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January 12, 2009

New Options for Train Travel

Satellite_2
Italy's rail network. For more detailed maps, go here.

by Ondine Cohane

I am a huge fan of train travel. I love watching the scenery change and reading and working en route. Most of all, I like the fact that getting around by rail is more environmentally friendly than flying.

In Europe in the last couple of years, a number of new routes and improvements have been launched in light of the continent's increasing interest in the eco mode of transport, including the Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), a high-speed train that covers the distance between Madrid and Barcelona in less than three hours (tickets can be purchased through raileurope.com). Not to be outdone, Italy has just launched a similar option linking major cities and--more important--cutting travel time. The Rome-to-Milan route that once took about five hours will now be cut to three and a half, Milan to Florence to just over two, and Naples to Milan to just shy of five. It will be a huge boon to visitors who want to hit the must-see cities in both the north and south of the country but who don't want to navigate local airports or brave the Italian highway system. And the Italian railroad is promising free snacks, beverages, and newspapers on board, to boot. It hasn't yet specified what aperitivi will be on board, but we are hoping for a Campari and some tomato-topped focaccia. (The reality is more along the lines of bottled water and peanuts.) I'd like to see high-speed Internet access, as well, but I'm not holding my breath. Rome's Fiumicino airport has promised the service for years, but it still hasn't been installed. To make reservations, contact Italia Rail.

Further reading:
* Continental Connections: Europe's high-speed trains are extending their reach--and upgrading amenities
* Whistle-Stop Tours: Ten of the most scenic and luxurious train trips in North America
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide

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