Cross border high speed rail services operated by Thalys
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Domain of application: International

Status: Exiting

Year: 1997


  • Thalys International

Links to relevant references


Concept and problems addressed


Thalys is a high speed train operator exploiting services between Northern European capital cities: Paris (France), Brussels (Belgium), Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Cologne (Germany), and about fifteen other major cities.

Thalys operator originally built around the high-speed line between Paris and Brussels. This track is shared with Eurostar trains that go from Paris or Brussels to London via Lille and the Channel Tunnel and with French domestic TGV trains. Thalys reaches Amsterdam and Cologne, and its system is operated by Thalys International.

Thalys is a member of Railteam, a collaborative venture between the main European high-speed rail operators, the CER (Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies) and the UIC (International Union of Railways).

Thalys connections. Source: Rail Sta Travel webpage

Development and operation

The decision to build a high-speed railway between Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam was made in 1987 and in 1995 Westrail International was created by the French and Belgium national railways to operate the services. On 4 June 1996 the first train left Paris using the LGV Nord until Belgium.

In 1997, the Belgian HSL 1 line, allowing 300 km/h and running from the French border to the outskirts of Brussels, was ready for service. On 14 December 1997 the first Thalys train from Paris to Brussels ran on the HSL 1, reduced travel time to 1:25 hours.

In May 1999, the new high-speed line serving Charles de Gaulle Airport opened, and Thalys started direct services from the Airport to Brussels, including code sharing agreements with Air France, American Airlines and Northwest Airlines. On 28 November 1999, the company changed its name to Thalys International.

In 2000, Thalys Soleil started offering direct connections to the Provence; initially to Valence, and extended to Avignon and Marseille in 2002. Service between Brussels and Cologne was improved in December 2002 when trains began running on the new HSL 2 in Belgium. In 2003, services started to Brussels International Airport and the Thalys Nuits d’Eté service to Marne-la-Vallée. Deutsche Bahn purchased 10% of the company in 2007.

Thalys train. Source: Wikipedia

Beginning 14 June 2009 the journey between Brussels and Cologne was shortened by 19 minutes when the new high speed line HSL 3 between Liège and Aachen opened using Deutsche Bahn's thrice-daily ICE trains running between Brussels and Frankfurt. HSL 3 was completed in 2007, but Thalys trains had not yet been equipped with the ETCS signalling equipment necessary to use the new line.

Since 29 August 2011, one return journey to Cologne has been extended to Essen Hauptbahnhof and since 30 October 2011, one return journey to Brussels had been extended to Brussels National Airport. Before Thalys, there was already a privileged connexion since 1924 between Paris and Brussels, with train service l'Etoile du Nord. 


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