Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself: everyone will be able to purchase the €9 ticket. (We imagine Olaf may already have his own transport, though.) 

It will, however, have your name on it, so it can’t be pooled between friends (as tempting as an even cheaper travel deal would be). 

READ ALSO: What tourists in Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

Busy train in Stuttgart

People board a busy train in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

When will it be available?

It’s currently available in a handful of cities, including Hamburg, Stuttgart and Freiburg – but everyone else will be able to purchase it from May 23rd onwards. 

The deal itself will be a summer travel offer. That means the first monthly ticket will be valid from June 1st and the last monthly ticket will expire on August 31st. Each of the tickets will be valid for the full calendar month so you won’t be able to mix and match with existing tickets.

For example, if you’ve already bought a ticket that’s expiring in mid-June, you wouldn’t then be able to buy a €9 ticket running from the middle of June to the middle of August.

Instead, you would require two €9 tickets  for June and July – though you can get a refund for the part of the prior ticket you didn’t end up using.

Where can I get hold of it?

The ticket will be available via Deutsche Bahn’s DB Navigator app, on the DB website, at in-station terminals and at ticket desks and offices.

Regional transport operators are likely to have their own ticket purchasing options as well – most likely online, but in some cases also at ticket machines and in-station offices. 

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest.

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

What types of public transport can I use it on?

The ticket is valid throughout Germany, but only on regional and local transport.

That means you can use it on all local trains like the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, as well as on trams and buses. You can also travel on the Regionalverkehr (regional trains) across Germany. 

You can’t use the ticket for private services like Flixbus and Flixtrain or on other long-distance rail services like IC, EC and ICE trains. If you’re travelling around your state and aren’t sure if the ticket will be valid, check if the train you’re taking has an ‘RE’ in the name. That’s the shorthand for regional trains.

It probably goes without saying, but taxi services won’t be included in the price. And, yes, you will still need to pay for those e-scooters as well. 

Can I use it to travel first class?

If you’re hoping for a month of budget transport but also want to be treated like royalty whilst on board, we may have to disappoint you. The €9 ticket can only be used in second-class carriages.

This is largely because there’s likely to be huge demand for the budget offer – so there could be scuffles for first-class seats with that extra bit of legroom. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

I’ve already got an Abo. What can I do?

This has been a big concern for the folk who have already opted to pay full price for their public transport. (What fools they were…) 

Luckily, this group of keen transport users won’t miss out either. According to the DB website, people who’ve already shelled out on a monthly or annual ticket will be contacted by their local transport provider and informed about how they can get a refund.

If you’ve got a standing order set up, the transport operator will likely just debit the €9 from your account instead of the usual amount. Otherwise, you may get sent a refund via direct debit. 

Your subscription ticket will be valid for local public transport throughout Germany during the three month offer period – not just in your area.

Will students also benefit from the ticket?

Absolutely – though this is one area where things may be a little less well-organised. If you’re a student with a semester ticket, you will be entitled to a refund of the extra amount you paid, which will likely be handled by your university. 

One thing that seems a little unclear is whether the semester ticket will suddenly be valid outside of your local region, just like the €9 ticket is. We assume it will, but we’ll try to clarify this with DB and other service providers in the coming weeks. 

Can I take my bike on board?

Unfortunately, bikes aren’t included in the offer – and this seems like a deliberate choice. 

DB is recommending that people leave their bikes at home during the three months that the €9 ticket is on offer. This is because trains are likely to be extremely busy and they can’t guarantee that they’ll have room for everyone, let alone a hundred or so bikes. Instead, you can usually hire a bike at your destination.

However, if you’ve already got a subscription that allows you to take your bike with you (i.e. a student semester ticket or another type of Abo), you’ll still be able to do so. 

What about my dog? 

You will unfortunately not be able to purchase a €9 ticket in the name of Rover T. Dog (well, you could try, but it probably won’t work). However, the usual rules will apply to travelling with a furry friend. 

In some places, you may need to buy an extra dog ticket for Rover, while in others, he’ll be able to accompany you free-of-charge. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits from Germany’s €9 public transport ticket offer?

A woman carries her dog through a Berlin train station

A woman carries her onesie-clad dog in a Berlin train station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Do children need to pay for a ticket? 

Children under six can travel for free on public transport, while children over the age of six will need their own €9 ticket. 

What about seat reservations? 

Transport operators are trying to keep things as flexible as possible to cope with demand over summer, so you unfortunately won’t be able to use the ticket to reserve a seat in advance.

Won’t public transport be rammed? 

At the moment, nobody really knows. According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), there could be as many as 30 million public transport users per month over summer – but this is only a rough estimate.

READ ALSO: How many people will use the €9 ticket?

One way around this is to try and travel on weekdays and off-peak services where possible and (as mentioned) to hire bikes rather than bringing them in the train.

It could also be helpful to familiarise yourself with different transport connections and routes in your area. 

The other thing that could help ease the crush on public transport is the fact that the government is also planning to cut taxes on fuel in tandem with the €9 ticket. That means that, for three months over summer, drivers will be able to get cheaper petrol and diesel – so some may indeed decide to take the car after all.

The ticket ends at the end of August. What happens next? 

Once again, it’s hard to say. Critics of the €9 ticket say that the scheme will leave gaping holes in transport budgets and could ultimately lead to ticket prices going up in autumn.

On the other hand, proponents of the offer believe that it could have the effect of luring people back to public transport after the Covid crisis. That would mean that more people would be buying subscriptions after summer and using local buses and trains, which can only be a good thing for transport budgets in the long-run. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 transport ticket

SHOW COMMENTS