InterRail celebrates 40 years of exploring Europe
By Ingo Senft-Werner Feb 29, 2012, 20:32 GMT
Berlin - Europe's extensive and modern rail network means it can be easily explored by train and for the past 40 years the InterRail ticket has offered young and old alike the cheapest method of experiencing the many highlights the continent has to offer.
Launched on March 1, 1972, the first InterRail ticket was targeted towards backpacking students under the age of 21 travelling around Europe on a limited budget and cost around 118 euros (158 dollars).
The new concept offered freedom and adventure as well as a cheap way to visit the great European metropoles of Paris, London, Madrid and Rome. Over 85,000 tickets were sold in the first few months of its existence and it is estimated that around 8 million Europeans have enjoyed an InterRail holiday in the past four decades.
An indication of how accessible the InterRail ticket made Europe for budget travellers is evidenced by the achievement of German Manfred Weis, who 25 years ago managed to travel 36,000 kilometres by rail in just four weeks.
'It's the best thing I have ever done alongside with my eight-month long trip around the world,' he explains.
The Eurail Group is responsible for marketing the InterRail ticket and is based in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Last year, it sold 248,000 tickets but the variety of options on offer is not comparable with the original concept.
The age limit for availing of an InterRail holiday increased from 21 to 23 in 1976 and rose to 26 years in 1979. The age limit was abolished in its entirety 20 years later and it is now possible for holidaymakers to create a personalised itinerary. Tickets are also available in first and second class.
Prices are based on the number of countries being visited as well as the amount of days a person wants to travel by train. For persons under the age of 26, second-class tickets cost between 175 and 422 euros for an InterRail Global Pass, while those over 26 pay between 267 and 638 euros. A reduced tariff applies for travellers aged 60 and above.
The number of countries that can be explored on an InterRail ticket has also increased over the years. Initially, there were just 20 countries involved in the project but Norway, Romania and Morocco signed up two years later.
The figure has risen to 30 countries today and since 1985 it is also possible to travel by ferry in the Baltic and Mediterranean. There are now over 40,000 railway stations in the InterRail network, spread across the length and breadth of Europe.
The advent of high-speed trains means, for example, it takes just under two hours to get from London to Paris while Barcelona can be reached in less than three hours from the French capital.
'The trains certainly travel much faster today,' agrees Weis, who is surprised that his InterRail record, which is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records, has stood for so long.
The arrival of low-budget air travel has seen the InterRail holiday lose its unique status but it still remains a popular way for young people to explore Europe on a limited budget. According to the German rail company Deutsche Bahn, four out of five InterRailers are under the age of 27 while the over 60s make up just four per cent of the total.
However, some young people believe that the new zoned tickets have destroyed the original InterRail concept, which allowed unlimited travel over a set period.
'InterRail is in the past for me. It is purely about making money now ever since they divided the tickets into zones,' wrote one blogger under the pseudonym 'Grashalm'.
Not surprisingly, an InterRail community has grown up over the years and there are annual meetings across Europe. German lovers of InterRail, for example, are meeting in Berlin on the last two days of March to share stories and experiences with plans to publish a book in the near future.
The survival of InterRail has also been helped by the fact that a significant percentage of tourists like the fact that they can travel in energy-efficient trains, which are a much more environmentally friendly mode of transport compared to car or air travel.
For many, travelling by rail between cities, towns and villages, and watching the world go by also offers a much better way to explore a country than air travel.
'I think it's terrible to simply arrive at night in some airport without actually knowing where you are,' says Weis.
'I need to experience the slow arrival at my destination.'