According to statistics supplied by Great Rail Journeys (GRJ) – one of the UK’s premier holiday companies that specialise in rail - an amazing 40,000 Britons are taking package rail holidays every year. These figures would have been hard to believe some five to ten years ago when the phrase “British Rail" was synonymous with poor service and unreliable transport. However, as we will learn taking a holiday via train has become increasing popular amongst persons who prefer a more comfortable and yet adventurous way of travelling.
Traditional railway holidays were very much the norm in 50’s Britain. Be it short breaks to cities such as London, York or Edinburgh or exciting trips across continental Europe many Briton’s grew up with the rail package holiday. It is perhaps as a result of this that the back bone of the rail holiday industry in the UK is couples in their sixties and seventies reliving the vacations of their youth. Be it rushing to make tight connecting flights, crowed airports or a simple fear of flying – many travellers today simply don’t want to get from a to b on an airplane. The very fact you have allocated more time out of your schedule to travel by rail ensures the whole experience can be a great deal calmer – which is one of the key reasons why it is popular with the elderly market
However, this trend is certainly changing slowly – with more younger travellers choosing rail over flying. One popular type of rail holiday is EuRail trips across Europe. Often associated with backpackers, the Eurailpass is one of the most convenient ways to see Europe as the ticket offers unlimited train travel throughout 18 countries on their network – including the whole of Scandinavia. With frequent departures on busy routes, it is often the case that the train is a faster option than flying when you consider the commuting time it takes to reach most European airports on the edge of busy cities. This is especially the case when using fast train services such as the German ICE, French TGV or indeed the Eurostar which connects France with London.
Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks to rail travel (at least outside the UK) is that it can be remarkably difficult to find information and actually book tickets. The large majority of travel agents no longer sell rail package deals and companies such as EuroStar have little information available once they get you as far as Paris or Brussels. In fact until very recently there were very few websites where anyone could gleam information about train journeys, times and bookings. Luckily there are a number of sites available now with a plethora of information such as www.seat61.com which - despite being run as a hobby rather than a business – is a tremendous resource for anyone wanting to plan a foreign railway journey.
Domestically in the UK short weekend breaks on the train are becoming extremely popular. Be it a shopping trip to Glasgow or taking in a west end show in London, package deals which include two nights accommodation and rail tickets are becoming more available. Recently travel and rail companies www.superbreak.com and www.gner.co.uk have teamed up to provide short break package deals to five UK cities – London, Leeds, York, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Prices are competitive and they provide a real alternative to driving to these destinations on crowded motorways.
Certainly this renaissance of rail travel is surprising to an extent. With the advent of budget airlines making air travel more accessible and price competitive many felt that this would be one competitor too many for the rail industry to remain an active part of the holiday market. However, it would appear that rail holidays have certainly found their niche and are likely to remain an active part of the UK travel market for years to come.
Robin lives in Edinburgh, occasionally writing for TravelTips(http://www.travel-tips.co.uk/ ) and carrying out bizarre experiments using foam stress balls and cups of water.