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SEE EUROPE BY TRAIN OR BY BUS

Here is a roundup of recent information about getting around Europe on the ground. The railroads have a couple of new bargains, and there is a brand-new economy bus service.

Travel agents sell the vast majority of both European and British rail passes, partly because the options are confusing but also because travel agents can circumvent the customary clogged phone lines by using computer reservation services both to request brochures and to make reservations.Rail Europe is the North American agent for most European railroads and passes except for British Rail. This year Rail Europe added the Bulgarian, Norwegian and Romanian systems to its roster: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France (including Brit-France passes), Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland.

Two other changes introduced this year both provide savings on Europasses. The first-class Europass, begun last year, covers three, four or five contiguous countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Europasses are available for a selected number of days over two months. One innovation provides a half-price pass for the second of two people traveling together.

For example, an adult's Europass for five days' travel in three countries within two months would cost $280. For two, the price per person would be $210 ($280 plus $140 divided by 2). The other innovation is a discount on the second-class Youth Europass, available to travelers under 26. This change allows travel in four Europass countries for the price of three, or in five for the price of four. With this discount five days' travel in four countries within two months would cost $198.

Many other passes are available: Eurailpasses and Flexipasses, both with driving add-ons, passes with air add-ons, Scandinavian combinations, Benelux combinations, European East passes and Saverpasses.

It is worth noting an unadvertised bonus on the Eurailpass, Europass and Francepass: passengers taking a night train leaving at 7 or later are not charged for that evening on their passes; they are punched for the next day's date. Britrail, however, counts the expiring day, even if the train leaves at 11:55 p.m.

Selecting among rail passes involves comparisons with point-to-point fares. Some of these are given in "Europe on Track Mini-Guide," a good map with price charts. This and the "Eurail Pass and Europass 1995" leaflet compose the basic kit sent by Rail Europe. A free full-sized 1995 "Europe on Track" booklet of 36 pages may also be requested. The Eurail summer timetable for major routes is not available yet, but a version valid until May 27 is in stock. Prices are in dollars, and may rise. But once tickets are sold, the price is locked in.

Rail Europe, 2100 Central Avenue, Boulder, Colo. 80301; (800) 438-7245 or (303) 443-5100.

The Eurostar, the train that goes under the Channel, joining London to Paris or Brussels, began service in November. The prices for service between London and either European city remain the same: $154 each way for first class, with a meal; $123 each way for standard class, without a meal, and $75 each way for nonrefundable advance-purchase tickets for standard class. Round trips are double these prices.

Holders of Britrail Passes, Britrail Flexipasses and Brit-France Passes, all sold by Britrail, and holders of Europasses and Eurailpasses get a better deal for the refundable tickets. In first class, a pass holder pays $118 one way; in standard class $83 each way.

In addition, Eurostar now has weekend round-trip fares: $198 in first class and $134 in standard. Tickets on Eurostar require a reservation at the time of purchase.

Britrail's standard information packet is limited to "Go Britrail." A timetable with a schematic map may be requested.

Britrail: In-person sales, 551 Fifth Avenue, seventh floor, New York, N.Y. 10017 (at 45th Street); by phone or mail only, 1500 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10036, (212) 575-2667; or, outside New York, (800) 677-8585.

The new kid on the Continent is Eurobus, which began service on March 15. Max Thomas, an Australian living in London, saw an opening when a 1992 agreement in the European Union allowed open borders for buses picking up and dropping off passengers, not just for those carrying groups straight through.

Thomas leased 12 Volvo buses, each holding 49 people, from a Dutch company and hired English-speaking drivers. He aimed his business at students and young people, but has discovered that so far 30 percent of his clients are over 30.

The price for people under 26 is $325 for three months of travel, $250 for two months. For those over 26, the prices are $400 for three months, $325 for two months. Thomas said that 20 percent of his sales were to United States students living in Britain.

The buses travel in a figure-eight pattern, calling at Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich, Innsbruck, Venice, Florence, Rome, Nice, Milan, Zurich, Salzburg, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Hamburg. As the map shows, a traveler picking up the loop at any point can go only in one direction, but at Munich may choose the northern or southern route. A bus calls at each city every two days.

Thomas said the drop-off points in each city tended to be hostels or other inexpensive lodgings, but other places were usually not distant.

Refunds are available, with a 15 percent cancellation fee. If the company does not survive, Thomas is covered by a European Union regulation requiring a refund for undelivered tours.

Eurobus, c/o Eurotrips, Post Office Box 1288, Lake Worth, Fla. 33460; (800) 517-7778 or (407) 582-7982; or Imex House, 6 Wadsworth Road, Perivale, Middlesex UB6 7JJ, Britain; (44 181) 991-1021.