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save the night train Paris-Milan-Venice

Open letter to the French and Italian governments and to the EU

to save the night train Paris-Milan-Venice

letter sent to:
Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, French transport minister
Jean Castex, French Prime Minister
Enrico Giovannini, Italian minister of sustainable
infrastructure and mobility
Mario Draghi, Italian Prime Minister
Adina Vălean, European Transport Commissionner

Thello railway company has announced that its Paris-Milan-Venice night train, already suspended since spring 2020 due to the pandemic, will not resume service. While the French government communicates on the revival of night trains,we regret the lack of support for this essential connection and we call on the French and Italian governments and the European Union to act.
On May 20th, 2021, French Prime Minister Jean Castex inaugurated the returnof the Paris-Nice night train, vowing “that this reopening will lead to many others”.
One month later, Thello (a subsidiary of the Italian national railway company Trenitalia) announced the definitive end of its Paris-Milan-Venice night train. This line, which represented a real link between France and Italy, made it possible to travel without taking a plane and without spending entire days on the train (a Paris-Venice trip by day train takes more than 10 hours).

This night train was insufficiently supported by France. It suffered from a lack of visibility: since the end of joint management by SNCF and Trenitalia, it was no longer displayed on SNCF sales channels, which complicated the purchase of tickets and limited the possibilities of connections. At the ticket desk, no information was given about the existence of this train. The passenger was even told at the departure from Paris “there is no more train tonight, you have to wait until tomorrow”… while the night train was waiting on the platform. The traffic was very affected by the maintenance works, which are not coordinated between the French, Swiss and Italian networks, which often delayed the opening of sales.

Border controls were causing important delays
because they were carried out during a long stop in the middle of the night, instead of at the start or while driving, as on the high-speed trains.
And yet, this train was very popular both with families and groups who could travel in couchette compartments at affordable prices (starting at €29 per person), and with business travelers and wealthier tourists who could enjoy private cabins with showers. Far from being a niche market, this night train carried up to 300,000passen gers per year, with an occupancy rate over 85%.

At a time of climate emergency, and as the European Union has declared 2021 “European Year of Rail”, we cannot let this night train disappear in indifference, thus sending passengers back to the plane, which is the most polluting of all means of transportation. The mobilization of the French and Italian governments and the European Union is expected to restore this essential line as soon as possible. Thenatio nal company Trenitalia has announced that it will take over some of the daytime connections abandoned by Thello, and there is no reason the same could not be done for the night train, for example in cooperation between SNCF and Trenitalia. Action by the public authorities is also necessary to support the development of other routes from France, and not only from Paris.
Note that Paris-Milan-Venice is one of the corridors studied by the to develop night trains by 2030. The government’s report on the subject, published in May 2021, even envisages its doubling in two trains to optimize service to Milan and Turin.
The French start-up “Midnight Trains” has also announced a potential night train between Paris and Italy or Spain. However, this train would be a high-end one.
Moreover, it would not cover all needs, and it would not arrive before 2024, whereas the Paris-Venice night train, whose carriages are already available and offer levels of comfort accessible to all, could be put back on tracks right away.

Signed by:

  • French activist group « Oui au train de nuit » (Yes to the night train)
  • ASSOUTENTI-UTP, Italian national association of users of public services
  • European network « Back-on-Track »
  • Association « Back-on-Track Belgium »
  • Association « European Rail Campaign (UK) »

Press contact or to co-sign this letter:
+33 6 68 75 26 37

EU shall organise the procurement of a new fleet of night trains

The blogger Jon Worth has initiated a campaign, which Back-on-Track support.

This campaign is about how to scale up the provision of night trains in Europe.

The problem that we have identified is that the lack of available rolling stock – the trains themselves – is the main issue standing in the way of scaling up night trains, and we want to solve that problem. We want to propose practical and workable solutions. The case for more night trains is a strong one. In the future there are other problems to solve with railways in Europe, but night trains need a solution right now. There is also currently no viable alternative to the EU stepping in.

>> Go to the campaign site

RAILTECH Magazine: Night train comeback

Night trains are making a comeback in Europe, so what is a better time to publish a special magazine about this topic? The RailTech magazine on Night trains in Europe is now freely available.

Plans for a Trans Europ Express 2.0, further expansions of RegioJet and Snälltåget and the founding of several new night train start-ups show there is no doubt about a revival of sleeper trains. However, there are also still many obstacles in the way of a real open European market where night trains are a good alternative to flights for destinations all over Europe.

This RailTech magazine dives into what led to the revival of night trains and the challenges of an open-access operator as voiced by head of Snälltåget Carl Adam Holmberg. Read an interview with co-founder of start-up European Sleeper, about the plans of two Belgian entrepreneurs for a new night train and European Passengers’ Federation board member Arriën Kruyt’s case for lower track access charges for night trains.

>> Have a look at the whole magazine

The TEE 2.0 – great idea, implementation unknown

Since the first presentation in September 2020, there is a lot of talk about the “TEE 2.0” – a promised remake of the legendary “Trans Europ Express” train network. German transport minister Andreas Scheuer is trying to attach his name to the idea of a new European network of fast trains. But what can we really expect? The plan sounds great on the first glimpse: 31 new international high speed train lines connecting pretty much all European metropolises from Malaga to Stockholm, complemented with 12 new night train lines fulfilling the same purpose for overnight travel.

>> The concept can be found here

Illustration of night train lines from the concept report

And the trains are supposed to be perfectly integrated into the national timetables, building the backbone of a European synchronized timetable (“Europatakt”). That would indeed be a big step forward for European rail travel, which is right now just a shadow of what it used to be some decades ago – making flying across Europe the preferred way of travelling for most people nowadays. And it is long overdue that something is done about this situation in times of climate crisis and flight shame. The proposed network would be a good starting point for a new European rail network, which should on the long run be complemented with many more day and night trains in order to really interconnect Europe.

But as good as the concept looks like, the realization is still written in the stars. All that happened so far is the signing of a “letter of intent” by several countries. That is a first step, but it remains unclear, which trains are going to serve the proposed lines (most likely they have to be built first), who is going to run them and how they are going to be financed. Even worse, German railways (Deutsche Bahn), located in the middle of the continent and directly subordinated to minister Scheuer, is not planning to invest into new international trains, especially into night trains, themselves. Instead, they gave up their night train network less than five years ago in spite of huge protests by Back on Track and others, tearing a huge hole into the European network. That means that others – like Austrian railways (ÖBB) will have to run the trains even completely outside of their own country. They are planning to run at least some of the new night trains routes anyway – without the new TEE concept. Actually, “new” is not even the right term here, because routes like Paris – Berlin, Paris – Munich, Amsterdam – Zürich or Brussels – Warsaw were abandoned just a few years ago, often in spite of good booking numbers. In the same way, many of the proposed new day trains are reissues of the “TEE 1.0” trains, that connected Europe in the 1970s.

All that does not make any of the proposed trains wrong, but it sheds another light onto the supposedly revolutionary idea of the “TEE 2.0” network. And it seems that the focus of the proposed network is purely on the prestigious high-speed trains between the capitals while cold-shouldering direct connections between regions and smaller cities, which might be at least as important in order to build up a new European rail network that can serve as an attractive alternative to flying for most Europeans.

The European Union (EU) might be key for a real renaissance of European rail. First of all, they should set up a rolling stock company to provide the required trains – and to make sure that there is a fleet of high-quality trains fulfilling the requirements of long-distance travel. Secondly, the EU should be the platform to further develop a “TEE 2.0” network that really interconnects the whole continent. And the EU could even serve as the body to have the trains operated by the rail companies under public service obligations (PSO) – because many of those trains might not be cash cows at least at the beginning. And the EU should also set the base for a European ticketing system that would make it possible to buy one ticket to go from any place on the continent to any other – for a reasonable price and with full passenger rights in case something goes wrong. That would mean that the EU has to become a lot more active for a rail network than nowadays. But the last decades have clearly shown that it is not enough to set some technical standards, talk of a unified rail market and call a “European year of rail” in order to bring new trains onto the tracks. And what could be a better symbol for climate-friendly European unification than such a train network?

It is great that something is starting to move towards a better European rail network lately and that ideas for “TEE 2.0” and other international trains are discussed more widely. But it seems that there is still quite some work to do for Back on Track and other lobby groups in order to put it into practice.



This week in France, the return of the Paris-Nice night train was celebrated, and even the Prime Minister travelled onboard the 1st train, which attracted an incredible media coverage. He said that the ambition of the French governement was that this reopening should be the first of a long series…

“We are reopening this evening things that we had perhaps a little too quickly sacrificed”, launched Jean Castex (in the picture) while boarding the night train Paris-Nice, which left Thursday evening after more than three years of stop.

“This first night train is a strong symbol, which signifies the rebirth of this mode of transport that some considered obsolete”, launched the CEO of SNCF Jean-Pierre Farandou, before also getting on the train. The night train, “It is also the return of the ‘slow life’, we take our time and we find the taste for travel, it’s like a small cruise”, while “The health crisis has also accelerated climate awareness”, continued Jean-Pierre Farandou. “I wish with you, since this is the choice of the State and the decision of the government, that this necessary reopening calls for many others”, launched the Prime Minister, before settling in his cabin.

Passenger Eric Delasimone, a financial director travelling onboard, said he felt in the night train “a charm that you do not have in the TGV.”

“You settle in and sleep with the noise of the rails; and imagine the journey. It has a side that is poetic and very exotic.”

Travellers Nicolas Forien and Alice Billon, who are part of an association “Oui au train de nuit” (Yes to night trains), said they were delighted to be on the train but hoped in the future that trains would be better equipped.

“We are a little disappointed that the carriages have not been renovated,” said Billon.

>> See more about the event in news reports like this

French night train report finally here

The long-awaited report about the revival of night trains was also eventually published in its official version.

The report is very positive about the opportunities to redevelop night trains in France. Have a look at the four maps on pages 59 to 63, showing the projected network, with many national and international lines !The report says that 600 coaches would be needed, and that this night train network would attract 5,7 Million passengers per year ! It is a very good report, it repeats many of our arguments to defend night trains, and it agrees with most of our suggestions to improve night trains.

However, all this is only a report for the moment, and the investment is not yet decided (around 1.5 billion € would be needed to buy the rolling stock). The follow-up to this report will be debated by the Parliament later, so the battle is not yet won. But the governement seems quite optimistic, and we will push for the conclusions of this report to be implemented, as soon as possible…

>> Have a look at the report


Re: Shifting international passenger trips to rail: Delivering on the European Year of Rail 2021 

Dear Transport Ministers,

As a transport minister, you will soon be joining your counterparts from across Europe at an EU Transport Council on 3 June to discuss the future of rail travel. The European Year of Rail 2021 is a unique opportunity for the EU and national governments to boost international passenger rail in Europe. 

The European Environment Agency has described rail as the most sustainable mode of motorised passenger transport. We call on you to make trains the obvious travel choice for people in Europe: Europe needs an attractive and dense network of international long-distance train services, including frequent day-time services as well as night trains that cover larger distances. 

Polling shows that people in Europe are willing to shift from air to rail – even for international travel. It’s your responsibility to make change happen. EU citizens demand attractive connections, convenient travel times, fair prices, easy booking options and protected passenger rights. This requires fair market conditions for rail compared to airlines and road travel. 

In its interim report, the International Passenger Rail platform identifies many challenges in customer experience and digitalisation, services, infrastructure and the regulatory framework. Yet, we see important gaps (e.g. no mention of a level playing field across different modes of transport) and no concrete response. 

To make the European Year of Rail a success, European governments should discuss and endorse the following measures at the Transport Council meeting: 

1) Commit to at least 30 new Europe Express lines and night trains between 2021 and 2025, and short-term service improvements, towards a European timetable 

2) Launch a funding programme for interoperable rolling stock and sleeping carriers 

3) Make sharing of real-time and ticketing data mandatory for rail operators 

4) Reduce track access charges for international trains and phase-out flight subsidies and short-haul flights 

5) Increase public investment in closing infrastructure gaps and modernising existing infrastructure 

Without concerted and resolute political action, the European Year of Rail will do little to revive the fortunes of trains in Europe, just at the time when we need them most. After years of neglect it is time to invest in an industry with a bright future. 

Yours sincerely, 

36 environmental groups, among others

>> See the whole letter including five annexes and signatures


The 26th UN Conference of the Parties will be hosted by the UK in Glasgow from 1st to 12th November 2021. This is when country representatives meet together to review progress on their own targets were set to meet the UN target to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the Covid 19 situation, current planning assumes that some kind of physical conference will take place.

As rail emits far less greenhouse gases than air per passenger kilometre travelled, it is essential that delegates, lobbyists and journalists minimise their “carbon footprints” by travelling to and from the conference by Rail where possible. While Glasgow is not geographically “At the Heart of Europe”, those travelling from the UK and Mainland Europe do have a realistic rail alternative. Day time travel combining High Speed trains from Paris,Lille, Brussels & Amsterdam with a short walk in London to Euston station is possible with a journey time of around  8 hours.  Those with a longer journey might wish to stop-over on the way in London, Brussels or Paris for example, and could combine high speed day trains with Night trains. A practical choice could be to buy a 3-day or 5-day within a month Interrail pass.

For this very reason, a group of environmental campaigners (Youth for Sustainable Travel) showed us the way forward when they “Sailed to COP 25” which was due to be held in Santiago in Chile from 2nd – 13th December 2019. While on their way sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, the Chilean President cancelled the conference on the 31st October due to the civil unrest taking place in that country. The conference was then moved to Madrid, due to start on the same date, which did not give them enough time to sail back to Spain. They had, along with Greta Thunberg , publicised the need for all countries to drastically reduce their transport-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Now the same group have now set up “Rail to the Cop” together with young climate activists and experts. Their campaign was launched on 1st May 2021. They are inviting, supporting and encouraging young people from all over Europe to set up regional initiatives for travel to Glasgow by train or to join them in Brussels for the journey.

>> Click here for further information

 Back-on-Track has set up a sub-group which will be supporting their campaign during the course of this year.

New comparison from European Environmental Agency (EEA) on Trains versus Planes

Train or plane?

Two new studies from EEA draw new light on climate impacts and broader environment impacts from European passenger and freight transport. With the new reports we are again able to refer to recent European figures, when we are discussing the environmental impacts of a modal shift from planes to rail.

The new reports updates an old EEA study from 2014 which was already in 2019 declared for not-updated.

The first study (briefing) from EEA (A) is giving the greenhouse gas perspective for both passenger and freight transport. Study also the background paper from Fraunhofer ISI and CE Delft.

The second study (EEA report) (B) is giving a more broad environmental perspective. Here greenhouse gasses are complemented by air pollution and noise. And 20 selected cross border travels are compared.

Both studies have the same weaknesses, which will be mentioned below.

Overall conclusion from EEA

EEA (A) concludes: “Trains are the most efficient form of passenger transport in the EU, with GHG emissions per pkm that are only a fraction of most other modes.”

EEA (B) concludes on page 48: “An analysis of 20 city pairs shows that the environmental costs of rail travel are substantially lower than those of air travel.”

Both studies are suffering by weak sources

Railway statistic is rather poor. That means that it is not possible to separate occupancy rates related to those railway lines directly competing with aviation. Data are to some degree ‘polluted’ with other lines, running on less developed and less used destinations including evenings and other ‘not-top-tuned’ services.

Those routes that are compared are based upon strong business cases in aviation. That is fair enough. But data on occupancy will with weak railway data sets favour aviation with higher occupancy rates (aviation assumed to 80%) and much lower rates with trains. And how is it counted on rail? Many of these lines do not exist as highend-express lines today. So it is a mix of existing HSR and EC/IC/RE-trains, that goes behind the data. EEA mention rates of 66% (HSR) and 36% (IC/RE-trains).

The non-CO2 related effects of aviation is counted different in the two reports and stated wrong both places. But that is probably because the EU Commission to has chosen to do so!

On the non-CO2 radiative forcing effects of aeroplane emissions, both studies use a low RFI (or GWP) as 1,23 (in A) (since the background paper did not have access to the new data) or 1,7 (B) (with access to new data). The reports did hereby not use the direct outcomes of scientific recommendations published December 2020 (see later).

Study A

Figure 1

Click on the picture to get an enlargement!

Study A is probably giving airplanes occupancy rates very close to 100% (unfortunately unclear data), underestimating the climate impact, and comparing with a larger range of rail transport (GHG’es and occupancy rates) according to weak datasets from the railway sector.

Study B

The study is using 20 selected travels in Europe between two major cities with air connections and rail connections of which 7 are < 500 km, 7 are 500-750 km, and 6 are 750 – 1100 km. Distances are calculated as car distance, and rail distance is set to the same. Air distance is set to the shortest line between the two cities (which might be a little bit wrong).

What is the environmental cost in study B?
EEA has selected four elements, that they find comprises the environmental costs:

  • Noise
  • Air pollution
  • Fossil fuel consumption on the move
  • Fossil fuel production
  • Non-CO2 related climate impact related to aviation.

And all elements are calculated in EUR to make it possible to make an overall figure. See this conclusive figure 5.4 (page 55):

Figure 2

Click on the picture to get an enlargement!

To mix so different things as climate, air pollution and noise is a very difficult exercise.

  • How to calculate it correct?

It is very interesting but very hard. With all respect to noise and air pollution, we should focus alone on climate impact, as study A.

How is the aviation climate impact calculated?

In figure 5.4 (see above) the non CO2-related climate impact from burning jetfuel in the atmosphere (Radiative Forcing Index, RFI) is put on top with dark blue and with a uncertainty scale (thin line). The dark blue bar is representing a RFI of 1,7. (In study A from November 2020 RFI is set to 1,23).

That is very strange figures and not endorsed by EASA. The overall European recommendation (December 2020) is RFI = 3,0 by Lee et al and endorsed by the EASA. Let’s have a look at the EASA report from December 2020, from where we quote:

A relatively new application of the GWP, referred to as ‘GWP*’, produces a better temperature-based equivalence of short-lived non-CO2 climate forcers than the traditional use of GWP by equating an increase in the emission rate of a Short Lived Climate Forcer with a one-off “pulse” emission of CO2. The GWP* is an example of a ‘flow-based’ method that represents both short-lived and long-lived climate forcers explicitly as ‘warming-equivalent’ emissions that have approximately the same impact on the global average surface temperature over multi-decade to century timescales (Allen et al., 2016; 2018; Cain et al., 2019). GWP*100 for net aviation impacts was calculated by Lee et al. (2020) for recent conditions. The CO2-warming-equivalent emissions based on this method indicate that aviation emissions are currently warming the climate at approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone.

It could be argued that temperature-based metrics, and the GWP*, are potentially more useful for temperature-based policy objectives such as the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement. They also provide a more physical basis of actual impacts than GWPs for SLCFs.

Quotes are from pages 35-36 in “FINAL REPORT Updated analysis of the non-CO2 climate impacts of aviation and potential policy measures pursuant to the EU Emissions Trading System Directive Article 30(4)

A German study from 2019 goes into details in relation to length of the journey what we need to do. It is J.D. Scheelhaase in Journal of Air Transport Management 75 (2019) pages 68-74 and in this study the RFI of 1,7 is justified for the short distances, but on 1000 km the RFI is rather 3,0 due to the travel in high altitudes. However EASA is not making any differentiation, so we stick to 3,0 both on 500 and 1000 km. flying distances.

EEA write that the factor of 1.7 relates to a 100-year GWP and comes from the same EASA study. But it is not to find in the EASA study and must be a “political modification” of some sort.

How are occupancy rates calculated?

Again we are facing some weaknesses with the EEA report.

Occupancy rates is in figure 5.4 set to

  • Aviation: 80%
  • Passenger car: 1 passenger (study A 1,6)
  • Highspeed train: 66%
  • Intercity train: 36%

The railway occupancy rates are calculated in the Fraunhofer and CE Delft paper from average no. with highspeed trains and European IC trains (seems to include regional trains as well). Since datasets on occupancy rates are not more specific due to poor data from the railway industry, we have to make modifications. Above figures can ONLY BE WRONG, since railway data are mixed among most profitable lines with a large proportion of less profitable lines. The lines of interest of competition with European aviation is the MOST PROFITABLE and most USED lines with the best chance of high occupancy rates.

With cars it is not likely that the average occupancy rate is 1,0 person per car on distances 500-1000 km in Europe. EEA is also mentioning 1,5, as they used in 2014 or 1,6.

Let us go with these occupancy rates: Aviation: 80%, passenger car: 1,5 passengers, all international trains competing with aviation 500 and 1000 km: 70%

Now, let us stick to grams of CO2 per passenger kilometer. EEA is not against further calculations based upon their figures. The price per emitted ton of CO2 is in the report study B set to 100 EUR , so figure 5.4 can hereby be re-calculated. Lets see where that will take us.

The more real figure of climate impact based on study B

This is the re-estimated figure 5.4 with the aviation climate impact in grams CO2e, as it should be, and corrected with comparable occupancy rates:

  • Average fossil car: 111 grams CO2e per passenger kilometer (occ. rate: 1,5)
  • Electric car: 26 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 1,5)
  • International High speed train: 18 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,7)
  • International conventional electric train: 12 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,7)
  • A320 on a 500 km journey: 340 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,8 and GWP 3,0)
  • A320 on a 1000 km journey: 270 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,8 and GWP 3,0)

So per kilometer journey on European distances the rail journey is in the range of 22-28 times more climate friendly than aviation.

Sorry to say: This diagram is not what we wanted. We wished for a EEA endorsed and widely accepted calculation on this matter. Since that is not the case, this re-calculation is the second option to take.

What difference does it make – as long as trains is more eco-friendly than planes?
Does it make any significant difference if trains are 5, 10 or 20 times more eco-friendly than planes? Yes it does. The margin will provide room for investments and subsidies all the time as long as market prices are not reflecting the real ecological footprint. With a factor 20 more climate friendly railways, it makes a sound economy to engage in large infrastructure investments and big get-trains-on-the-tracks subsidies to follow the green climate decisions.

Other observations

Night trains in study B
Night trains are mentioned at page 66: “The same applies for the (re-)introduction of night trains, which could offer a strategy to deal with longer rail travel times.”  And on page 68: “Another strategy to deal with longer rail travel times for longer distances (e.g. between 800 and 1 200 km) is an increased use of night trains. The time and money cost of travel is then compensated for by saving the cost of hotel accommodation.”

The two EEA reports does not bring any new facts to the issue of “level playing field”. What could be a very precise figure to bring to daylight is this one:

The average price a transport operator pays per energy unit (for instance kilowatt-hour) to fuel an airplane in Europe and abroad (A1 jet fuel), compared with the price to pay for electricity to an electric train in Europe.

By not providing such a number, it is not possible to have a real picture of the unfair situation. The ETS is not convincing, and will not alone bring level playing field to the transport sector.

The construction of infrastructure
A cradle to grave approach is not used in the studies and neither the impacts from constructions are. It is mentioned, that such figures could be nice to have, but data are not available. But one place constructions are mentioned:

“For new investment in rail to be environmentally beneficial, the environmental impacts from the construction of infrastructure must be compensated for by the reduced environmental impacts made possible by the opening of the new rail link.” (page 19) This is an essential point, when arguing for rail investments, that they are climate-wise sound and justified. But no-where in the EEA report is mentioned new constructions (or extentions) of airports or construction of new motorways. Why not? Can we understand that EEA of course will ague against all extentions of infrastructure related to environmental harming means of transport? It would suit EEA to go open and call for a stop to all investments that will lead to environmental damage.

This article is made by Poul Kattler, Back-on-Track, in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has been (and still is) subject to revisions according to dialogue with the EEA.

Official start of the European Year of Rail – triggering a rail renaissance for Europe


Dear Minister Pedro Nuno Santos (Portugal), Dear Commissioner Adina Vălean,

The European Year of Rail could not have come at a more pivotal time. Passenger numbers are growing and public enthusiasm is surging, but rail services are still only patchy at best. With the right political and financial support, the European Year of Rail 2021 could trigger a climate-friendly train travel renaissance, with a truly connected European rail network that leaves no one behind.

Tackling the European Union’s contribution to climate breakdown will be impossible without a shift from air and road transport to rail. Nonetheless, while the share of rail passengers in EU transport has only slightly increased since 2007, air transport has grown dramatically and cars continue to make up over 70% of passenger transport. Despite its environmental benefits, rail is particularly underused in international travel: cross-border traffic accounts for less than 8% of rail passenger traffic. Boosting rail numbers will be instrumental for a green and just pandemic recovery.

We urge you to ensure the EU takes forward these five major steps, starting in 2021, rapidly moving towards a true European railway system that is a model for the world: 

  • Governments should identify at least 30 underexploited international routes with high potential, and begin plans to start new day-time and night trains running from end 2021. These plans should include seed funding, or cross-border Public Service Obligations, to guarantee services which are currently not financially viable, and the support of the European Commission. Most EU capitals are not connected via direct rail services. This is as true for cities in neighbouring countries, as it is for cities further apart or in peripheral regions. 
  • Governments and the EU should set up a funding programme to build a European pool of compatible rolling stock of international day-time trains and night trains. The cost of compatible rolling stock and the lack of supply because of chronic underinvestment are slowing down the renaissance of night trains in Europe, and the creation of sustainable and high quality jobs.
  • Governments and the EU should significantly increase investments in the upgrade and modernisation of existing railways, thus removing bottlenecks and improving cross-border regional rail. Neither existing national plans, nor the EU’s new transport budget will be sufficient to meet these goals.
  • The EU should create a legal framework to make travelling by train cheaper than flying (on comparable journeys). The EU should introduce a kerosene tax and cut unfair airport subsidies, and governments should reduce rail track access charges. The EU and Governments should also phase out domestic and cross-border short-haul flights where there is a convenient night train or a day-time connection.
  • The EU and governments should ensure rail operators guarantee all passenger needs and rights, from specific assistance to low income families and people with reduced mobility, to a common Europe-wide booking system for rail tickets, and uninterrupted passenger rights on international trips. 

Funding and other measures to support a shift from air and road to rail, and to increase cross-border rail, should be at the heart of national recovery and resilience plans. And the European Commission should monitor these plans to ensure they are. 

We believe the people of Europe deserve a Europe-wide railway system that meets their needs, while boosting a shift from air and road to rail. The EU should seize this opportunity to start building the foundations of a European body with a responsibility to oversee and coordinate international rail, starting with the creation of a European timetable and the allocation of tracks to operators.

To help trigger a rail renaissance in Europe, we call on you to support the measures listed above in the Council of the EU and in the preparation of the European Commission’s forthcoming action plan on cross border and long distance rail.

Without concerted and resolute political action, the European Year of Rail will do little to revive the fortunes of trains in Europe, just at the time when we need them most. After years of neglect, it is time to invest in an industry with a bright future. 

We remain available to discuss these matters further, at your earliest convenience. 

Yours sincerely, 

Magda Stoczkiewicz

Programme Director, Greenpeace European Unit

Also on behalf of:

Back on Track, the European network to promote cross border night trains
eco union
Instytut Spraw Obywatelskich
Natuur & Milieu
Réseau Action Climat

>> See the letter as pdf

Hop on the train: A Rail Renaissance for Europe

This is how a new publication from Germanwatch get started. It is giving a short and clear analysis, and shows good overall directions. Let us quote from the introduction:

While many actors are praising railways, the European rail systemis currently not in the best shape to take a central role in transport systems. In almost all EU member states, the importance of rail has declined over the last decades due to a heavy focus on road and aviation. Rail accounts for only 8% of passenger transport, and international rail services in particular are not sufficiently developed. Of the 365 cross-border rail links that once existed, 149 were non-operational in 2018, and today not even all European capital cities are linked by direct rail services. The rail system in the EU is currently not more than a patchwork of national systems, with no comprehensive European strategy.
In the European Year of Rail 2021, the Eu and national governments need to seize the opportunity to boost European rail services. This is an excellent moment for initiating a rail renaissance for the following reasons:

(1) Covid-19 has reshuffled transport systems and travelling habits;

(2) with the European Green Deal, the Eu economy is on the brink of a new era; and

(3) there is strong political support for rail from actors across the board.

The options for improving international rail are right in front of us on a silver platter. EU institutions and players tend to focus on infrastructure development, but this is expensive and time consuming. Also, rail infrastructure projects are often not matched with measures to simultaneously improve service quality to make efficient use of the new infrastructure. There are low-hanging fruits available to the EU which could boost international rail services immediately, without the need for large scale investments.

The publication focusses on three areas:

  • A European network: launch direct international services on European arteries
  • Easy booking: Make rail data sharing mandatory
  • Smart spending: Use EU money to improve rail infrastructure capacity and connectivity

>> Read the publication here