The Latest Developments from Europe's Railways

It's been a busy summer for Europe's rail scene. In Italy, which has thrived on several high-speed rail networks, the new Italo trains made their debut in May, offering some competition to the national Trenitalia network and their "Arrow" trains. The new trains (pictured), which have some decidedly swank features, have generated plenty of attention, and seem poised to blaze the trail (or rail) for private train development going forward.

Looking to take some of their own back, Trenitalia recently premiered a new Frecciarossa 1000 train, which will reach speeds of 223 miles per hour and carry up to 600 passengers. It is also reportedly one of the greenest trains on the market, consuming the lowest amount of energy per seat. Track tests will take place at the end of the year.

Rail Europe, meanwhile, is offering several incentive packages to entice travelers to use trains instead of planes. The "Book 10 + get 1 free = 11" deal offers an extra pass or ticket for France, while the "2-for-1 Swiss Rail Pass Fall Special" rewards agents for booking Switzerland train packages. 

The numbers seem positive, too: Earlier this summer, Eurail Group G.I.E., the organization that manages the Eurail Passes, reported that more than 183,000 non-Europeans traveled with a Eurail Pass from January through May of 2012. Eurail Global Pass sales increased by 9.4 percent and Eurail Select Pass sales increased by 5 percent compared to 2011. And in Germany, the Deutsche Bahn trains are reporting that during the first six months of 2012, the number of passengers (excluding Arriva) rose over the same year-ago figure by almost 40 million to over one billion, or about four percent.

Not all the news is good, however: Earlier this month, the British government took the country's West Coast rail line—the main link between London and Scotlandout of Virgin Rail Group's control and awarded the $1.41 billion-a-year franchise to rival transport company FirstGroup PLC. It was Virgin's only train route, meaning that the Rail Group is likely out of business. In a statement, Virgin president Richard Branson praised his company's performance over the last 15 years, noting that when Virgin launched in 1997 they ran just one train an hour from Manchester to London. "We now run three every hour at far higher speeds," he said, noting that this would leave a positive legacy for the future of the UK's high-speed train network.