Six months after being closed by its publishers Thomas Cook, former employees of the European Rail Timetable have brought the definitive, 140-year-old train guide back into print
Running close to 600 pages and listing around 50,000 trains, the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable was long considered the InterRailer’s bible until it was discontinued in August 2013.
Now, thanks to the persistence of John Potter, one of its original staff members, the timetable has been relaunched as an independent guide after Thomas Cook agreed to hand over the rights to the publication.
The March edition of the timetable went back on sale last Tuesday and, in a testament to how much the timetable was missed by rail fans and travellers – it sold out just four days later.
For Potter, the response has been overwhelming: “We’ve had thousands of emails saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re back!’ One guy joked he had been taken off suicide watch, while another woman wrote in to say her husband was much happier now he had his monthly fix. Some people didn’t even realise it had been stopped. I could write a book out of all the comments.”
Potter, along with the rest of the timetable team, was made redundant last year when Thomas Cook made the decision to close its publishing arm and focus on its core product – selling holidays.
The timetable had just celebrated its 140th anniversary, and aside from the duration of the second world war, had been in continuous publication since 1873.
Rather than accept defeat, Potter remortgaged his house and formed a new company, European Rail Timetable Limited, before approaching Thomas Cook to buy the rights to the timetable, along with the licence to the computer software used to produce them.
“I just asked my colleagues, do you want to carry on with this?” said Potter. “And they said, let’s see what we can do.”
Now all five original staff members are back working on the timetable, although two of them are now part-time and everyone is working from home. Potter has also managed to get Peter Bass, former editor of the overseas edition – which was discontinued three years ago – to come out of retirement “kicking and screaming” to help out.
In a statement released after agreeing the sale, Thomas Cook said: “We know customers were disappointed that the timetable stopped and, whilst publishing isn’t part of our transformation strategy, we felt it was important to support John with his new venture and continue the tradition started by our founder. We wish John and his team every success for the future.”
While sales for the first issue have been promising, the team are already looking to bring the timetable into the digital age, with the possibility of producing an app or selling the pages online – something Thomas Cook had been considering before they ceased production.
“It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s been a new opportunity for me,” Potter said. “I feel satisfied, relieved, although there’s not time for relaxing as now we’ve got to get the April one out.”
• The European Rail Timetable costs £15.99 from europeanrailtimetable.eu or from the Oundle News newsagent in Oundle, Northamptonshire