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Cinque Terre expands train service

The growth in popularity of the Cinque Terre region of Italy, most of which can only be reached by boat or train, has put a strain on the local infrastructure. Locals, many of whom use the trains to commute to work in nearby cities, are frustrated by trains packed with cruise passengers and other tourists. Often there is nowhere to sit, and barely anywhere to stand.

To alleviate some of this strain the train operator has recently increased the number of local trains running between La Spezia and Levanto. Trains will now run at least every 30 minutes, a total of 44 trains per day in each direction, stopping at all of the Cinque Terre villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso).

You never know what you might find on a train…

Almost 40 years ago, an Italian factory worker on his daily commute home found two paintings on the train he riding in. He thought they looked quite nice, and so he took them home and hung them on the wall in his kitchen. Turns out, they had been stolen from a collector's home in London. One was by Paul Gauguin, the other by Pierre Bonnard, and they're valued at over $10 million.

France and Spain linked by High Speed Rail

Almost every country in Europe now has a dense network of high-speed passenger trains. Running on dedicated lines, these trains reach speeds of 200 mph, cutting travel times between destinations dramatically. Unfortunately when it comes to traveling between these countries things often come to a grinding halt.

Each country developed their high-speed rail independently, meaning that they don;t always play well together — differences can be as simple as running on the opposite side of the a pair of tracks, or as complex as having different voltages for the locomotive power or different gauges (the width between the rails).

Spain and France have recently completed a multi-billion dollar project that connects high-speed trains from Madrid to Paris, running through Barcelona. Part of the project included building a tunnel under Barcelona to connect the city's Sants station, where trains from Madrid arrive, with the Sagrera station, from which trains for France leave.

For the next few months connections will require a change of trains in the border town of Figueres, home town of the artist Salvador Dali, but beginning in April it will be possible to travel all the way from Madrid to Paris without changing trains. Travel time between the two cities will be cut from 15 hours to less than six hours.

Zipping across Spain

Spain may not have any jobs for people (unemployment topping 25% right now), and they may not have any money (they are about to ask the Euro countries for something in the neighborhood of 62 billion Euros to bail out their banks), but they sure have fast trains. This morning I zipped from Madrid to Barcelona in just over three hours -- less than half the time it takes to drive. Everybody in front of me seemed to be taking pictures of the speed readout at the same time I was. 300 km/h = 186 mph, and we did that for most of the journey, only slowing for the stops in Guadalajara, Zaragoza, Lleida and Tarragona.

186 mph in the Spanish AVE train

Train Strike: Italy

Independent trade union ORSA has announced a 24-hour national strike of railway staff from 21:00 November 7 to 21:00 November 8. Some train schedules may be altered. Travellers should check locally at the rail station. By law, medium- and long-distance trains are required to run a minimum service. During the strike, the Leonardo Express between Rome Termini and Fiumicino Airport is guaranteed to operate.

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