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Letting the train take the strain

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- With Britain at last joining the high-speed rail club with its 186-mile-an-hour link from the Channel Tunnel to St. Pancras, CNN's Richard Quest takes a look at whether rail travel is a real alternative to the plane when traveling around Europe.

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Rail is enjoying something of a renaissance in Europe. Long queues at airports, irritating baggage restrictions and sheer overcrowding are making the flying experience a truly miserable one these days.

Hard pushed business travellers are desperate for an alternative. While it's true that the steam billowing romance of the "Brief Encounter" days have long gone, 21st Century rail has risen to the challenge of getting people from city center to city center efficiently, comfortably and safely.

Our journey this month starts on Platform 3 of Paris-Austerlitz station as we board the Elipsos Trenhotel to Barcelona. This is the European business traveller's best kept secret. The overnight journey down is by far the most comfortable way of getting to a 9am meeting in Barcelona. We compare the alternatives both for time and cost and conclude there's simply nothing to beat the sleeper.

One maxim of the modern railway is "4 hours or less" and we put this to the test on our next two European rail journeys. Zurich to Stuttgart and Stuttgart to Paris are both the sort of important routes that attract regular business traffic both by train and plane.

For sure, the rail journey itself is longer than flying. But once you add the time taken to and from airports and stuck in queues is the ground level option best?

Smart Traveller this month road tests the Zuca bag. This is a neat piece of kit that doubles as a seat when needed. It's very fashionable, undoubtedly a good idea, but is it to Richard's taste?

There won't be much sitting around waiting for the Eurostar though. Business Traveller joins the train as it becomes the fastest locomotive in Britain on its record run from Brussels to St. Pancras International in London, putting the center of both cities within two hours of each other for the first time.

The high speed line will also shave off a good 20 minutes from the journey time between London and Paris where we enjoy Sunrise to Sunset this month.

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Show times

September 13/14/18 Saturday 7:30, 13:30, 18:30; Sunday 11:30, 17:30; Thursday 13:30, 17:30 (All times GMT) E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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