EUROPE: The national rail operators of Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland have agreed to co-operate on the expansion of international night train services, suggesting that there is now a political willingness to provide the framework required for long term success.
‘Europe’s leading railways are pooling their forces for the night train’, said DB CEO Richard Lutz on December 8. ‘This is a good day for the climate, our customers and the coming together of Europe on the rails.’
The expansion will be based on Austrian Federal Railways’ Nightjet network, using the brand as a guarantee of quality standards. The additional services being planned are:
- December 2021: Wien – München – Paris and Zürich – Köln– Amsterdam;
- December 2022: Zürich – Roma;
- December 2023: Wien/Berlin – Brussels/Paris;
- December 2024: Zürich – Barcelona;
Services from Zürich to Roma, Milano and Venezia are also envisaged.
SBB CEO Vincent Ducrot said co-operation between the four state railways ‘enables us to implement our expansion plans quickly.’
However, a joint statement by the four CEOs highlighted that ‘cross-border night train services are operationally challenging and require a joint effort and political support’.
Lutz said expansion of the network would require operators to work together as a team with clear division of responsibilities, rather than every railway making small efforts towards the provision of night train services.
‘Only through intensive co-operation between the railways in Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria can we significantly expand the Nightjet network and thus offer even more climate-friendly mobility in Europe’, added Austrian Federal Railways CEO Andreas Matthä.
SNCF Chairman Jean-Pierre Farandou said co-operation provided a good opportunity to supplement France’s domestic overnight serves with an international offer.
All the operators highlighted the environmental benefits of rail travel compared to air, with Austria’s Minister for Climate Action Leonore Gewessler saying ‘night trains are the future of climate-friendly mobility within Europe’.
The Back-on-Track group which lobbies for night trains said ‘despite our joy at the good intentions and strong ambitions’ of the four operators, it believed that the initiative needed to expand in scope and include more European destinations such as Lisboa, Madrid, København, Stockholm, Oslo, Beograd, Budapest and București.
‘Partners who want to contribute to the future network of night trains must have the option to do so’, said Back-on-Track. ‘The EU as a supranational actor can contribute with investments and co-ordination; but we also call for the participation of railway operators from smaller states, and of private operators who have shown the ability and willingness to introduce their own night train routes.’
The ALLRAIL group of independent operators and retailers expressed concern that the four state railways were forming a ‘cartel’ which was ‘trapped in a failed model of the past’. ALLRAIL felt that it would be hard for open access night train operators to compete with taxpayer-backed state operators, adding that this could lead the incumbents to become ‘sedate and complacent’ and then the politicians becoming reluctant to fund services.
ALLRAIL would like to see an alternative model providing all operators with equal financing opportunities for rolling stock, as well as low track access fees and impartial ticket sales. ‘It might seem that the more new services, the better’, said Secretary General Nick Brooks. ‘But Europe should not fall into this trap. In this era of the Green Deal, we risk public money killing off private investment.’