Border Crossings - General Information

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A List of Border Crossings between the various countries in the Guide is provided, including crossings between these countries and those outside the area of review.

There is not usually any difficulty in using trains crossing borders (provided you have the necessary immigration documents) even if you only have a rover ticket for one of the countries concerned. Tickets are issued to and from the actual boundary points, even if they are not stations; for example it is possible to buy a single ticket from Thionville in France to Bettembourg (Frontière) on the Luxembourg border, although this is not a station and is indeed a different place from the station at Bettembourg (which is actually in Luxembourg). Such tickets may usually be purchased on trains if necessary.

Unless otherwise stated all of these cross-border lines are the property of the two state railways concerned (the boundary may or may not be at the actual physical border), but in a few cases (clearly indicated) the line concerned is either private or is simply a branch of the system in one country crossing into another and no change of ownership occurs.

Some stations themselves have the notional (or occasionally actual) border within their confines; thus Genève Cornavin (in Switzerland) is used by Swiss trains and French trains but the French trains run into a separate section from the main Swiss section; although there are no physical barriers these days, it is still an international frontier and spot border checks may be made. At other places parts of the station may be temporarily isolated when cross-border trains are being dealt with.

Border Controls

The Schengen Agreement, which came into force in March 1995, substantially relaxed border controls between France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Benelux countries. It has since been extended to apply to Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. Persons moving directly between Schengen states will not normally be subject to border controls. Free movement between the Scandinavian countries has been in place for many years. There are normally no border controls between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and citizens of these two countries need not carry passports or identity documents.

Border controls (immigration and customs checks) are usually carried out on board international trains. Passengers alighting at the border may not be permitted to leave the train until checks are completed. Those joining the train are usually checked before boarding.

There are cases of “corridor trains” passing through a second country in order to travel between different parts of another. There are several Austrian examples and others around Schaffhausen. In most cases, special arrangements are made so that passengers can travel using domestic tickets and without needing a passport or identity card, so long as they do not alight in the intermediate country. Within the Schengen area only ticketing is of particular concern now.

Train operation

There have been substantial changes in cross-border train operation. Until relatively recently it was rare for train operators to work beyond the border stations of their own country. In most cases, locomotives were changed at the border. There were examples of international workings by multiple-units, for example the Deutsche Reichsbahn diesel units to Praha and Wien and French TGVs into Switzerland, but these were relatively unusual.

This has all changed, principally as a result of European Union ‘open access’ requirements for international traffic. Initially, this applied to freight, but its extension to international rail passenger traffic in 2010 brought about further changes. Freight trains work across borders, in some cases without a locomotive or crew change. SBB and ÖBB locomotives haul freight trains as far north at Hamburg, for example, and SNCF locomotives work to Torino and Antwerpen. There are numerous examples of cross-border operations by private-sector freight operators.

The national railways operate fixed-formation, high-speed trains far into neighbouring countries. German ICE workings reach Paris, Bruxelles, Amsterdam, Interlaken, Zürich, Wien and København. French high speed trains work to Barcelona, Milano, Zürich, München, Köln, Amsterdam and London.

The rolling stock industry has responded to open access by production of “standard” ranges of locomotives able to work on the lines of more than one, or several, undertakings. Modern electronic control systems make it easier for electric locomotives to accept several different voltages and frequencies of traction power. Greater problems arise with the multiplicity of signalling systems used in Europe and the amount of space all of the train-mounted equipment requires. Capability to operate in three or four countries is the usual practicable maximum for a single locomotive. It is also important that traction control systems do not cause interference with signalling equipment.

Quite apart from different voltages and frequencies, it is necessary to consider the physical characteristics of electrification equipment, particularly the tension in the overhead line, its maximum and minimum height and the extent to which it staggers either side of the centre line over the track. This affects the upward pressure to be applied by the pantograph, how far it has to reach and the width of the collector.

If the interface between two electrification systems is not described herein as switchable, there is either a neutral section or a short gap between the overhead lines fed at the different voltages. If dual-voltage or dual-frequency rolling stock is used, it may be necessary for the driver to lower one pantograph and raise another as the train coasts past the changeover point. Even if a single pantograph is used, it is usually necessary for the driver to shut off power and select the new power supply manually. Relatively few electric trains switch from one system to the other automatically. Where single-voltage or single-frequency locomotives work into non-switchable stations or yards they usually coast to a halt with pantograph down, under the catenary of the other system. They are then removed by the relieving electric locomotive or a diesel shunting locomotive and are either fly-shunted or propelled back to their own end of the station.

Where there is a change from running on the left to running on the right, or vice versa, this is usually done on the flat at the location where locomotives are changed.

Presentation of information

Many border crossings have a change of electrification system nearby. For each border in the list below, where known, the electrification details are coded as follows:

  • [D] = a non-electrified border crossing
  • [E] = an electrified crossing, with [E*] indicating a change in voltage or frequency
  • [DE] or [ED] = change from diesel to electric.

Guben DB - Gubin PKP is shown as ED, because the German line (shown first) is electrified and the Polish line is not. Conversely, Kotoriba - Murakeresztur is shown as DE, because the line from Croatia is not electrified but the Hungarian line is.

In this text rolling stock types are distinguished thus:

  • Dual-voltage: Able to work at two different voltages, direct current (usually 1500 V and 3000 V)
  • Dual-frequency: Able to work at two different frequencies, alternating current (usually 25 kV 50 Hz and 15 kV 16.7 Hz)
  • Dual-system: Able to work on one direct current and one alternating current system (3 kV dc and 25 kV 50 Hz is the most common variant)
  • Multi-system: Able to work on three or more electrification systems.

It will be noted that certain countries, particularly United Kingdom, France, Czech Republic and Slovakia have more than one electrification system and some rolling stock is dual-system. All internal changeover points are non-switchable. (In the UK the third rail dc and overhead ac systems overlap at changeover points). Although there are two electrification systems in Croatia, no dual-system rolling stock is used. Details of the internal changeover points can be found in the General Information section for the appropriate country.

The routes listed for each pair of countries include freight-only as well as passenger lines, and in some cases also closed lines - these are by no means complete at the moment but are being added as information becomes available.

Each pair of countries is listed in alphabetical order, for example Albania - Montenegro, and is only listed once: so there is no section for Montenegro - Albania. The border crossings for each pair of countries are listed in clockwise order from the point of view of the first country of the pair.

Country names are given with the normal English spelling, but place names are rendered with the local spelling.

Stations given in these lists are in the order of travelling from the country whose name is mentioned first to the other. In most cases they are the passenger stations nearest the border; names appearing in parentheses are larger places further away and are inserted to help readers identify the line in question. It does not follow that trains crossing the border will call at either or both of the stations given, and indeed it may be impossible to catch a train from such a station across the border concerned. On international high speed lines, the nearest passenger station may be a considerable distance from the border, for instance for Belgium - Netherlands. In this case the nearest operational location (which may be merely a set of crossovers) will be listed.

See also

List of Countries

List of Border Crossings