All posts by Juri Maier

Action Days 16-18 September 2022: Brussels-Malmö Hop on

In the spring of 2021, a feasibility study was announced with great optimism for, among other things, a night train between Malmö in Sweden and Brussels. In the end, “the market” was only interested in operating a night train between Stockholm and Hamburg. Since this news, in September 2021, the idea of a connection to or from Brussels has also remained very quiet.

Map of night trains and 4 flight connections. Comparison: 205 kgCO2e by plane and 15kg CO2e by night train
Proposed night train route Bruxelles-Malmö with potential GHG savings

On this first ‘Tag der Schiene’ and the start of the European Mobility Week, Back-on-Track Europe, Back-on-Track Belgium vzw-asbl and Back-on-Track Germany e.V. are joining forces. Together with other supporters in Denmark and Sweden, we are putting the night train from #Hub4Brussels to Malmö on track, which was announced a few months before the Swedish Presidency and a good year before the Belgian Presidency of the Council of Europe.

Read also the study we carried out to show that night trains can avoid 3% of European GHG emissions!

Photo stream:

Belgian Transport secretary Georges Gilkinet starts the trip with activists from Back-on-Track Belgium
Georges Gilkinet gets a “wake-up call” for overnight train to Sweden from Back-on-Track Belgium
Activists from Back-on-Track Germany in front of the German Ministry of Transport
Back-on-Track in a meeting with German Railway Minister Susanne Henckel and senior ministry officials
Event by Back-on-Track Denmark in København H with Henning Hyllested, MP speaking
Event by Back-on-Track Denmark in København H with Tony Bispekov (DSB) speaking
Public breakfast in Malmö by Swedish activists from Jordens Vänner Malmö-Lund

Media Coverage:

Waking up in Malmö is still a utopia

On 14 September 2020, the Swedish Ministry of Transport published a public tender for a night train between Stockholm and Hamburg and between Malmö and Brussels. It was supposed to be the successor to the “Nord Expres”, which was abolished in the early 2000s, as were many night trains, and made it possible to connect Stockholm to Ostend in 22 hours.

Departure / Arrival BRX-MMX 19:44-09:15 MMX-BRX 18:00-08:33
Suggested timetable for a future Bruxelles-Malmö connection.

No less than two years later, a passenger is waiting for Godot in Brussels-Midi. Nevertheless, the Swedes are firm believers in this connection, which also offers possibilities to Paris and London. No less than 62% of those questioned in the study found the link quite or very attractive. So there is a lot of potential. A further extension to/from Stockholm was even suggested.

The market is not interested in the connection with Brussels because of the lack of political interest

Unfortunately, however, the deal was only found for the Stockholm – Hamburg – interesting route and the Swedish state-owned company SJ has been operating this route since the beginning of September.

“No one has signed up for the Brussels route. This is not illogical, as it is not easy to operate a night train profitably, which also has to cross three national borders. However, the Austrian ÖBB (public) does manage to do so. But potential operators find it difficult to navigate the many requirements, and the lack of interest or concrete action to reduce obstacles for night trains means that no one takes the plunge. This is not only bad for the passenger, but also for the climate! “Maarten Demarsin of Back on Track Belgium, which campaigns for the return of night trains, points out. “There should be a European vision and not only the market should be responsible for the supply (as is currently the case in the liberal vision of the European Commission) but also a public institution should be able to design a network and be responsible for it. All this should be properly discussed in the public debate.

Night trains as a more sustainable alternative

“The low-cost airlines themselves are already indicating, due to the energy crisis, that low-cost flights are no longer viable or that they are simply going away, which has an effect on employment. And the traveller, who is left out in the cold with no less polluting alternative.”

Together with other organisations from all over Europe, the Back on Track Belgium collective has calculated that a journey by night train emits only 15 kg of CO2, whereas a plane easily emits 305 kg. That’s 20 times more. The study, entitled #3procentovernight, even calculated that if 362 million travellers took the plane for journeys of up to 1,500 km, this would save 73% of megatonnes of CO2. This represents 3% of European transport emissions (or 3/4 of Belgian emissions). If you also replace journeys of up to 3,000 km with high-speed trains, you save even more CO2!

To Malmö in any case

In the past, the Federal Minister for Mobility, who is also responsible for the NMBS and the National Airport, has already indicated that he has discussed the night train to Malmö (several times) with his ministerial colleagues in the European Council, but so far there have been no concrete consequences. And on the presumed date of 22 August that Trafikverket had put forward as the start date, no train has left. That is why Back on Track Belgium joined forces with the German, Danish and Swedish collectives and organised its own – unfortunately virtual – night train to Malmö. The departure signal was given at 7.44pm in Brussels South in the presence of Minister Gilkinet, who was given an alarm clock. He could have used it to wake up in time for breakfast on the platform in Malmö. Today, it is mainly a symbol to awaken the initiative of the Swedes and take concrete steps towards connection.

Continuing efforts for #Hub4Brussels

“The connection with Malmö has everything to appeal to: a great potential of passengers, an interesting route through important Belgian, German, Danish and Swedish cities, ecological and economical advantages. We will continue to follow this dossier”, concludes Demarsin from Brussels South Station, the hub of their #Hub4Brussels network to the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark and Sweden.

See the images of the day here or at Back-on-Track Belgium.

The Global Warming Reduction Potential of Night-Trains

New report: Night trains can cut 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions

According to opinion polls, 7 out of 10 Europeans would be willing to take the night train instead of the plane if the offer seemed reasonable to them. Back-on-Track, a European network of night train initiatives, has used this as a basis to examine air passenger numbers in the EU in 2019 to see which air connections could be replaced by night train connections. Distances up to 1500 km as well as distances up to 3000 km were considered with different scenarios. Overall, up to 32 % of passengers could switch to night trains if there were an attractive offer. This would reduce emissions from air traffic by 26 %. In order to create such an offer, up to 2500 more night trains would be required, as well as a considerable improvement in the framework conditions, in particular a reduction in track access charges.

Why this report?

The potential of night trains has been investigated in a number of recent studies, but none of these studies answered the question of how much greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided by shifting passenger traffic from air to rail in a best-case scenario where all barriers are removed. The studies either investigated the potential of a predefined network or the examination of passenger potential passenger numbers were based on some given constraints.

And when climate effects were calculated, the non-CO2 radiative forcing of aviations was either ignored or more cautious assumptions were used. In particular, knowledge about the effect of water vapour has only consolidated in recent years.

How did we calculate aviation emissions?

We wanted to base our calculations on the latest findings and to do this we first had to supplement the most reliable database, the EEA emissions data, with the best available calculation value for the greenhouse effect of contrails, which makes a significant difference. Since the effect of water vapour weakens quickly, it makes a big difference whether one wants to calculate the current global warming (with GWP*) or the effect over a period of 100 years (with GWP100). We have opted for the former. Not so much because a saving of 1.7% sounds less exciting than 3% – even 1.7% would be an impressive figure. But because the question is how to combat current global warming, not how to predict the climate in 2122, and here GWP* provides the better answers.

Figure 1: Transport share of EU greenhouse gas emissions 2019, CO2e incl. non-CO2 radiative forcing (GWP*), incl. UK

Adding the radiative forcing of contrails and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases based on GWP* triples the CO2 value to a share of almost 12% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions (not the CO2e value, which includes greenhouse gases other than water vapour).

Even the CO2e emissions share from aviation of more than 5% of total emissions (inserted in Figure 1 for information) may come as a surprise, as the aviation industry keeps referring to two figures – either the share of CO2 emissions from domestic aviation (not including flights between two EU Member States) which which is about 1% of national emissions, or the share of aviation in global CO2 emissions, which is between 2% and 3%.

A serious problem

Emissions from international aviation (e those from international navigation/shipping) have been excluded from nationally determined contributions (NDC) so they are not part of binding agreements. For this reason, they are usually not included in transport sector emissions in statistics. This is misleading, as flights between two EU Member States also count as international aviation by definition. So about 80 % of all emissions from aviation do not appear in transport statistics – We have corrected this in Figure 2.

This makes more obvious, why emissions from aviation have become a serious problem. Unlike in road traffic non-fossil sources of energy are not even in sight. And unlike road traffic where emissions fell for some time and then stagnated, emissions from aviation have steadily increased. Aviation emissions are the main reason why transport is the only sector where emissions have not decreased in the last 30 years, but have increased by almost 40% – of course, if you don’t exclude international aviation. We have extended the development of aviation emissions according to the WEM forecast to show: If we do not act, aviation emissions will be the single largest contributor to climate change by 2040, ahead of the energy supply and industry sectors

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions per km by mode of transport in gCO2e per passenger incl. non-CO2 radiative forcing (GWP*)

To tackle this problem the European parliament recently discussed slowly increasing the share of so called sustainable aviation fuels – carbon-based fuels derived from biomass. That is generally to be welcomed, as these fuels are carbon neutral, more effective but also much more expensive. However they cannot solve the problem of water vapour, so a significant global warming effect remains.

Other solutions are batteries, which make the planes too heavy to travel longer distances, solar cells, which require huge wingspans that slow the planes down, or hydrogen, the most reasonable solution so far, but only if the water vapour from the fuel cells is emitted pre-condensed. However, all these other solutions are still far from being ready for the market.

Why night trains are an obvious solution

Night trains do unfortunately not yet play a role in this discussion.

Although a commonplace is that trains are better for the environment and especially for the climate than planes, the debate cites very different dimensions of this relationship. As the TRAN Chair of the European Parliament, Karima Delli, said at this year’s Back-on-Track conference, “some say emissions are six times higher, some say as much as ten”. Austrian railways, by the way, say 50 times. While all these ratios may be valid for something, we need to define what we want to know here: The valid ratio for the EU energy mix, for night trains with high load factors, for well-to-wheel emissions (i.e. including emissions for fuel production and transport) for the reference year 2019, for a per-km value and including radiative forcing of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. The correct ratio is then 1:28, which means that an average night train in the EU will cause 3.6% of the emissions of air transport on the same route in 2019. We have visualised this ratio in Figure 3 and compared it with other modes of transport.

However, night trains are the only obvious solution to replace the aeroplane on routes of more than 500 km (perhaps 700 km in France) by land transport, where high-speed trains can no longer compete, at least not in terms of travel time.

Figure 4 Travel time by distance: train vs. plane

As shown in Figure 4, night trains become an attractive alternative to air travel above 500 km, when high-speed trains and routes can no longer compete with the total journey times of aircraft. Up to 1500 km, they can use conventional tracks and RIC-compatible standard rolling stock. High-speed night trains running on existing high-speed lines can cover even further distances of up to 3000 km.

Night trains could save the greenhouse gas emissions of air travel in just a few years if policy makers acted now. We have to admit, however, that EU railway policy is not the easiest field in which to act. In order to measure whether the effort is worthwhile, one should know what result can be expected in return. That is why we have calculated the achievable greenhouse gas reduction.

We were able to base our report on the 2021 study by our french group Oui au train de nuit, which examined EU passenger data to determine the volume of passengers that could be shifted to night trains.

Unlike the present report, our 2021 study suggested that distances between 1500 and 3000 km could be covered by conventional rolling stock running for more than one day – albeit with only a fraction of the passenger volumes assumed for distances below 1500 km. While this is still a viable option, high-speed night trains could of course keep travel times competitive with air travel, so it can be assumed that a higher proportion of passengers will transfer. For this reason, high-speed trains are the means of choice in a best-case scenario in terms of avoidable emissions.

What is in the best case scenario?

We assumed a capable rail infrastructure on TEN-T lines prepared for at least 160 km/h max. speed and equipped with ETCS, the completion of construction projects (like Fehmarnbelt or Brenner tunnel, Madrid-Lisbon or Warsaw-Tallinn), the opening of high-speed routes for technically suitable night trains, modern rolling stock with substantial improvements of privacy, security and comfort, an average occupancy rate of 80% like for other means of transport that require booking, track access and station charges at marginal cost, a VAT exemption for cross-border journeys and platforms allowing the purchase of tickets from start to finish for all rail routes with a best price guarantee. These are a lot of wishes, we know that. It is a best-case scenario, but none of it is unachievable.

What is the answer to the question?

To learn more about our calculations, please read the report, which also answers some frequently asked questions we gathered when discussing our paper with other organisations working on transport and environmental issues. You can also download our dataset. The table contains all assumptions and methods, some of which can be changed to check their influence on the result. But we won’t keep you in suspense any longer, here is the answer to the question of how much greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided by shifting passenger traffic from air to rail:

Figure 5: Greenhouse gas saving potential of night trains.

Frequently asked questions

1) The network does not have the capacity, particularly looking at congested main stations:

True right now, it would not have the capacity for all the lines needed to reach the calculated goal of 3%. But apart for some exceptions we would not need more than the realisation of reinforcement projects which are currently under way and could be finished by 2035. Night trains are a very effective way to increase rail capacity, as they are flexible to fill gaps and you can add padding at night. We estimated that with our maximum scenario, high capacity and occupancy rate they would in average add not more than 3 trains per hour per direction to one of the 12 main gateways. This is 15% of the total capacity. We think this is not impossible.

Regarding high speed tracks, this would imply political decisions on the best way to use them over night: For cargo traffic or maintenance (are they really doing works every night?), or for high speed passenger traffic? With our study politicians can now decide which usage could do more to protect our climate. 

Regarding congestion in the main stations, night trains can do with minor stations without loosing too much passenger volume: Frankfurt Süd, Wien Westbahnhof, København Ny Elleberg … Of course stopping in the main station would be ideal for changing to day trains. But these minor stations are still much easier to reach than airports. 

2) The rail industry does not have the capacity to build all these trains

Our best-case scenario would require a lot of new rolling stock, indeed. Spread over a time frame of 12 years our estimated need for rolling stock would add 14% to the current market volume. This is a lot, but not impossible. Five percent growth have been predicted for the rail industry anyway. It also depends on what you need. For 200km/h carriages the capacity is there right now. This might not be true for high speed trains but at least Alstom currently has spare capacity in Germany – it wants to lay off people. But mainly it depends on the demand. If Tesla has extra demand they build a new plant. Rail manufacturers will do the same, but only if clear political decisions are taken which will create the demand: By lowering track access charges, speeding up ETCS rollout, opening the high-speed lines and sorting out rolling stock financing. 

3) Using opinion poll data is not suitable to estimate shift potential

No. The real potential is in the end a political question: How do you set market conditions that allow trains to be attractive? This will ultimately change the chosen means of transport. Recent studies estimated the potential by looking at old perceptions of night trains. This method did lead to predictions that have recently been outnumbered. There is a conceivable shift in preference by travellers, most night trains are currently booked out. And current preference rates might further increase once the new generation of rolling stock with capsule beds as recently presented by ÖBB is available. These studies were very valuable non the less, as they show which constraints have to be lifted to increase potential.Provide a better product and you might attract a new market: Once these constraints are lifted, we end up with the hypothetical general preference, for which these opinion polls provide the best data available. And even if you don’t want to believe in more demand: Even under given circumstances there is proven demand for at least 15 more routes in Europe. Let’s make a start with those, and a start with the rolling stock to run those, and see where we get.

4) The result of opinion polls are very dependent on how you ask.

This is true in general, but the consumer preference of 7 in 10 form the poll on which we relied, is in line with other polls. At a recent Civey poll for Germany with a slightly different question (focused on availability, not on reasonable price) also showed that 7 in 10 would decide in favour of night trains  So we are confident that this number is quite close to real preferences. 

5) The potential estimation is imprecise

True. We can be more precise once we look at each possible train in the future. This will decrease potential here and there. On the other hand we did not include flights under 100.000 passengers, this might increase numbers. Also, some flights might disappear completely due to a good alternative, this effect was also not yet considered. So we are confident, that the magnitude will not change too much. 

6) The study does not aim to provide a realistic plan

We aim to define a potential, not to provide a prediction. This is why our calculation is only looking on a best-case scenario. But even a best case-scenario is attainable – the estimated potential is technically possible. The question is, whether it is politically conceivable. Here, we share some scepticism. 

German Group supports Deutsche Bahn’s participation in Nightjet

Back-on-Track Germany also supports the demand addressed to DB Netz AG for a reduction of track access charges for night trains. Back-on-Track refers to a study published in March by Mofair e.V., according to which Germany and France in particular charge three to four times the rail tolls that are otherwise customary in Europe. “This has so far effectively prevented the development of an attractive European night train service, even for longer distances,” Cornelius said.

Link: https://mofair.de/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/220302-Trassenpreissenkung.pdf

The Back-on-Track night train initiative supports the demand of the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) for Deutsche Bahn to participate in its night train business. Just as Switzerland’s participation in SBB’s night train business enables ÖBB to set up a night train network for Switzerland, DB should also become involved as a partner and enable ÖBB to soon provide German rail customers with a genuine international night train network again. “This would be a sensible further step towards a European night train company. An Austrian state-owned company cannot bear the sole responsibility for the development of a night train network for the whole of Europe, that would not be politically acceptable in the long run,” says Back-on-Track Chairman Peter Cornelius.

Back-on-Track Germany e.V. is the German branch of back-on-track.eu, the European network supporting cross-border night trains.

08.07.2022

French and Spanish railways “war” is blocking night trains

Originally published by Oui au train de nuit

Simultaneous demonstrations for night trains took place on July 2nd, 2022 in Lisbon, Madrid and on several Pyrenees’ border stations. The demonstrators are celebrating the return of the Paris-Hendaye night train after a five-year absence. This event is an opportunity to put forward proposals to improve cross-border connections that are currently impaired by the conflict between railways and some EU rules.

Night trains for the Iberian Peninsula 2009
Night trains for the Iberian Peninsula 2022

Of the 100 million passengers travelling between France and Spain every year, less than 2% arrive by train. Indeed, between the border stations of Hendaye (France) and Irun (Spain), only 2 km apart, no passenger trains have been running for months. High Speed (HS) Trains are hardly attractive, with journeys to Europe often taking more than 6 hours. The long distances between Spain and Europe might favour night trains, but Spain dismantled all of them by removing the last ones in 2020. To denounce the lack of rail coherence, demonstrators coordinated between the three countries of South-West Europe for a marathon of mobilisations on July 2nd, 2022.

09h17: A new Cerbère-Portbou donkey service to extend the night train to Portbou

Since 1st of July of 2022, the Paris-Portbou night train can no longer enter the latter station of Portbou (Spain), and ends its route in the previous station of Cerbère (France), with no possiblity to cross the border. Mobilised on July 2nd, the Perpignan-Portbou Train Users’ Association (UTPP) valiantly proposed a new inter-border donkey service to carry passengers’ luggage across the mountain to Portbou station, which is barely 1km away as the crow flies [photo]. 

Beyond this action day, the Catalan associations are asking for a cross-border train that serves the stations of the coast, with a real timetable coordination between RENFE and SNCF’s regional trains.

Faced with the administrative blockade preventing the night train from entering Portbou, users organise themselves to carry luggage across the mountain

100 years after the creation of border stations: now Spain and France require drivers to be bilingual

The night train can no longer enter Portbou, because since July 1st 2022 the Spanish rail network requires a “B1” language certificate for SNCF drivers. Régional trains are also threatened.

A train driver explains: “For decades, a High-Speed Train (HST) driver could travel from Paris to Stuttgart without speaking German. Of course, she/he was trained for the German signalisation system. Now, a new European regulation imposes a B1 level in the event of a signalling failure: a form is then given to the driver to be able to cross the faulty signals. Yet, the national agencies should have made an exception for border stations.”

A railway worker complained: “The railways have been pioneers in harmonising Europe since 1922 with the International Union of Railways – UIC – which guaranteed access to border stations. 100 years of experience confirmed that the most efficient way is that border station staff speak both languages, but not the drivers. Unfortunately since 2007 the UE has undermine some of the UIC rules.” (see legislation and debate on twitter).

France was the first to impose the strict regulation to border stations, as a freight driver from Portbou testifies on twitter. And in Irun, “a translator now accompanies all Spanish freight trains travelling to Hendaye.

When questioned, the Occitania Region’s Vice-President for Transportation underlined : “We did not accept this unilateral decision of the railway safety authorities of the two countries … Thanks to the spanish training of controllers, Regional trens remain cross-border“. From Montpellier, the CGT union gave its analysis: “This is above all an economic war between SNCF and RENFE linked to the opening up to competition.

For a railway worker in Irun “the required language level, B1, is not so hard to obtain. With a 2 or 3 month anticipation, we can train the drivers or controllers.” As Occitania Region, RENFE has trained its controllers to maintain regional trains. ADIF has also given a derogation for French trains until October 1st of 2022… but only for freight.

Once again being the last to be considered, the night train is the only train removed. The SNCF operator sent a bus to complete the last kilometre. Unfortunately the narrowness of the streets of the border village of Cerbère hardly allows the bus to reach the station. The train will always be more suitable… and it was finally a RENFE train that took the passengers to Spain.

Spanish railway workers march to Hendaye to celebrate the arrival of the night train

09:30 AM – March from Irun to Hendaye to denounce the homologation “war”

The second march of the day was undertaken by the Spanish Coordination for the Public, Social and Sustainable Train and the Spanish railway union CCOO. They walked the 2 km between Irun and Hendaye stations to denounce the lack of connections:

  • The new French duplex HSTs are not approved to enter Irun, officially due to a gauge problem. For the Spanish railway workers « It’s an excuse. There is no tunnel nor obstacle. It’s rather an administrative blockage. » For the French railway workers the SNCF is also not interested in sending its HSTs far beyond Bordeaux for few passengers and prefers to shorten the ends of the lines.
  • Concerning the new regional trains, Irun railway workers comment that “all the homologation stages have been completed. It was at the very last moment that there was a political blockage so that the homologation was not signed“. Today, as a consequence, no passenger trains – neither RENFE nor SNCF – can run between the two stations.
  • The night train does not arrive in Irun either. A Spanish railwaywoman argued that “the night is the only one homologated to cross the border. It has been running for 40 years !“. When questioned, the French Ministry of Transport (DGITM) and SNCF unfortunately denied this analysis: the homologation has been withdrawn because the night train was not running to Irun for 5 years. The homologation remains valid only for Portbou, as long as the train continues to run there… And beware, the Spanish Railway Safety Agency (AESF) already threatened since several month to withdraw the homologation for the night train to Portbou.
  • On the other side, the french railway institutions are also blocking Renfe trains. The spanish HST are not homologated for the northern half of France: they cannot therefore enter Paris, Brussels and other European cities, although there is of course a demand from Europeans to reach Spain by train… 
  • It is still possible to travel by foot as the Hendaye – Irun stations are only 2 km apart. However, the French police have barricaded the pedestrian bridge that would make this crossing more direct and pleasant…
  • Another possibility is to take the small metre-gauge « Euskotren », which is a real success with half-hourly timetables from 5.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m., and even all night at weekends, which is what every user dreams of in France, and which is only seen abroad… Unfortunately, the Euskotren only covers 500m of French territory, which is of course insufficient to offer a real cross-border alternative to the private car. Note that the president of the Basque Country wants to invest in railto reduce car congestion : 45,000 vehicles cross the border every day, more than 85% of cross-border journeys are made by car…

The EU may solve the problem quickly and for the whole continent, as one freight railway worker reminds us: « 

In the 20th century the UIC stipulated that trains homologated in one country could run to the border station of the neighbouring country. Unfortunately, the EU has undermined this agreement by creating national railway safety authorities that impose their decisions within the strict borders of the country. This is a no sense for cross-border railways, which are thus subject to double regulation. It adds layers of extra costs and that is what is killing the railways. Fortunately, this 2007 European regulation is currently being renegotiated. It is essential to ensure that it nows complies with UIC agreements. Under pressure from the German operator DB, the problem has already been solved positively for the Saarbrücken-Forbach border stations »… where it was often necessary to change locomotives twice for 6 km tracks.

Furthermore, European legislation already proposes an exemption for “networks separated from the rest of the railway system“. Yet the Spanish tracks in France (at Cerbère and Hendaye) are separate networks. They cannot be used by French trains because they are at Iberian gauge. The same separation occurs on the tracks used by French trains in Spain at Portbou and Irun. The choice not to apply the exception is therefore all the more absurd. It is apparently only motivated by the railway dispute between the public railway companies of both countries. However, this is a good opportunity to improve EU regulations, which have been seeking for years to bridge the gaps at the borders: in order for trains to be able to move more easily across the EU, the exception should not be left to the random arbitration of each Member State’s safety agencies. The European Rail Agency – ERA could generalise it to all EU border stations, in accordance with the UIC agreements.

Meanwhile, the deterioration is rapid: towards Italy, the border station of Ventimiglia no longer supplies power to the catenaries so that the Paris-Nice night train can access it. In Portugal, railway workers are also worried : Another cancer spreading in Europe. It always worked well and safely, now we have this madness. The same thing is expected between Portugal and Spain.” 

10 AM – Demonstration in Hendaye, is competition both the source of blockage and the solution to everything ?

The trains are blocked. For a rail worker, the competition generates the blockage: “There was a non-aggression pact between SNCF and RENFE, which SNCF betrayed by launching the low-cost HST Ouigo in Spain. [600 million euros of French public funding is funding low fares and a level of service that Ouigo does not offer in France]. Their Elipsos cooperation has been shattered.” Now Spanish operators are eyeing the French market. RENFE or Euskotren would like to operate regional trains in New Aquitaine (Hendaye Region). In the meantime, they show no interest in unblocking traffic.

However, another strategy is possible: back in 2017, the CEO of SNCF confirmed the advantages of cooperation over competition: “between Germany and France we did not choose competition but cooperation. […] If we were in competition, that would mean that if you bought a ticket for a TGV, you could not get on an ICE, it is not exchangeable, and vice versa. We thus chose a model of cooperation and we are happy because with our German colleagues it has strengthened the links between the two companies.

Cooperation was a widespread behaviour among the railways in the 20th century. The decline in cooperation dates back to the European regulations 3rd and 4th railway packages (2007 and 2016) – which put railways in competition. The hostility began in 2011, when the public companies SNCF and Trenitalia stopped their cooperation Artesia.

Already In 2016, Oui au train de nuit called on this subject on the European Commission – DG Move, which replied that the new regulatory tools would solve all the problems. Six years later, one question remains: how much longer will it take to finally be able to travel those 2 km by train, where the tracks and trains are already in place and only a signature is missing ?

And above all, isn’t it time to introduce a miminum of mandatory cooperation ? It would be useful to:

  • Create continuity between operators (rail benefit to operate as a network).
  • Relaunch night trains, which are fragile, cross several countries and need this cooperation.
  • Offer through tickets mixing night trains + day trains of all companies. This will allow in the future to travel 2000km and cross Europe.
The first Paris-Hendaye night train has entered the station after a 5-year absence

Night trains return to South West Europe

The Iberian Peninsula benefited from some twenty night trains in 2009, running on both national and international connections. The operator RENFE has definitively dismantled all the night trains, on the occasion of the Covid crisis, despite Portugal’s opposition, which is seeking to revive the offer. 

The night trains Lusitânia (Lisbon – Madrid), Sud Express (Lisbon – Hendaye) and Barcelona-Galicia have thus been dismantled, despite high occupancy rates. Portugal is isolated from the larger European rail network. Such a situation has not happened since the two World Wars.

In such desperate situations, Oui au train de nuit has already had the opportunity to sing it’s only goodbye. In fact, already, the night trains are coming back!

11 AM – the first night train arrives in Hendaye!

The new Paris-Hendaye night train approaches 500 m from the border, after 5 years of absence. This is a victory, but there is still a lot to be done.

First handicap: this night train to Hendaye only runs in the summer (like the night train Paris-Portbou which only runs on weekends and holidays). The demonstrators are asking for these 2 trains to be daily. Moreover, the time of arrival is very late (10.40am). In addition, numerous HSR works are likely to prevent traffic for the next 10 years. See the press release.

5 PM – debate in Bayonne between users, elected representatives, NGOs and railway workers

In the Basque Country, train is the subject of debate: the french Basque Country has voted against the High Speed Line project to reach the border. The EU is also reluctant to pay. Brussels seems to favour the modernisation of existing lines that are more useful for daily mobility.

This was the occasion for a debate which showed the importance of providing more funding for the conventional railroad network. This network is under-used by far: local trains could be operated at half-hourly intervals, with a wider range of hours. And to double the freight, the « rail freight highways », such as Cherbourg-Bayonne, are expensive and unsuitable. By only linking one unique depature with one destination, they abandon the territories located in between.

6 PM – Lisbon dances for the night train as an alternative to aviation

In Lisbon the Aterra collective is mobilising for alternatives to air travel [press release]. It has called for a demonstration with choreography in front of the historic Santa Apolonia station. Anne denounces Portugal’s railway isolation: “Lisbon is one of only two European capitals without any international rail links. We are completely dependent on aviation, which is the worst choice for the climate. The situation is dramatic. We want night trains to Europe and also national night trains to connect the North and South of Portugal“. [see video]

Aterra also calls for fair taxation between air and rail. It claims that a train journey should cost, at most, half the equivalent journey by plane.

Aterra alerts on the rail isolation of Portugal and the need for alternatives to aviation

7 PM – Madrid for the revival of night trains and the conventional rail network

In Madrid, the NGO Ecologistas en Acción denounces the imbalance of funding in favour of High Speed Rail, as well as the abandonment of the conventional railway network. The latter provides more social benefits with local trains, suburban trains in the regions, freight, and night and day long distance trains. 

Beyond the demonstration, a joint declaration by 14 social, trade union and environmental organisations, was also proposed on July 4th, accompanied by a dossier of proposals. The action was particularly noticeable in medium-sized cities served by the night train, such as Salamanca, [press release] and Granada.

The left-wing coalition in the Spanish government has promised the return of night trains… by 2050. In 2022 it is carrying out a study (with no news about it) and at the same time authorising RENFE to cease operations and send some of its most modern night trains… to Turkey. As a reminder, Western Europe is experiencing a shortage of this type of equipment, and several operators are also looking to rent it.

Demonstration at Madrid-Atocha station for night trains and the conventional rail network

8 PM – the first night train returns to Paris with a batch of demands

This long day of mobilisation ends with the night train sending a message back to Paris (and Brussels). Could such accumulations of dysfunctions take place in Paris regional trains? Or it is just an effect of over-centralism on the forgotten edges of France? 

Oui au train de nuit had already occasions to denounce that the railway geography seen from Paris is overly simplified. So its proposals include night trains on a diversity of cross-country routes between regions (while actual night trains are strictly limited to connexions to Paris). Similarly Portugal’s government also denounce the excessive railway centralism in Madrid’s strategy and is calling for an real Iberian rail network, which would to be not limited to tracks to Madrid.

At present, french government is concentrating new tax revenues for infrastructure projects for Paris and the metropolises: the « Grand Paris Express » is typical of this trend – this new infrastructure plans a tax to collect at least €35bn. The South-West HSR project want to raise €14bn. Yet, these projects forget about the conventional railways for medium-sized towns and give rise to a feeling of abandonment and injustice.

In many rural areas, the Yellow Vest mouvement and then the rising scores of the Extrem Right parties have largely sounded the alarm: it is time to fix territorial divisions by funding the conventional railway at least at the same level as the big projects for the metropolises. This is especially relevant as there is a backlog of investment to be made up and more than 60% of the french population lives outside the metropolises. Spain also wants to balance those investments, but fails to achieve it.

The first night train leaves with a message to Paris

Oui au train de nuit therefore demands :

Support the Paris – Nice night train! E-mail to the French minister!

This action is running from November 20th, 2017.

The French national railroad company SNCF and the French government plan to close down the important night train connection Paris – Nice the from December 2017.

The Paris – Nice line is important not only for France but for international travelers and tourists to the Mediterranean sea. It is a scandal if France cancels such an essential night train connection.

Night trains have numerous advantages: Train travel is many times more climate-friendly than air transport. Night trains allow good connections and departure and arrival times for long time travel. Night trains require much less investment than high-speed trains.

We try to convince the French Minister of Transport by e-mails from each of us directly to her. You are welcome to personalize it before you send:

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