All posts by Poul

The future of the night trains? – hearing in Switzerland

This question is at the heart of umverkehR-hearing last night in Bern. For the approximately 60 guests who followed the discussion quickly became clear from the statement of Armin Weber (head of International Passenger SBB division), that the night train are not offered a strategic priority neither by SBB nor by the DB. With SBB, the current focus is on long-distance traffic during daytime that can be served by high-speed trains in a radius of 4-6 hours.

haering-BernBoth Joachim Holstein (Workers representative DB ERS) as well as Jürg Streuli (railway journalist) pleaded for considering night trains as an integral part of the whole range of railway companies and to take not just individual routes into view and economically analyze. Night trains satisfy a specific demand that can be satisfied by day trains. On the other hand, night trains are also suppliers for day trains, which would not be posted to the same extent if the night trains no longer existed. Demand for night trains is good, although this is hardly invested in visibility or advertising.

Aline Trede (Co-President umverkehR) pointed out in the discussion on the lack of political will to keep the night trains. The Federal Council would have the possibility to define a strategic objective for SBB a minimum range of night trains, contrary to their own statements. SBB could provide this offer in cooperation with other railway companies. But until now the political will lacks to actually promote sustainable travel and to ensure a level playing field between the different modes. Armin Weber finally pleaded for an equal treatment of transport, and thus that the tax concessions for the airports and bus routes are canceled. Only then would it be possible for a railway company as the SBB, maintain a wide range of connections.

The hearing has shown that a political and entrepreneurial room for maneuver exists to keep the night trains in the future. At the same time there was expressed concern that there is a risk due to the outdated rolling stock that suddenly no night trains will run because the cars cannot drive any more.

Therefore umverkehR Calls:

  1. that the Federal Council demands a minimum of night train in its strategic objectives for SBB.
  2. that the SBB with other railway companies (notably DB) maintain the existing Night Train offer from/to Switzerland and improves the quality.
  3. that the SBB involves financially in the acquisition of new rolling stock.
  4. that the SBB is working towards that a Europe-wide timetable and ticket platform is set up, which enables customers to get easy access to cross-border train services and to view and to purchase tickets for all cross-border rail travel online and at the counter.
  5. that the SBB will look for better conditions for night trains so their operations can become even more commercial.

The hearing was on 22.10. between 17.00 and 19:00

>> Read more

11.114 signatures handed over in Switzerland

umverkehR has 30.9. handed over 11’114 signatures from the petition “Save the night train” organised together with other organizations (IGöV, Green Party, Pro Velo, Pro Bahn, Young Green, JUSO, foot traffic Switzerland) to the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) in Bern. With the petition, umverkehR urged the Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard and the SBB to keep the remaining night train to reinstall the closed lines. The aim is to develop a sustainable strategy for the international rail passenger transport.

>> Read morepetition-in-Bern

Supporting rail means supporting our economy and citizens

Transport White Paper from CER and EPF concludes:

Passenger associations and railways share a common vision: a European rail sector that is the backbone of a seamless, multimodal and accessible transport system, an enabler for the competitiveness, inclusiveness and sustainability of the European economy.

Effective steps need to be taken to turn the White Paper’s objectives into reality, and the railways are committed to achieving a situation where the rail sector advances technological innovation and new service models in areas such as ticketing, travel information and real-time information for customers.

By continually embracing technological and societal changes, the sector works towards increased passenger care and service quality in order to better meet the needs and expectations of its customers.

>> Take a look at the White Paper, published 9.9. 2015

Debate: A good ticket policy a part of a good integrated train system

Variable prices and non-refundable train tickets. It has become daily business in European railways. Even if Intercity trains run every hour, the ticket at 2 pm can be much cheaper than on the 1pm train. The system is copying what is known from airlines. An online system is auctioning tickets, cheap tickets are possible three months ahead, but if you at a given day book four tickets the price is already going considerable up in relation to one – you yourself increase demand – a very sensible system! You stop the computer and try again later with one ticket. And now is the price is again reduced. Prices go up and down, and finally they reach full fare. Suddenly a good bargain on first class will appear?

And don’t forget: Tickets are only valid to the specific train. Do you lose the train, and pick up the next, the ticket is lost, and you have to pay a new ticket to full fare. That is a very unpleasant surprise to many travelers. Do you experience this too many times, you are not going to be a happy railway costumer.

A stiff timetable with trains in a ½ hour, 1 hour and 2 hours schedule fortunately exists in many countries; even Germany is looking into this option. Passengers love it. One of the best known examples is in Switzerland, where the system is perfect. But as in Switzerland it makes no sense to introduce stiff timetables together with variable and non-refundable tickets. Passengers will soon learn to hate such a ticket system.

In Denmark we have a system close to the “good old one” – tickets to flat rates related to distance, and refundable. But prices are very high, and only as regular commuter you get a cheap fare (minimum for 30 days on a specific line). Those who travels rather often, but not on daily basis, does not get any rebates. Our new, and sophisticated “Travelcard” makes rebates to frequent travelers but in zones and very un-transparent. We have considerable rebates to students and retired persons. DSB does sell some online cheap tickets on not so popular departures (Orange tickets), and they are non-refundable. But the market share of Orange tickets is rather small.

In Switzerland you can rather cheap get a half fare card (or SwizzPass) for 185 Francs valid for one year. That is a good bargain, and makes it easier to quit the car, and just rely on the very efficient railway network. This is exactly the whole idea. And tickets from the ticket machines are valid all day, forget about which train, and forget about seat reservations, there is normally seats to all in the big trains. This is combined with commuter cards optimal! It gives us a feeling that public transportation is a real network, and that the system cares for you! A train running late? No, problem, the next will come shortly, your ticket is fine and your connection will be re-established.20150706_134845

Full fare tickets in Switzerland are not cheap. But half fare is ok.

Off course there are additional systems to the main system in Switzerland. In the Cantons tourists can obtain 5-6 days travel passes, there are also local “free fare” systems. But none of this is breaking the major principles.

Leave the variable prices and discount offers to busses and plains

Railways across Europe should learn from Switzerland. Both regarding rail investments, rail quality and ticketing system.

Auctioning tickets is very unpleasant. You wouldn’t expect such systems in urban traffic, would you? Why in Intercity traffic? Leave such systems to other kind of traffic, where they do not belong to a network. It may look cheap at the first place, but is stressful, inflexible and may show up as the most expensive solution.

Poul Kattler

Copenhagen, Danmark

Climate Trains will run to Paris in December

This alliance will support charter trains to the COP21 in Paris.

climate-express-cphIt is our intention to influence the political demands brought to Paris both on the official conference and on the NGO-summit. We need to bring demands about CO2 friendly transportation and railways into the meeting rooms and to the posters on the streets of Paris.

These initiatives are known to us right now:

>> UIC Train to Paris (main event 28.11. – no precise info yet)

>> Swizz Klima allianz (11-13. of Dec.)

>> Climate Train from Norway

>> Climate-Express (Belgium)

Unfortunately there will not run any such services from Sweden or Denmark…

Status for cross border passenger traffic efter five years of open market

On 17 June 2015 national rail operators, industry experts, representatives from border regions and members of the European Commission came together to discuss with the RoCK partners “Where do we stand after five years of open-market international rail passenger transport?”

The Dutch organizer Gösta Weber said among others: “The problem is that transport organisations don’t have the right objectives to work with one another and that little consideration is given to neighbouring countries or travellers themselves and where they want to go.”

MEP Michael Cramer, Chair of the TRAN Committee on Transport and Tourism, underlined Irwin’s statement: “The gaps are where the borders are, and it is up to governments to foster activities that help these gaps to disappear.”

The conference i Brussels on 17.6. 2015 was organized by RoCK (Regions of Connected Knowledge), and members of the Back on Track network participated.

>> Read the summary from the conference

Climate-friendly by trains from Denmark to Germany soon as a thing of the past

18.8. 2015

To the Transport Committee with the Danish Parliament and to the Minister of Transport and Public Works

>> Annex with quotes from DSB about these issues

With the time table for 2015 it became more difficult to choose to travel climate friendly and comfortably by train from Denmark to Germany and the rest of Europe, as the popular night train disappeared.

The outlook for rail travel to Europe is only worsened since then: All while commissioning of a Fehmarn tunnel is delayed and remain uncertain, the existing connections with day trains will not be maintained, and DSB rejects to reintroduce a night train; which DB else would like to run again in a new, though reduced version.

To our inquiry DSB calls a political statement about the southbound international train traffic.

If politicians find that is should be possible to drive by train to Europe in the future, then it is high time that DSB will know!


BR 605 in Nykøbing Falster en route to Berlin. Picture Tjalfe Bjørnson.

As shown in the attached Annex, the German railways, DB, wanted to reinstate an international night trains with sleeping and couchette cars to Denmark in a new and reduced version from May 2016 and only in the high season from May to September. It’s not ideal, but still an improvement upon the status quo. DSB, however, has not responded to the request.

At the same time DSB has announced the that the combination of track works on the line to Rødby from 2017 and the retirement of the German-Danish DMUs BR 605 will mean reductions in train services Copenhagen – Hamburg and cancellation of Copenhagen – Berlin from the timetable change in December 2016 and later reductions Aarhus – Hamburg (albeit in a year will have improved conditions due to double track in southern Jutland). From Copenhagen we will fear that there might only be three daily connections, and perhaps with longer travel time via regional train to Nykøbing F and here change trains to IC3 train further on to Hamburg.

During this time span, travelers from Zealand and Sweden completely forget that they can drive the train to Germany. For immediate harm to the climate (air traffic is completely unchallenged from Denmark) and to the detriment of the introduction of an upcoming Fehmarn connection.

We call for the minister and Parliament to clarify to the DSB that train connections to Germany should be upgraded and not downgraded in the coming years. We ask the Minister to supervise that this political wish already should be reflected in the DSB timetables from December 2015.

With kind regards

Council for Sustainable Traffic

Kjeld A. Larsen (chairperson)

Poul Kattler (board member)

Niels Wellendorf (board member)

Action weekend June 2015

No more cuts – develop Europe’s long-distance rail!

Weekend of Action took place 19–21 June 2015

The European rail system could be the most connected, convenient, accessible and environment-friendly way of travelling across the continent. But many international rail services have been cut back or stopped completely in the last few years, including the popular night train routes Berlin – Brussels – Paris, Copenhagen – Basel, Paris – Madrid and Barcelona – Milan, and direct daytime trains such as Krakow – Berlin/Prague. And more trains are threatened.

Despite the focus on climate change with this year’s UN summit in Paris, greenhouse gas emissions from transport continue to rise as people travel more and more by car and plane, in part because it has become so difficult to take the train for medium- to long-distance trips.

Actions took place at:

  • DK – København (Copenhagen)
  • DK – Odense
  • D – Berlin
  • D – Hamburg
  • D – Dortmund
  • D – Bochum
  • D – Koblenz
  • F – Paris
  • CH – Basel
  • CH – Bern
  • CH – Solothurn
  • CH – Moudon
  • CH – Genf (Geneva)
  • CH – Lugano
  • A – Wien (Vienna)
  • E – Madrid
  • E – Cuenca
  • E – Alcoy

>> Pictures from actions are uploaded to Flickr hére!

Take a look at our online toolkit for similar actions.

Weekend of Action to put European rail #backontrack

International press release

In response to continued cuts to the cross/border rail services in Europe – including night train routes such as Berlin–Brussels–Paris, Copenhagen – Prague and Barcelona – Milan – continent/wide actions over the weekend aimed to kick/start a turnaround in transport policy.

At Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, activists set out folding beds with cards stamped with the names of places no longer accessible by rail. The action was timed to coincide with the arrival of the first relaunched Russian Railways service from Moscow to Paris, reconnecting Berlin and Paris overnight albeit on a greatly reduced schedule compared with the daily City Night Line service scrapped in December 2014.

Parallel actions took place in Basel, Bern, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Geneva, Hamburg, Madrid, Odense (DK), Paris and Vienna over the weekend ending Sunday. 21 June. Events took place in a total of 11 cities in 6 different countries.

>> BackOnTrack_International-press-release (pdf)

Petition: No more cuts – Develop Europe’s long-distance rail!

A European petition is initiated and is aimed to run all the way to the Paris Climate Summit COP21, which takes place early December 2015.

Find the very same petition here in English, in Germanin Danish, in Norwegian, in French, in Swedish, in Spanishin Esperanto and this is the promise Back on Track has made to the (hopefully) many, who will sign:

The Back on Track coalition will take your opinion to the rail companies and to EU together with some more practical proposals.

1) No more cuts – maintain all cross-border long-distance services at least at current levels (regional and long distance services)
2) Direct trains shall be established between major cities in all European countries, both by day and by night
3) National rail companies shall cooperate with each other, rather than competing with each other
4) Establishment of a true European rail timetable information and ticket booking system, open for anyone to use for free, and containing data of all trains at least 3 months ahead of departure.

1) Establishment of a true European rail timetable information and ticket booking system, open for anyone to use for free, and containing data of all trains at least 3 months ahead of departure
2) Guaranteed compensation for delays and obligation to re-establish the travel chain, even if tickets are booked from different operators
3) Complete transparency of track access charges for all trains, of all types and speeds, on all tracks in the EU and accession countries
4) Grant powers to the European Railway Agency to coordinate cross-border timetables, to ensure changing at the border station is possible if no through service is possible
5) Remove rules preventing rolling stock subsidized by EU funds from being used on cross border routes
6) International train tickets should not be more expensive than the sum of the prices for the similar local tickets
7) Introduce an EU-wide core network for both daytime and nighttime cross-border services, and where these services cannot be run on a profit making basis introduce cross-border public service obligations to support the service, between all EU capital cities

All proposals should be achieved in the EU and accession countries by end of 2018