On 14 September 2020, the Swedish Ministry of Transport published a public tender for a night train between Stockholm and Hamburg and between Malmö and Brussels. It was supposed to be the successor to the “Nord Expres”, which was abolished in the early 2000s, as were many night trains, and made it possible to connect Stockholm to Ostend in 22 hours.
No less than two years later, a passenger is waiting for Godot in Brussels-Midi. Nevertheless, the Swedes are firm believers in this connection, which also offers possibilities to Paris and London. No less than 62% of those questioned in the study found the link quite or very attractive. So there is a lot of potential. A further extension to/from Stockholm was even suggested.
The market is not interested in the connection with Brussels because of the lack of political interest
Unfortunately, however, the deal was only found for the Stockholm – Hamburg – interesting route and the Swedish state-owned company SJ has been operating this route since the beginning of September.
“No one has signed up for the Brussels route. This is not illogical, as it is not easy to operate a night train profitably, which also has to cross three national borders. However, the Austrian ÖBB (public) does manage to do so. But potential operators find it difficult to navigate the many requirements, and the lack of interest or concrete action to reduce obstacles for night trains means that no one takes the plunge. This is not only bad for the passenger, but also for the climate! “Maarten Demarsin of Back on Track Belgium, which campaigns for the return of night trains, points out. “There should be a European vision and not only the market should be responsible for the supply (as is currently the case in the liberal vision of the European Commission) but also a public institution should be able to design a network and be responsible for it. All this should be properly discussed in the public debate.
Night trains as a more sustainable alternative
“The low-cost airlines themselves are already indicating, due to the energy crisis, that low-cost flights are no longer viable or that they are simply going away, which has an effect on employment. And the traveller, who is left out in the cold with no less polluting alternative.”
Together with other organisations from all over Europe, the Back on Track Belgium collective has calculated that a journey by night train emits only 15 kg of CO2, whereas a plane easily emits 305 kg. That’s 20 times more. The study, entitled #3procentovernight, even calculated that if 362 million travellers took the plane for journeys of up to 1,500 km, this would save 73% of megatonnes of CO2. This represents 3% of European transport emissions (or 3/4 of Belgian emissions). If you also replace journeys of up to 3,000 km with high-speed trains, you save even more CO2!
To Malmö in any case
In the past, the Federal Minister for Mobility, who is also responsible for the NMBS and the National Airport, has already indicated that he has discussed the night train to Malmö (several times) with his ministerial colleagues in the European Council, but so far there have been no concrete consequences. And on the presumed date of 22 August that Trafikverket had put forward as the start date, no train has left. That is why Back on Track Belgium joined forces with the German, Danish and Swedish collectives and organised its own – unfortunately virtual – night train to Malmö. The departure signal was given at 7.44pm in Brussels South in the presence of Minister Gilkinet, who was given an alarm clock. He could have used it to wake up in time for breakfast on the platform in Malmö. Today, it is mainly a symbol to awaken the initiative of the Swedes and take concrete steps towards connection.
Continuing efforts for #Hub4Brussels
“The connection with Malmö has everything to appeal to: a great potential of passengers, an interesting route through important Belgian, German, Danish and Swedish cities, ecological and economical advantages. We will continue to follow this dossier”, concludes Demarsin from Brussels South Station, the hub of their #Hub4Brussels network to the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark and Sweden.