8 Ways the Connecting Europe Express brought Europe together

2021 is the European Year of Rail and what better way to mark the occasion than sending a unique special train across the continent — right? We thought so, too!

The Connecting Europe Express making a stop in Linz, Austria (left), where a citizen joined us for the journey until St. Pölten in an EU-themed dress and also got local pastries to share with others on board. 📸 Photographers: Marek Knopp © European Commission

Meet the Connecting Europe Express and find out how it connected Europe during its epic five-week journey from Lisbon to Paris in autumn 2021.

Meet one of the passengers, Kristine Garklava.

In 36 days, the Connecting Europe Express travelled through 26 countries, crossed 33 borders, stopped at more than 120 stations and covered about 20,000 km. It took more than 40 partners from the railway sector to join forces to create this unique train trip — combining an Austrian sleeper coach with an Italian dining coach, a Swiss panoramic coach, a German seating coach, a French conference coach and a Hungarian exhibition coach.

A Spanish film crew hopped on board to record a short movie and three Austrian train enthusiasts joined the journey in Linz, one of them in an EU-themed dress, bringing local pastries for the crew. In Germany, the Greek-Polish activist Kamil put a spotlight on the accessibility of rail and beat our resident blogger Paolo at chess, while enjoying the scenic Swiss-German landscape from the window.

Another special guest was Barbara, who took the same route between Zagreb and Athens as her uncle, who went to Africa during the war in 1942 by train. Her thoughts, “It’s so nice that I can travel the same route my uncle took but in peaceful times. I can enjoy the view and not be worried about death and destruction. I think younger generations take peace a little too much for granted.”

Our Connecting Europe Express was the first train to connect Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in recent history — no such ride has taken place in more than 20 years! We were exceptionally permitted to take the train through all three countries, and from Lithuania to Poland.

We’re working on better linking the Baltics, where a different train gauge is used than most of the continent — by building new infrastructure with the EU-funded Rail Baltica project.

The European Year of Rail shines a light on the benefits and challenges of rail — its importance as one of our most sustainable and safest transport modes, as well as the obstacles that we still need to overcome to encourage people to switch to rail.

Rather than sending one train across the continent, we had to use three. The rail infrastructure in Portugal and Spain differs from the ones used in central Europe and the Baltics. Also, not all EU countries use the same electrical system. The coaches had to be pulled by different locomotives, depending on the country the train was travelling through. Evidently, there’s still work to be done to further harmonise the EU rail system.

One of the coaches of the Connecting Europe Express was in fact a conference room and hosted various discussions — from experts debating how to overcome the challenges facing the rail sector to students exchanging views on the future of transport.

One of the coaches on the train was dedicated to research and innovation, showcasing EU projects that have helped improve rail connections over the years. Since 2007, more than 750 railway projects on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) have received about €20 billion in EU support. You can discover the exhibition online, check out the EU-funded infrastructure projects along the route and learn about innovative solutions that will make rail faster, more efficient and even more sustainable in the future!

While new connections are being announced this year in central Europe, there are no night train connections yet in many other regions. So we had a sleeper coach with us on this unique journey! We will continue to work on a framework to support the night train renaissance — all over the continent.

Connecting Europe Express also crossed the EU’s external borders, visiting friends and partners such as Switzerland and Serbia — breath-taking views included!

For more:

  • Did you know the EU is giving out free travel passes to 18 year-olds twice a year? The next application round for DiscoverEU is around the corner: You can apply between 12th and 26th October for one of more than 60,000 travel passes. Exceptionally, 19-year-olds can apply this time, too — to make up for the lost opportunity in 2020.
  • For more stories from this unique 36-day journey, have a look at our blog and the reports, photos and videos of some of our passengers — and get inspired for your next train trip. Where will it take you?

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