All posts by Poul

European sleeper

The Netherlands has got a new railway company: European Sleeper. The new railway company promises to introduce a night train from the Netherlands and Belgium from April 2022 that will run several times a week. If the plans goes ahead, it will be the first time since Lovers Rail (1996-1999) that a private railway company has entered the Dutch market. The new company does not want to say what the intended final destination is, it is expected to be announced in April.

Final destination
“We are talking with a renowned foreign open access railway company as a potential partner for the operation. As soon as these consultations enter the next phase, we can announce the final destination”, says co-initiator Elmer van Buuren. Together with Chris Engelsman, he is the driving force behind the initiative.

What Van Buuren already wants to reveal is that it is a popular destination for city trips, holidays and business trips and that a night train also ran there in the past. This is a destination that has been designated as a potential final destination by the Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid (KiM). “Our own market research also shows that there is sufficient potential for a night train to this destination,” says Van Buuren.

European Sleeper will not compete with existing night train initiatives. Van Buuren: “It will really be an addition to the existing train network, not a land grab.” In concrete terms, this means, according to Treinreiziger.nl, that Copenhagen, Prague, Warsaw or Milan should be the final destination of the new sleeper train. However, the initiators do not want to confirm this. Zurich, Munich and Vienna are also seen by KiM as potential final destinations, but ÖBB and NS are already aiming for that. Turin, which is also mentioned in the report, has not been connected to the night train network from the Netherlands in recent history.

>> Read the whole story in Treinreiziger.nl or

>> Go directly to the brand new homepage of the European sleeper

Petition: Link the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe with Night Trains

We ask the Spanish, French, and Portuguese governments (the latter of which is now taking presidency of the Council of the EU, in the first half of 2021 – The European Year of the Rail) to consider not only resuming the recently stopped Portugal-France night train connection, but also extending it to a major train hub in europe, such as Paris (or potentially Brussels), instead of reaching just Hendaye in the French-Spanish border.

We urge the Spanish and Portuguese governments to order their national rail companies to join the declaration of December 8th made by SNCF, DB, ÖBB and SBB in favor of building a new European night train network. 

Additionally, we urge the Spanish government to study new night train links between the Iberian Peninsula and centre/east Europe, such as Barcelona-Frankfurt-Berlin and Barcelona-Milan-Rome.

This is the appeal which Back-on-Track raises with a large petition on change.org. As it is said:

In March 2020, the last night trains ran the Lisbon-Madrid-Hendaye route, connecting the portuguese capital to the spanish one, and the french border. In May, Renfe announced the end of those connections. This policy goes against the current trend in Europe, where night trains are actually experiencing a revival, scoring new planned connections such as Zurich – Amsterdam, Vienna – Munich – Paris, Berlin – Brussels, Berlin – Paris being set up.

>> Sign the petition here

France to redevelop sleeper trains

The French transport minister wants «10 overnight lines by 2030»

The French transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, onboard a couchette coach in renovation – Picture: SNCF

4After having been neglected for a long time, French overnight trains now seem ready to take a new start. In France, only two domestic night trains remain today (Paris-Briançon and Paris-Rodez/Toulouse-Latour-de-Carol/Portbou), but the French government is preparing a stategy to redevelop new night trains in the coming years.

 After having axed many overnight connections these last years, this U-turn is motivated by the new public awareness about the climate impact of aviation (with the « flight shame » movement), the growing demand for low-carbon alternatives, and is inspired by the success of the new international night trains network (« Nightjet ») developped by the Austrian national company ÖBB, with connections all the way to Hamburg, Brussels and Rome. The pandemic also stresses the need to better equilibrate the transport offer in favor of smaller cities and rural areas, where more and more people wish to live. Because the French high-speed network is very centered on Paris, there is a lack of direct transverse overnight connections between remote regions (for example, the fastest train trip from Bordeaux to Nice is about 9 hours, which would be perfect for a night sleep).

First of all, the rolling stock for the remaining 2 lines existing today is being completely refurbished, to offer modern confort with wi-fi, more comfortable couchettes and better noise insulation. 44 million € are invested to renew 71 coaches, with couchettes and reclining seats. It was high time, since the rolling stock is about 40 years old and looks quite decrepit, although it is still very appreciated by regular users. But on the long term, it will be necessary to order the construction of brand-new trains because, even renovated, these couchette coaches probably won’t last much later than 2030.

In 2020, everything accelerated, with the French president Emmanuel Macron announcing his intention to « redevelop night trains », as part of the economic recovery plan. The return of the night trains Paris-Nice and Paris-Tarbes-Irun was announced, with 100 million € dedicated to these two new lines. 22 more old SNCF couchette coaches will be renovated, and more comfortable sleeper coaches might be rented from the Austrians or the Russians, in order to offer a comfort level in line with the new modern European standards, as proposed in the Nightjet, Thello, or Caledonian Sleeper trains. Covid permitting, the Paris-Nice connection is planned to start in April 2021, while Paris-Tarbes-Irun is programmed for December 2021.

The Paris-Nice will be a branch added to Paris-Briançon (as was the cas until 2017), while the Paris-Tarbes train will likely be a new branch of the line from Paris to Toulouse (but things are not settled yet about this line). For the moment, it is not sure whether the line Paris-Tarbes will continue to Irun, this may be the case only during the high summer season.

In december 2020, some more good news came from a joint statement of Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France, announcing an extension of the Austrian Nightjet network in the coming years. A new Paris-Munich-Vienna is due for December 2021, with Paris-Berlin following 2 years later, and Zurich-Perpignan-Barcelona at the end of 2024.

But the revival of French night trains won’t stop here : following an important mobilization of citizens, environmental associations and politicians during the debates of a transport law in 2019, the government accepted to lauch a study of possible new overnight connections. This study is about to be published soon, and some first elements were revealed last week : the transport minister wishes to have « 10 overnight trains by 2030 » (probably including the 2 existing lines, as well as Paris-Nice, Paris-Tarbes-Irun, Paris-Vienna and Paris-Berlin, meaning that about 4 more lines are to come).

The detailed routes of these possible new connections are not yet fixed, but the study has identified 4 interesting corridors : Bordeaux-Marseille, Tours-Lyon, Dijon-Marseille, and Paris-Toulouse. Along each corridor, a certain number of branches may be gathered to form a single train, meaning for example that on the corridor Dijon-Marseille, there could be a train with a branch from Metz and Strasbourg, an other from Lille, and the train could split in the South to serve Nice and Perpignan. The train Bordeaux-Marseille will very likely continue to Nice, the train Tours-Lyon will likely start somewhere in Brittany, Brest, Nantes or Quimper, and may head to Geneva or to the French ski resorts. Along the Paris-Toulouse line (where a night train already exists), new branches could be added to serve other destinations.

To operate these new night trains, new rolling stock will probably be necessary, and track renovations are planned in the coming years on some portions. Therefore, the time horizon for these new lines is probably between 2025 and 2030, hence the proclaimed ambition to have « 10 night trains by 2030 ». Financing and calendar are now being discussed between the different ministers, so the level of ambition is not yet completely decided.

The French activists group « Oui au train de nuit » (Yes to the night trains) welcomes this new development, which will be very positive for the climate and for the mobility between remote regions. But more propositions are expected concerning international trains, which are also supposed to be tackled by the study of the governement : connexions to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Prague and Copenhagen for example are missing for the moment. Also, some important transverse corridors have been neglected, for example between Brittany (Rennes, Nantes, Quimper) and the South-West (Bordeaux, Toulouse, Perpignan, Hendaye), or between the South-West, Lyon and Geneva. The activists group also pushes for more rural regions like the center mountaineous region of « Auvergne » not to be forgotten : there, cities like Aurillac or Millau are very isolated and deserve at least an overnight connection to Paris.

Sleeper train network suggested by “Oui au train de nuit” for 2030, with 15 national lines and 15 european lines

To show the potential for night trains to link the French regions between them and to connect them to Europe, « Oui au train de nuit » proposes a vision for 2030 with 15 domestic overnight lines (some of them slightly crossing the borders, for example to Geneva or Brussels), and 15 international lines, going all the way to Lisbon, Malmö or Budapest. The launch of this network by 2030 would represent an investment of about 1.5 billion €. For these lines, a possible timetable has been designed, and a study estimated that this network could attract more than 10 million passengers per year, mostly shifted from planes and cars, thus representing an important saving of CO2. The aim in the coming months is to ask the regions to take position on these propositions, so that night trains become an important topic in the debate for the regional elections, planned in June 2021. Stay tuned ! More informations on www.ouiautraindenuit.wordpress.com.

European Year of Rail to set substantial ambitions

Back on Track’s demands for 2021 – the European Year of Rail

The European Union has declared 2021 to be the European Year of Rail! We as Back on Track, the European network to promote cross border night trains, strongly support this initiative. Accelerating climate change, unsustainable travel patterns and years of railway negligence and cutbacks require immediate action.

– Back on Track is during 2021 expecting a statement of the governments of each Member country of the European Union, in which way they will support night trains and cross-border day trains, also taking into account neighboring countries outside the EU. 

– Back on Track demands, both from the EU and from each member state, a statement on a binding goal for the share of train/road/planes passenger transport in 2030, 2040 and 2050.

– Back on Track is demanding a common booking platform.

– Back on Track is glad the revised passenger rights regulation has been put forward, but we call for significant improvements with regards to through-ticketing for international journeys.

– Back on Track is urging the EU commission to develop mechanisms to provide a good quality rolling stock pool, accessible for companies providing night train services.

We are looking forward to a good cooperation of railway companies in all Member states of the European Union, as well as neighboring countries, for developing night train and cross-border services.

How the 2021 European Year of Rail can support the European Green Deal

Germanwatch together with the Civil Affairs Institute, ProRail, France Nature Environment, eco-union, Ecodes and Transport&Environment has published a new paper on the challenges of the European Rail system and what has to be done in order to improve it – especially during the Year of Rail.

The 28 pages report is giving a good picture of the situation in Europe, and gives a good priority of the work ahead. Let us quote, and you will find the link to the report below.

While many actors are praising railways, the European rail system is 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. (…)

Currently, the main obstacles to international services are according to the report:

  • National perspective: incumbent operators focus on their national market (especially on lucrative main routes) and often lack an international vision and experience (e.g. market potential, administrative). Trains stop at ‘at every haystack’, which might make sense from a national perspective, but leads to additional travel times for international services.
  • Administrative hurdles make international services less attractive for operators. For example: they need to apply for track capacity with various infrastructure managers; drivers are required to speak several languages; and rolling stock needs to be designed and licensed for different national electricity, signalling and safety systems. (…)

Vision: Agree on a comprehensive network of European day and night trains, with trains crossing external EU borders into the neighbourhood (especially to the UK, Western Balkans, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia).

>> Find the report here

EU Report 2021 about night trains

After request from the EU-Parliament in 2020 DG MOVE announced for consultancies, to make the actual work.

Main contractor is Steer Davies and Gleeve Ltd (see announcement)

Sub contractor is a Berlin based company, the name cannot be released right now.

The contract was signed in December. In the beginning of January there was a kick-off meeting, that gave input to some clarifications.

STEER is in January 2021 preparing a revised overview of the work. In February they will start to talk with stakeholders on all levels, incl. passenger representatives.

Early September DG MOVE and STEER will present results on a conference, maybe on-line? Short time to integration of learnings from the public consultation and the report will be final by mid-September.

Night trains: Much more, much wider

Press release from Back-on-Track, European network to promote cross-border and night trains

The todays press conference on enhanced cooperation between DB (Germany), ÖBB (Austria), SBB (Switzerland) and SNCF (France) introduced an expansion of ÖBB’s NightJet network of night trains, showing the right way forward when it comes to alternatives to flying in Europe. Modern night trains can replace many flights within the range of 500 to 1.500 km, as passengers can sleep while being transported in an environmentally friendly way. Since its founding in 2015, Back on Track has advocated for this transport solution: Night trains are necessary elements in a 24-hour European train network.

Despite our joy at the good intentions and strong ambitions demonstrated at today’s press conference, there is a strong need for the initiative to grow in volume and spread to more regions in Europe.

The cooperation must not be exclusive to those who arranged the press conference. Partners who want to contribute to the future network of night trains must have the option to do so. The EU as a supranational actor can contribute with investments and coordination; 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 regions that also need to be included in concrete plans for new night train services are:

  • The Iberian Peninsula; with Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona
  • Scandinavia; with Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo
  • Eastern Europe; with Belgrade, Budapest and Bucharest

We very much hope that tomorrow’s announcement by the European Commission on “Green Mobility” will show that the EU is a worthy and dedicated partner in the necessary development of Europe’s railways and night trains as a follow-up to what was presented today.

Contact:

Joachim Holstein (DE), joachim.holstein@mac.com

Nicolas Forien (FR), nicolasforien@yahoo.fr

Poul Kattler (DK), poul@kattler.dk

Belgium Back-on-Track, belgium@back-on-track.eu

>> Pick the press release as pdf (English)

>> Watch the press conference here (German):
>> See the German ministers press release

This is the last slide from the presentation today (or pick the slide here):

Almost two thirds (!) support a ban of short haul flights

There is an extremely interesting new poll by the “EUPinions” Institute (which seems rather neo-liberal, certainly no eco-leftist propaganda…) on the ideas of Europeans on climate protection. Some of the data is really interesting for trains:

Almost two thirds (!) support a ban (not just higher taxes!) of short haul flights – with an far reaching definitition of “short”: We would not have dared to set a 12 hour train trip as the limit here…

It seems that we have a majority of people in Europe behind us if we demand a ban on short-haul flights – which we would not have expected. Let’s go for it!

The questions in the survey were designed by the research team of Europe’s Stories, a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at the European Studies Centre, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, in consultation with the experts of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s eupinions survey. The poll was conducted between September 7th and September 28th 2020 as part of the quarterly eupinions wave, using their usual methodology. In all 27 EU member states and the United Kingdom, over 13,000 respondents between the ages of 16 and 69 were surveyed.

>> Look at the report

Made by Andi!? TEE 2.0

How the German Minister of Transport reinvents the sleeping car and the trans-European railway

This is a translation of the original interview in NachDenkSeiten, and published with permission from this on-line magazine.

Crazy times: Practically out of nowhere, Andreas Scheuer discovered the advantages of an integrated European rail transport system for himself – with “fast through connections”, regular-interval timetables and night trains. The Federal Minister of Transport presented corresponding business games to his EU colleagues the week before. For Joachim Holstein, the concept appears to be copied from passenger associations. The railway activist meets the change of heart of the CSU “car man” with a mixture of confidence and scepticism. Even nonsense projects like Stuttgart 21 are still on the government agenda, he remarks in an interview with NachDenkSeiten. Ralf Wurzbacher spoke with him. 

About the person

Joachim Holstein, born in 1960, was a night train attendant with Deutsche Bahn until the state-owned company withdrew the “City Night Line” type of train from service at the end of 2016, in order to offer only thinned-out night transport in seating carriages from then on. Holstein is involved in various rail and passenger initiatives, including “Pro Bahn”, “Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn” and the European “Back on Track” network, which is specifically committed to the establishment and expansion of cross-border night train services. (https://back-on-track.eu)

Interview

Mr Holstein, on Monday of the previous week, Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) slipped into a role that was untypical for him: as the mastermind of a trans-European railway. He presented corresponding business games at a “rail summit” with the participation of his EU colleagues as well as representatives of the EU Commission and various railway companies. The core of the plans is the revival of the Trans-Europ-Express (TEE), which was discontinued more than 30 years ago, and which operated between the states of the European Economic Community (EEC) as well as Austria and Switzerland from 1957 to 1987. This was the model for the future high-speed and night trains to provide “fast through connections” to many major cities. Were you too amazed by all this?

Oh yes, because it is more than strange that Mr Scheuer suddenly changes from brakeman to pioneer. So far, the Federal Government and Deutsche Bahn have responded with rejection to every initiative to improve European rail transport. Most recently, just a few weeks ago, when the Swedish and Danish governments presented their concept for night trains from Stockholm to Hamburg-Berlin and from Malmö to Brussels, combined with start-up financing. German government immediately made it clear that there would be no start-up aid in Germany. They are spending billions on Lufthansa and the car industry, but not a cent on European trains.

People are capable of change

That’s for sure! In any case, after three months of the Council Presidency, a concept suddenly appears which reads like “Rail for all”, “Back on Track” and so on. We have been calling for cooperation instead of competition from the state railways, a European vehicle pool and a customer-friendly booking platform for rail travel from Narvik to Lisbon and from Glasgow to Athens for years! If you look at the night train connections known as “EuroNight” in the Scheuer paper and add to this the “Lunaliner” night train network presented by “Bahn für alle” and “Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn” in 2016, the similarities are astounding.

Nevertheless, the press material of his ministry states that the concept is based on Scheuer’s “initiative” …

So vanity probably won out over honesty. Usually well-informed sources from the ministry or the DB group – we always call them “Max Mole” – report that Jean-Pierre Farandou, who was appointed head of the French state railway SNCF last year, was the driving force behind the concept during his time there, when he was responsible for international business. Farandou is a railwayman from the ground up, something that is no longer known in the Berlin railway tower. And the media might have noticed during the presentation that the slides of the consulting agency are from January 2020, so it’s not a fluffy rush as a reaction to corona measures, but there’s more behind it.

But should the real originator or originators simply put up with the fact that the „Car Guy” Scheuer, of all people, is adorned with their feathers?

During the live streams of Scheuer’s press briefing before and the press conference afterwards, someone should have jumped out of the scenery every two minutes and asked: “Who invented it? Imagine that: Scheuer not only presented the TEE concept as a German idea, but also called Germany the best railway country and quasi the inventor of the regular interval timetable. So if I were Swiss, Dutch or Austrian …

The paper reads somewhat differently. At least it admits that other countries are already using the planning methods that are now being projected and already have a high-frequency network of long-distance trains. After all, we only have this on a few lines, but since the abolition of the Interregios it is no longer available overall.

I do not know what happened at the conference itself, which was not transmitted. But I assume that everything was clarified in advance to such an extent that all EU transport ministers were able to support the concept. Many of them have been annoyed for years with Germany as a brakeman, whether it be Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands or Austria. Now, when Scheuer plays the hero at his home game, they might say to themselves: “Well, if it helps.”

And has it helped? Apart from the question of copyright: How did you like the content of Scheuer’s lecture?

Mostly good – because most of it meets the requirements of railway initiatives. It is a recognised fact that transfer-free connections are better than multiple transfers with scarce connections. The same applies to the fact that crazy hurdles caused by different standards in different countries have to be removed – in my car I don’t have to change tyres at the border and buy a different warning triangle. And we have been preaching for years that night trains can travel 2,000 kilometres and thus replace not only short but also medium-haul flights.

So there is nothing to complain about?

Well, for many things I have to say: you could have done all this years ago. – That has happened before, and the German government and DB have just ruined it. – One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and a single TEE per day on long-haul routes doesn’t make a regular service. This would require additional TEEs at least every two hours, even in sections.

Without going into too much detail: It is true that a large part can be implemented “practically immediately”, i.e. with the next timetable change that has not yet been planned through. I only discovered one serious mistake: The night train from Amsterdam to Venice and Genoa is to be put on the fast track between Cologne and Frankfurt, which is technically impossible.  Only the special ICE3, where every second axle is driven, can manage this (steep) roller coaster line.

Are there any other horsefeet?

Scheuer clearly waves with the magic wand that the TEE concept in its second stage would only be possible if major projects such as Stuttgart 21, the Fehmarnbelt tunnel and a Tempo-300 line between Hanover and Bielefeld were built, and without complaints from the citizens. As in the discussion about the “Germany Tact”, the suspicion arises that a concept that is perceived as positive by people is to be misused as a lever to push through useless or even harmful construction projects – and the annoying citizen protests are to be dealt with at the same time. Please not like this!

How then?

In a recent NDR report, it was shown very clearly that citizens do not want to be obstructors, but creators. For the Hanover-Bielefeld link there was a route concept agreed between regional politicians and citizens’ initiatives, but this was rejected by Berlin. And take Stuttgart 21: Interested companies, media houses and politicians are happy to put the symbolic yucky beetle in the foreground – because they do not want to talk about the destruction of railway infrastructure, the deterioration of connections and the fire-dangerous construction.

So I see demagogy coming towards us according to the principle: “Yes, if you want to have European trains, then you have to …”. I would then say: yes, then we must get rid of the many small bottlenecks. Then we need a few switches here, like in Frankfurt, a second overhead line there, like in Strasbourg, so that normal ICE trains can also go there, or passing tracks – all more sensible, cheaper and much more efficient than the orgies in concrete and the celebration of new top speeds beyond 250 km/h.

The Federal Administrative Court (BVG) in Leipzig is currently hearing several lawsuits by environmentalists against the planned Fehmarnbelt crossing. In the EU planning games for a “trans-European long-distance network” (TEN-T), the megaproject represents “an essential element of the central north-south axis between Scandinavia and Central Europe“. Are the fine sayings about borderless rail travel by day and night just a can opener for gigantism and moneymaking?

You have to be suspicious of that. After all, we have seen in many places how figures and forecasts have been artfully juggled in order to make construction projects appear sensible which, when viewed correctly, are useless or even harmful. This ranges from the 2nd main line of the Munich S-Bahn via Stuttgart 21 and the Frankfurt city tunnel to the Thüringer-Wald underground, i.e. the ICE line Erfurt-Nuremberg. Fictitious goods train traffic has been included to make it appear economical. And everywhere better alternatives were ignored.

And this is repeated in the Fehmarnbelt?

It’s not exactly as if the capacities there were not sufficient, there was only one train every four hours and the ferries easily managed the car and truck traffic. The reason given for crossing the Belt is “expected demand” – but this alleged demand is the additional traffic induced by new construction. With the Fehmarn tunnel comes the fact that the ferry operators do not give up without a fight and have a weighty argument on their side: The truck drivers can take their rest on board. This is not possible in the tunnel. And with the railways, trains can already pass through from Lapland to southern Italy, they have to run via Funen and Jutland. The biggest bottleneck there is the Rendsburg high bridge, with a six-kilometre diversion, sometimes at a leisurely pace. So where does that leave the tunnel project and the upgrading of the other routes? Less concrete, less profit, less interest than the Belt?

After all, the project has only partly grown on German dung …

And the fact that the Scandinavian side is obviously wildly determined to build the tunnel is of course a comfortable situation for the German side. But they were ready to negotiate a new line south of Puttgarden. The single-track Fehmarnsund Bridge is a listed building, and Baltic seaside resorts are to be disconnected from the railway for a new track along the Lübeck-Oldenburg motorway.

And Hamburg’s main railway station would be even more congested than it already is because the connecting curve to the south is only single-track and the line from Lübeck to Lüneburg with a branch towards Berlin is single-track and not electrified. An extension – the first since 1878! – was not included in the Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan 2030 “because of high investment costs”. The new TEE concept therefore also envisages the TEE Stockholm-Berlin-Munich and the EuroNight Stockholm-Berlin-Budapest from Lübeck via Bad Kleinen and Schwerin. However, this still requires the laying of an overhead line and the construction of a connecting curve in Bad Kleinen. It is the usual: A prestige project here – a lot of patchwork there. Instead of approaching an infrastructure as an overall plan, as Switzerland does.

After all, Switzerland is regarded as the great model of a functioning interval traffic system. How far away from this ideal is the promised “Deutschland-Takt”, which according to the German government aims to double passenger numbers by 2030?

Approximately as far as the German telephone network from a nationwide broadband expansion, which is the responsibility of the same ministry. But polemics aside and to cut a long story short: For a nationwide Integral Timetable (ITF), many platform edges and independent access tracks are needed, and for a doubling of the number of passengers, many additional trains and personnel are needed. Unfortunately, Germany is far from achieving this.

Do you have an example of this?

The S21-critical “Engineers 22” are a good place to read up on the subject.

If you look at the “timetable rosette” that Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hesse – a member of “Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn” – has drawn up on the basis of the BMVI target timetable 2030 for Stuttgart, you can see that the opposite of an ITF is planned here, given the fairly even distribution of arrivals and departures over the 60 minutes. This is what happens when decisions are made without any sense or reason, but with political bias and sympathy for tunnel boring machine manufacturers and construction companies. Switzerland, on the other hand, has planned the other way around: There, the timetable was first drawn up and then it was analysed where which construction measures were necessary to achieve the travel times between the nodes that would make sense for an ITF.

They say that you learn from your mistakes. So shouldn’t the German government, which has been the same for seven years, have a lot of room for improvement in terms of rail policy?

A learning process actually involves identifying and naming mistakes. But there is a huge lack of this, from railway privatisation to going public and the unreasonable construction projects to night trains. As is well known, these were abolished against our better judgment. At the beginning of 2015, Ulrich Homburg, the railway board member responsible for passenger transport at the time, told the Bundestag transport committee about night trains: “Stable demand situation. The trains are well booked”. He thus admitted that the railway had lied to the public – and to its owner – with its years of talk of allegedly declining demand and a dying niche. Figures were available which proved the opposite, and the changes to the night train concept put into effect by DB 2015 even led to an increase in passenger numbers of over ten percent in 2016, in some areas of over 50 percent. Every additional car that DB built into the night trains was booked out in no time at all and permanently!

Despite this, the division came to an end in December 2016. Ronald Pofalla, member of the Board of Management of Deutsche Bahn, explained the reasoning at the time: “Night trains are totally uneconomical”

You have to imagine in 2014, Deutsche Bahn asked its night train customers what they would do if night trains did not exist. Three quarters said, fly, drive a car, not travel at all. Only one quarter wanted to or could change to the ICE. In its “target group analysis” at the time, the railways defamed travellers who wanted to travel in an environmentally friendly way or were not allowed to fly for medical reasons as “flight phobics and railway nostalgics”. At the same time, the most solvent and time-sensitive clientele – long-distance commuters, business travellers, scientists and politicians – was completely ignored. Of course, they did not switch to the night-time ICE trains to travel to meetings or lectures, but they were happy if their route was one of those on which the Austrian Federal Railways continued to operate with the rolling stock purchased from DB. Otherwise, they were gone as customers. The owner would have had to give a management that operates in such a way against its customers and its client much earlier. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” once commented on this with the sentence: “So stupid to simply let the board of directors work would not be a private investor.

What gives you hope that something like sense and reason will now come into railway policy?

Times have changed. In the meantime, ÖBB is desperately looking for used vehicles to cover its needs and to expand its network until its new fleet is put on the rails. The Swiss SBB wants to rent sleeping and couchette cars, private operators are building a night train from Sylt to the Alps within weeks and since Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future there have been many articles in the media about night trains that were really researched instead of just printing the DB-voice. I am sure that no Mr Pofalla would be able to stand up today and declare the night trains to be over.

But if a Mr. Scheuer, of all people, were to stand up and suddenly announce the comeback of the night trains, surely there would be some remaining doubts?

Let’s wait and see. In the midst of the colleagues there was already a sarcastic remark in 2016 that after five or ten years some highly paid external consultants would recommend a totally innovative concept to DB: sleeping on the train! And it took less than four years for the German government to want to introduce night trains again. But the construction is of course exciting, because a joint operating company for these international trains is proposed, which should be open to other railway companies. This is already going in the direction of the “United Railways of Europe”, as Bernhard Knierim and Winfried Wolf outlined in their book “Abgefahren” (“Departed”), which was published about a year ago.

What would be the advantages?

These European trains are to be promoted by the EU, because higher requirements are imposed on rolling stock approved for several power and signalling systems than on rolling stock that runs in only one country. However, this would also allow higher volumes to be produced economically, because then, for example, Danish and Spanish railways would be able to order the same type of EU sleeping car as German and Dutch railways. The other countries, the other railways, the demands of the environmental movement and the persistent work of large and small organisations – “Back on Track” has been to Brussels several times, has organised a number of conferences with railway representatives, politicians and activists and organised actions in half of Europe – have, so to speak, put the previous brakemen under such pressure that they are now suddenly committed to promoting Europe-wide rail transport.

We must now ensure that this does not remain just fine words and sketches on paper, but that this project is taken forward and expanded. Because, as I said, one TEE per day and direction does not yet make any regular service and there is still a long way to go before we have a nationwide night train network and a simple booking system.

EU transport ministers meet to discuss improvements on trains

German federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer invited the fellow EU Transport Ministers to a special meeting Monday, September 21. The meeting continued the train positive initiative, originated from the Dutch government half a year ago. A formal council meeting is yet to come.

In an interview with the “Berliner Morgenpost”, Andreas Scheuer stated that he intends to propose a network of high-speed trains and night trains known as “TransEuropExpress 2.0” at this meeting. Fortunately this is not an ‘utopia’ vision, but a rather practical approach to faster and better inter-EU train services, both day and night.

He say among other things: Within the framework of the German EU Council Presidency, I will present our concept for a modern cross-border rail transport together with my EU colleagues, the EU Commission and railroad companies. The TransEuropExpress (TEE) 2.0 project will make Europe more climate-friendly.

We want to connect Europe’s major cities better with high-speed trains and night trains. It is all about fast and continuous train connections. What is needed are trains that are comfortably equipped and can be used across borders. We need an EU funding program for this. We also need to set up a digital booking platform through which European rail connections can be booked.

A network for high-speed and night train services could be in place by 2025.

>> Read Mr. Scheuers presentation in English.

Report shall advice upon Cross-border night trains

During the same period of time DG-MOVE (the EU-Commissions department of transportation) prepared a proces on behalf of the EU-Parliament to have a report made of Revitalisation of Cross-border Night Trains.

They received 13 tenders. The London based consultancy company Steer Davies and Gleeve was awarded as contractor.

>> Read about the EU decision here