Eurailing: A Great American Tradition

Eurail History — The Trains and the Passes

The original Eurailpass, introduced in March 1959, allowed for travel through 13 countries during a two-month period. It was the product offered by Europe's railroads to encourage non-Europeans to use the rails and not the newly competitive airline and motor vehicle alternatives. An "easy-to-use, multi-country, prepaid ticket for unlimited mileage use" was, literally, just the ticket. They could not have been more right.

Today there are 16 variations on the original theme, including a variety of classic first-class passes,"Youthpasses" for second-class travelers under the age of 26, travelers "Flexipasses" allowing for travel during a limited number of days during the pass's period of validity, "Saverpasses" good for two or more people traveling together, and "Drive Passes" mixing travel by rail and by road (in rental cars). There are also innumerable single- and multiple-country passes, and many other imitation passes in other countries around the world. Even the Eurail Network of countries has expanded, as has the number of non-network countries offering rail passes valid on their national rails.

In fact, today's Eurailpasses are the most popular passes for Americans and other non-Europeans visiting Europe. In 1999, more than 300,000 passes were purchased in the United States and Canada. More than 3 million tickets have been sold to date worldwide.

The increasing use of the Eurailpass — sometimes billed as a simplification of travel in an increasingly complex world — has coincided with the growth of higher speed direct rail service in Europe. The original Trans-Europ Express (TEE) trains (known today as inter-city and EuroCity trains) were the international express services that connected the great cities of Europe and bypassed the countless smaller stations visited by local service. As rail travel and tourism in Europe has grown, so has the reliability of these kinds of trains, many of which are now also directly connected to airports and guarantee a high quality of comfort.

The most recent development is, of course, the use of high-speed trains. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden all have routes over which trains can run from 150 to 186 miles per hour! The French TGV (train ` grande vitesse — high-speed train) is perhaps the most famous, with a regular, efficient, and practically accident-free network zooming people from Paris to major destinations throughout the country. The Eurostar service that connects Paris to London in a little over three hours via the Chunnel (the tunnel under the English Channel) was a long-heralded addition to the high-speed network.

The next time you are pondering a trip to Europe, think about what others have done over the past 40 years and more: Live Europe by rail! Consult your nearest travel agent and check on the Web for more information about purchasing a Eurailpass.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »