Kerry Makes Paris, 192 miles, in 90 Minutes: Trains, not Planes

A striking worker of the French state-run rail operator SNCF, backed by French union Sud-Rail lights a flare as he demonstrates against reform plans proposed by the French government on June 24, 2014 in Paris.

Photograph by Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

A striking worker of the French state-run rail operator SNCF, backed by French union Sud-Rail lights a flare as he demonstrates against reform plans proposed by the French government on June 24, 2014 in Paris.

Secretary of State John Kerry usually measures travel in terms of miles flown on the dedicated red-white-and-blue government aircraft he uses for global travel.

Today in Belgium, he resorted to an older, more public form of transport: The train.

Late Wednesday afternoon, news of an air traffic controllers’ strike trickled into the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where Kerry was meeting with other foreign ministers about the crises in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq. He was due in Paris the next day to meet with Arab leaders about Iraq.

The answer: Europe’s extensive web of high-speed trains.

The shift meant leaving his traveling press corps behind (perhaps not a terrible sacrifice) along with most of his staff. They all straggled onto a later train to catch up.

For a secretary who spent part of each childhood summer in France and who likes to recount adventures as a youth traveling through Europe, it must have been a trip down memory lane and not just across international borders.

He spent the trip chatting with the staff joining him about recent world events and the history of the countryside the train traveled through, according to fellow passengers.

These aren’t the trains of yesteryear, though, or of Orient Express romance. The European Union has poured money into cross-border high-speed rail connections and the tunnels and bridges needed to create them. Kerry boarded a sleek silver train at the Gare de Bruxelles-Centrale at 6:13 pm and covered the 308.5 km (192 mile) trip in 90 minutes.

He arrived in the City of Light in time for dinner.

 

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