50 years since the launch of the rail travel card across Europe .. How did it start?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – He was 18 when Tim Thomas packed his backpack in the summer of 1972, left his hometown of southern England, boarded a train to France, embarked on a journey one month by train across Europe.

Thomas was among the first passengers to benefit from the newborn European Interrail permit (a rail permit within Europe), which allowed young people under the age of 21 to visit 21 countries, buying a ticket worth just 27 27.50 (about $ 67). in time), which entitles them to an unlimited train journey through Europe, for a whole month.

“It was a bit of a perfection,” Thomas told CNN. “I was young, in shape and every day I discovered a new place or city.”

Credit: NMBS / SNCB Collection – World Train Heritage

The Interrail Charter was introduced by the International Union of Railways (UIC). It is the body that oversees the railways in Europe, which later transferred the management of Interrail to the independent company Eurail. The union was born in 1922, after the redrawing of Europe’s borders after World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1972, the European Rail Pass was conceived as a fun way to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to encourage young Europeans to travel by train. A similar program introduced the Eurail crossing for international travelers.

“There was no high-speed train, no low-cost flights, fewer carriages, and the reality of travel was very different from today,” Alexander Muckross, chairman of Eurail, told CNN.

He continued, “The pace of people traveling was much slower. For these reasons, this great idea came to launch a special product for young people, allowing them to discover the continent, by the age of 21.”

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Credit: NMBS / SNCB Collection – World Train Heritage

It was not just the trip that was different in 1972. The map of Europe also looked different. The first Interrail route focused on Northern, Western and Southern Europe, as Eastern Europe was largely hidden behind the Iron Curtain.

Glowing posters were distributed at train stations in Europe and news of the show was circulated by the UIC. The young people discussed and designed their ways.

Thomas and his friend traveled across Europe following the “Number Eight” route. They set out first for southwestern France, then for Switzerland, Denmark, and thence for Athens, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Munich, Germany.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Double decker train in Germany, plain_textCredit: @Timofnewbury

“The trip cost a month and I kept all the itineraries with the details of train time and distances,” Thomas said.

Passengers relied on Thomas Cook’s continental timetable, which European rail travelers consider so important because it covers all travel times and distance between stations, in miles. The guide is still published under the title “European Rail Travel Now”.

In this banking world before the euro and before the world of electronic banking, if travelers want to exchange currencies, they have to line up at the bank with their passport.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
A rail journey through Europe. Station in Budapest, Hungary, 1974, plain textCredit: @Timofnewbury

The two friends saved money by sleeping on the train whenever possible, or by renting a room in a motel.

Thomas thinks they were lucky to first discover the meaning of independence when they were 18, saying “what we experienced is a kind of freedom, isn’t it, when you are away from home”?

Martin Mackey, who grew up in Northern Ireland, made the Interrail inaugural trip in 1972. He was 15 years old. He and three of his friends traveled to school. For a month, the group split up repeatedly to meet again at various travel points.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Budapest Train Station Keleti in Budapest, Hungary. , Plain textCredit: @Timofnewbury

Exploring Europe at this age had a huge impact on Mackie’s thinking. A year or so after that trip, he gave an interview at the University of Newcastle in England, where he wanted to study medicine. In the context of the ongoing sectarian violence in Ireland, known as the “Troubles”, interviewees asked Mackey if he considered himself British or Irish. The teenager replied that he was European.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Photo taken from the train from Haparanda to Boden in northern Sweden, plain_textCredit: @Timofnewbury

He told CNN that “there was a lot in common with people my age or older who traveled and were curious to discover the world, beyond the societies we came from.”

In total, 87,000 young people traveled with a European Interrail crossing in 1972, according to Eurail. This number, the International Federation of Railways, made this program continue automatically.

Thomas traveled again by train again using his Interrail license in 1973 and 1974. On all three trips, he carried his Hanimex Compact R portable camera.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Credit: @Timofnewbury

When taking pictures from all over Europe, Thomas tried to avoid photographing people. But today, when she recovers, she likes the alien whale more than the empty scenes, because it reflects the pulse of life in Europe at that point.

Inter-European train travel … What do they look like today?

2022 European Interrail License is 50 years old. It has evolved over the years, but its basic concept has not changed, a relatively simple railway gate opens the gates to Europe. The most significant difference between the years of the initial program and today is that it is available for all age groups.

Railway expert Mark Smith, founder of the popular train website The Man in Seat 61, said the change was the “best thing” that happened to the card in the five decades since its launch in the market.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Photo taken at the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia, plain_textCredit: @Timofnewbury

Today, there is a larger fan of options than the Interrail permit, as the traveler can choose according to the number of travel days and the ticket class.

Railways in Europe have also changed, high-speed services are now more popular, and after night trains have stopped, they have returned thanks to the emergence of sleep services across Europe. Smith also noted that long-distance trains on the European continent were divided.

Although Smith’s own site is a treasure trove of tips and tricks for crossing Europe by train, he told CNN he is an advocate for Thomas Cook’s 2022 timeline, now known as the European Railroad Timeline. He pointed out that searching the internet on your phone does not fit in with the planning and manual scheduling of your itinerary.

50 years of European rail travel card .. how did it start?
Hostel in Norway, plain textCredit: @Timofnewbury

Currently, 33 countries participate in the Interrail system and the permit is now available digitally. Prices start at 185 euros (about $ 198) for those under the age of 27 who travel four days a month.

The Eurail permit, for international travelers, is also available. Prices are similar to Interrail, starting at € 185 (about $ 198) for children under 27 traveling four days a month.

The charter is 50 years old, in an era of growing traveler desire to make more sustainable choices and avoid short-haul flights if possible.

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