Travelling by train is becoming an increasingly popular option as more and more business people discover the advantages of rail.
Bring up the Gautrain in any circle and you generally get the same response. People are impressed with the convenience and quality of the service. The Gautrain has undoubtedly changed the way people travel to the airport, and is surely planting a seed for further rail travel in other parts of the world.
“With the introduction of the Gautrain and its airport service, commuting to the airport has been made simpler and faster for business travellers in Gauteng and many have started using this service since it commenced operations in June,” says Kelebogile Machaka, spokesperson for the Bombela Concession Company. Machaka adds that not only does the Gautrain save business travellers time, but stations are also conveniently located in major business districts such as Rosebank, Sandton and Midrand.
Debbie Duncan, World Travel, Senior Manager, says more and more South African business travellers will travel by train due to convenience and cost. “It is convenient, as check-in usually takes less than 15 minutes and you avoid the endless queues at crowded airports. The cost of a train ticket is similar to that of a low-cost airline, but offering multiple train services every day on most routes with fewer delays,” she explains. Duncan points out a few of the other advantages of travelling by train:
High speed network
Rail offers the business traveller a network of high-speed trains linking Europe’s business centres 24 hours a day, seven days per week, 365 days of the year. By train, you travel from city centre to city centre and on some major routes direct from the airport to the city centre. The high-speed Eurostar whisks you from London to Paris in just two hours 15 minutes.
Travel when you want
There are multiple services every day with a wide choice of routes and departure times – for example, Eurostar, which departs hourly.
Work on board
Mobile telephones and laptop computers can be operated on board most trains. Seats are spacious and there is plenty of room to work or make a call while you travel to the next appointment.
Arrive ready to do business
On long routes (more than six hours), a night train is a great option. You optimise your time and save on hotel accommodation, arriving refreshed and ready to do business the next day.
No weather delays
Rail operates 365 days of the year, rain, hail or snow, so you won’t be delayed or miss an important meeting.
No matter where you are meeting, the 240 000 kilometres of rail track reaches into virtually every corner of Europe. Most stations are located in the heart of Europe’s cities, so you are right on the doorstep of the business district. Machaka says travelling by Gautrain is a fast, safe, efficient and reliable means of commuting in Gauteng. Commuting by train is also by far the most environmental friendly mass transit system available as carbon emission are about half of those produced by equivalent private car usage.
Machaka explains that another sustainability consideration is overall economic efficiency. “Traffic on the already congested Ben Schoeman motorway connecting Johannesburg and Tshwane, has been growing at 7% per annum. If it were not checked by capacity constraints, this implies that the traffic volumes would double every 12 years! Congestion, and the unproductive time that it implies, is possibly one of the most significant constraints to economic efficiency and GDP growth. Passenger trains are the most efficient way to transport large numbers of people in a short space of time.”
TRIED AND TESTED
Business Traveller has experienced the Gautrain and the much talked about Eurostar, and gives a review of both of the world-class trains.
Gautrain by Chana Boucher
Sandton Station to OR Tambo International
While put off at first by the price (R100 one way) I eventually had to suck it up and make use of this service on a recent international trip. I wasn’t disappointed and have to say that it was R100 well spent. I got from the busy northern suburbs of Joburg to the airport so quickly that it gave me extra time to check in at ease. I can see it becoming the only way to travel to the airport in future.
At the station
The Sandton station is spacious, clean and really made me feel proud to be a South African. It is well signposted once you are out of the parking area, and the process of buying a ticket is quick and easy. You have to purchase a card for R10, which you keep for all future journeys, and load the amount required for the trip either at the teller or on self-service machines. Once you have made your purchase you go through the gates and make your way down the fastest escalators I’ve ever been on to the train platform. Once at the platform look out for the airport signs, otherwise you won’t be able to get off at the airport. There are incredibly helpful and friendly staff and security guards to guide you if you are unsure. There are also boards displaying the amount of time left before the next train arrives.
Like the station, the train is exceptionally clean. In fact, I had an embarrassing moment that took me back to high school days. I was asked by a train official to spit my gum out, so I had to do the walk of shame to the bin at the entrance and get rid of it. No eating or drinking (or chewing evidently) is allowed. The train is comfortable with more than enough space to sit and to store luggage. It is a smooth ride and a fantastic experience.
For more information visit gautrain.co.za
Eurostar by Michael Jackson
London St.Pancras, via Brussels to Amsterdam
Standard Economy (Leisure) Class
In the recent chaos caused by Icelandic volcanic eruptions and an airline strike, thousands of passengers opted for the train, so on a recent trip to England I decided to take myself from London to Amsterdam at high speed to see if the Eurostar really does offer a better travel option for those of us who are rather fatigued by airports and prefer a carbon-neutral option. My verdict? I loved it.
St. Pancras is a magnificently designed user-friendly station, packed with shops, restaurants and bars and is situated inside Zone 1 of London’s Central Train and Tube network, serviced by six underground lines and five train operators.
Check-in for the European services (only required 30 minutes before travel times) was smooth, highly technologically friendly and a complete breeze compared with any airport security you could care to name.
The Eurostar services to Brussels (1 hour 51 minutes), Paris (2 hours and 15 minutes) or Lille (1 hour 20 minutes) all depart with great frequency. My Thalys Train connection to Amsterdam was a short 40 minute wait at Brussels and I was in Amsterdam in just over 4 hours.
The station is completely free Wi-Fi accessible.
Onboard & Services
The trains run at a speed of up to 300 km per hour although it feels, when on board, no greater than travelling in a car doing 120 km on the highway.
Onboard cash services include an available selection of drinks and sandwiches or snacks although most people around me opted to stock up at the station’s many shops – a Marks and Spencer sandwich, coffee and a newspaper seemingly being the staple passenger diet.
For more information visit World Travel’s website worldtravel.co.za
Other worldwide rail options
TGV, the ‘Train à Grande Vitesse’ is the fastest way to travel to more than 1400 destinations in Europe. With record-breaking speeds of up to 320 km/h, whether your destination is on the other side of France or beyond the borders you’ll reach it in just a few hours, and with magnificent views of the French countryside. Within France TGV trains connect 150 major cities and towns. TGV trains connect France with Belgium, Switzerland and Germany where you can continue your journey with other European high-speed services and rail networks. Be sure to check the departures before and after your ideal time, the less popular the train time, the cheaper it will be.
ICE is the high speed passenger train service operated by Deutsche Bahn in Germany. The modern trains are amongst the most technologically advanced and comfortable trains in Europe. They travel at up to 300 km per hour. International connections include Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands. Within Germany, frequent ICE trains connect Germany’s major cities, such as Cologne, Hanover, Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart. Within Germany, ICE trains connect 32 major cities.
Not only are ICE trains fast, some also use tilting technology to maintain speed on bends. On these trains, you’ll find a viewing gallery behind the driver’s compartment, meaning you can experience every twist and turn with a bird’s-eye view. Whilst onboard, it’s possible to pre-book porters or taxis to meet you on arrival
Thalys, also known as the red train connects Brussels and the Benelux with destinations in France, Germany and the Netherlands at speeds of up to 300 km per hour. With frequent services – up to 23 daily returns between Paris and Brussels alone – it’s easy to add another destination to your itinerary with Thalys. Thalys offers direct, high-speed services between Brussels and Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne. Tickets are available up to three months before departure; book early for the best fares. Reservation is required on Thalys.
Known as the ‘Bullet Train’, Shinkansen is a high speed inter-city passenger train in Japan. The first line, the T?kaid? Shinkansen, was opened in 1964. The network has since expanded to link most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu with running speeds of up to 300 km/h. On Tokkyu and Shinkansen, some of the carriages require passengers to have reserved their seats in advance. For example, on a typical 16-carriage Shinkansen, only five of the carriages permit non-reserved seating, and only two of those are non-smoking. On a busy train, making a reservation in advance can ensure a comfortable journey. Costwise, the bullet train is fairly similar to flying within Japan, but with the advantage that your start and end right in the middle of the city. The T?kaid? Shinkansen is the world’s busiest high-speed rail line. Shinkansen routes are completely separate from conventional rail lines.
The Blue Train offers a luxurious way to travel within South Africa. Every modern convenience, including a telephone service and a choice of digital entertainment channels, serves to make the journey all the more memorable. Luxurious journeys are made possible by two Blue Train sets. The first train accommodates 74 guests in 37 suites. The second accommodates 58 guests in 29 suites and features a conference or observation car at the back of the train. The trains travel at a speed of 90 km/h.
Each suite has its own bathroom with either a shower or bath. There are two luxury coaches which both have three suites with bathrooms fitted with tubs. The other nine De Luxe coaches have four suites per coach. One of the four suites has a bathroom with a bath, while the other three have showers. The dining car provides seating for 42 people. There are two sittings for lunch and dinner.
Premier Classe de luxe trains of Shosholoza Meyl service routes between Johannesburg – Cape Town – Durban – Port Elizabeth – Hoedspruit and George. Priced competitively, Premier Classe de luxe trains are a superb alternative to the other luxury train services such as the Blue Train and Rovos Rail in South Africa. Premier Classe trains are air-conditioned and offer de luxe sleeper cars with single-berth coupés, 2-berth passenger coupés and 4-berth family compartments.
The fare on Premier Classe includes luxury amenities and a classy food and beverage schedule, starting with a welcome reception at the Premier Classe lounge and breakfast, 4-course luncheons and 5-course dinners in the dining car while on the train journey. The Johannesburg-Cape Town Premier Classe train operates a Health-Spa car, a South African first. Private motor car transportation is available on the Johannesburg-Cape Town-Johannesburg routes.
Rovos Rail’s unique train safaris through the heart of Africa combine some of the most magnificent scenery with the glamour and excitement of the golden age of rail travel. Passengers enjoy fine cuisine in five-star luxury as some of the most varied scenery imaginable unfolds beyond the windows. In a series of train journeys lasting from 24 hours to a fortnight, the Pride of Africa links some of Africa’s greatest destinations from Cape Town, at the tip of Africa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, from scenic splendours as diverse as the game reserves of Mpumalanga to the Victoria Falls, from the desert landscapes in Namibia and the stark beauty of the Karoo to the lush cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal and the magnificent Garden Route along the Cape south coast. The trains – which may be hauled by steam, diesel or electric locomotives at various stages of the journey – carry a maximum of 72 passengers in 36 superbly appointed suites.