Category Archives: Press Release Belgian Group

Waking up in Malmö is still a utopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night trains as a more sustainable alternative

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

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

To Malmö in any case

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

Continuing efforts for #Hub4Brussels

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

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

Press release: Czech Presidency does not want to bet on the night train. What about the train to Prague?

Yesterday, several Czech ministers presented the spearheads of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union to the members of the European Parliament. Back on Track Belgium vzw, the campaigning organisation for new night trains to and from Brussels, followed the Committee on Transport and Tourism and was left wanting. This is strange, because all the night trains are full, the demand is clearly there.

All horses on high-speed rail

Minister Kupka told MEPs that the presidency wanted to tackle some rail issues, but that the main focus would be on high-speed lines and aviation. Nothing new under the sun. The focus on high-speed lines was already apparent a few weeks ago, when a French TGV travelled across Europe to a railway conference in Brno to serve as a “showcase”.

As a first reaction, Romanian Marian-Jean Marinescu said that the focus should not necessarily (only) be on high-speed trains and that there are other bottlenecks that need to be solved. A glimmer of hope.

No enthusiasm to do anything about the night train (to Prague)

Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg asked the ministers: “How will the night train and the use of bicycles be part of the Presidency’s actions? Minister Kupka answered laconically: “This is another important question you raise. But it is not possible to focus on everything. We are focusing on urban mobility. So that’s the end of the matter.

At the same time, we note that a public consultation is still open until 21 July for the European Commission to extend the Covid19 aid to regional airports by three years (which now runs until the beginning of 2024), without further adjustments, conditions or impact assessment. The European Commission claims to want to create a level playing field between different modes of transport, but in practice it continues to support mainly the air sector, while international rail travellers, especially at night, are left to fend for themselves. It is becoming increasingly clear that the “European Year of Rail” was a publicity stunt, a greenwash of the purest kind.

Completely undermining the new initiatives

After a few new night trains, only in intra-France and during the high season, this again undermines the optimism of a few new night train operators who last year had announced with great optimism their intention to run eastbound services to and from Brussels. Yet in December 2020, it was the city council of the Czech capital, Prague, that wanted to pay for direct night trains to Brussels instead of expanding the airport. It is understandable that the Czech Republic also wants to be connected to the high-speed network, but to say that there will be no night trains for at least 6 months is mind-boggling at a time when all night trains are full and tickets are selling fast.

Not logical now that all night trains are full

“We will certainly continue to explain the importance of night trains and the economic, ecological and social benefits. A 6-month halt would be a disaster and would not correspond to the demand for more and more comfortable night trains to and from Brussels! concludes Gomme.