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Norwegian railway authority miscalculates potential for night train Oslo – Copenhagen

A night train offer Oslo-Copenhagen can start up in 2025 at the earliest. “Any offer will depend on public support and is not an effective climate measure”, writes the Norwegian Railway Directorate in an additional report, which has not been made public, but is dated 20.5.2022. We publish it here, and it is called Nattog Oslo-København, Tilleggsutredning. The earlier report that came on 1.11. 2021, and is called Vurdering av nattog OsloKøbenhavn was more optimistic.

The route Oslo – Copenhagen has one of Europes highest densities of flights evening and morning. There is not any direct day train, and a ferry boat is slow and costly.

Public attention to the additional report came through this article in ENERGI&KLIMA from 22.8. 2022, from where we are quoting in our translation (italic).

Several train operators have the expertise and interest in operating the route, the directorate’s investigation shows. The prerequisite is that a traffic agreement is entered into, i.e. that the public provides subsidies, in the order of NOK 24-43 million a year. This would mean that the state covered NOK 280 to 500 of the cost of each trip.

A night train offer will replace some flights on the route. However, the benefit to society from reduced emissions is no more than NOK 2-3 million, according to the directorate’s analysis.

“The discrepancy between the value of saved greenhouse gas emissions and the need for subsidies indicates that the measure cannot be considered an effective climate measure, and that a recommendation to go ahead with the measure must depend on other considerations in addition to those included in the analysis,” the report concludes.

The investigation has been commissioned by the Ministry of Transport as a basis for a decision on whether or not to go ahead with the night train initiative between Oslo and Copenhagen. The work the directorate has done is a follow-up and concretization of a first study that it made last year.

The additional report is unfortunately not very clear about the key figures. But Back-on-Track has been able to re-calculate some figures.

The calculation of the social benefit lacks any appropriate diligence

– The paper works with two occupancy rate scenarios, both very pessimistic (28% or 38% of what we estimate is the potential, see our estimates). 

– The paper calculates with saved „CO2″ so we must assume that the radiative forcing of non-CO2 Emissions was ignored. This reduces the saved CO2 to 72% of our value.

– The report indicates to assume that the passengers would otherwise use the plane. We assume 80% of the passengers would otherwise use the plane. 

– The differences would still result in social benefits between NOK 8m and 11m, so the paper must also assume a CO2 price of roughly 23 EUR per ton in 2022 and 64 EUR in 2040. That is very, very low.

But all this is speculative as the report does not outline how the calculation was done.

The key difference comes from the passenger potential estimations which assume to attract 3,5% or 5% of the total traffic.

The timeframe is competitive and could certainly attract a higher passenger share, particularly as there is no attractive day train alternative.

So the occupancy rate could certainly be adjusted, possibly by lowering the price and optimizing yield management, presumably without the need for higher subsidies, as the occupancy rate has a positive effect on income while having low effect on either investment or operational cost. 

But it has a high influence on the social benefit, particularly if you calculate with non-CO2 Emissions and current emmision permit costs.

So the assumed occupancy rate is a political question rather than a financial one. 

Dialogue at the Paris symposium – revitalisation

The “Symposium on the Revitalisation of Night Trains” 23.2. 2022 took place in Paris, organised by French Ministry for the Ecological Transition.

More and more people are using night trains in Europe. Revitalisation in this area is a matter of common interest for many EU countries. The Commission thus launched a study at European level of the conditions for further development for cross-border night trains.

Participants will carry out an initial assessment of the various initiatives undertaken and discuss the conditions for their success, as well as best practices and the obstacles to be overcome in order to implement new services.

Notes taken during the symposium of February 23, 2022 in Paris by Nicolas Forien:

Welcome word from Djebbari: turnaround in the last few years, who would have thought 5 years ago that we would organize today a conference on the revival of night trains in Europe?

Willingness to have a dozen national lines by 2030 (no mention of 800 million € or even an order for new equipment, the arbitration does not seem to be made yet).

The discussions are moderated by Gilles Dansart (transport journalist)

Karima Delli: “from 600 to 1500 km”

    “Need for a denser network than today”

    “I hear that Paris should become the capital of night trains, but I do not agree: night trains must serve all territories, not just the capitals.” Example of Calais, which was very well served before.

    “The revival of night trains is not going to be done with a magic wand, there is a need for substantial investments from the States”

    “State aid rules need to be revised, the current legal framework is too cumbersome”

    “Need to form a consortium of motivated Member States”.

    “Take these investments out of the financial pact”.

    “Challenge: accessibility of the night trains, in terms of price but also for the disabled

    “Need for a real European railway recovery plan”.

    Elzabeta Lukaniuk (represents Adina Valean, European Commissioner for Transport):

        “there is potential to operate night train services on a commercial basis”

        “but there is also a need to be able to run PSOs when the market fails”.

        “The commission will publish new PSO guidelines this year, to facilitate the combination of PSO and open-access”

        “There will also be a ticketing package this year, and at the beginning of 2023 there will be guidelines for better management of path allocation”

        Question from Gilles Dansart on international PSOs: answer: yes, they will work on this

        Question from the audience on taxation (0% VAT on international lines): answer: the commission will launch a CO2 comparator between modes

        Christer Peterson (Swedish Ministry): defends competition, but says there is also a need for PSOs at times. There is an economic model for seasonal night trains.

        Joseph Schneider (EPF): need to improve passenger information, bicycle transport, competition is good but also need coordination to guarantee passengers’ rights

        Alexis Vuillemin (DGITM): “striking change of situation” since the Duron report of 2015

        “the view on NT has changed”: climate emergency, example in Europe

        “conviction: there is a renewed demand for night trains, not only militant.”

        “need also to get out of the mono-product (all-TGV)”

        “Tool for modal shift and increased mobility, for territories that lack offers.”

        “Lessons from the TET report: importance of the network effect: paradigm shift”

        “We cannot be satisfied with having a few small lines that are dueling”

    – the network effect is necessary to amortize fixed costs

    – “economies of scale for the construction of rolling stock”.

    – “cabotage”.

    – “mountain/sea seasonality” knowing that with telecommuting and holidays the back/fore seasons are more extended, short stays of 3/4/5 days are also easier to set up. So we might as well make this type of offer regular.

    – “need for a diversified service offering: from reclining seats to premium offerings with private compartments.”

    – “importance of synergies, better versatility of teams, pooling costs”

    – “building an entirely new product”

    – “the economic balance sheet is not fundamentally modified compared to today, i.e. with the same level of deficit we would have an offer multiplied by 10”. For a zero marginal cost, change of scale

    – This is the voice of the Ministry of Transport, and there is still a need to continue the pedagogy on this issue” (Gilles Dansart says “in particular with regard to another ministry located a little further upstream on the Seine”)

    So why are they taking so long to launch the orders since if we have the same level of deficit it means that the marginal cost of CO2 abatement is NIL, that is 250 000 tons of CO2 saved for free!

    The conclusions of the TET report are “so disconcerting, even if the foreign examples show us that we are not in error, we could even perhaps reach the economic balance”

    “But before making a political decision, we need to think a little more, to confirm these estimates”. In the meantime, we are losing 32 M€/year of delay if the calculations of the report turn out to be correct

    the estimate on the CO2 emission gain is easier to verify than the one on the economic balance. However, according to the independent consulting firm Carbone 4, the impact of individual behavioral changes could lead to a decrease in the carbon footprint of 5 to 10% for an “average French person”, or about 750 kg of CO2 per year (the average annual carbon footprint of the French was 10.8 tons of CO2 in 2017). Postponing the implementation of a night train network by one year means emitting 250,000 more tons of CO2 (which could have been avoided), which is equivalent to ruining the potential efforts of more than 330,000 French people.

    “Topic on infrastructure: irregularities, delays, train paths”.

    “Topic on rolling stock and its financing conditions, search for alternatives to traditional budget financing”

    “Also initiatives from operators, public or new entrants (probably on a more premium niche).

    “The AMI will soon be launched: French financing for the moment, but it would be relevant to expand to the European level.

    “Need to simplify procedures for international PSOs”.

    Karen Letten (Steer): “currently 1500 sleeper and bed cars in Europe, but old and in bad condition;”

    “In recent years there have been very few orders for new rolling stock in Europe.”

    “Need to encourage a second-hand market for rolling stock” -> “obligation to auction

    Christophe Fanichet : “night trains are probably the most difficult trains to operate, along with freight trains, and yet it is an important solution for Europeans” -> “European and French leap forward

    “European and French surge for night trains”.

    “the Covid has made many people aware that there are alternatives to the car and the plane”.

    “We must find the solution not country by country, but by Europe.”

    “We often hear that it is the SNCF that did not want night trains”: to be nuanced

    “Yes, the night train has a future”.

    “The younger generation expects the night train much more than we do”

    “nearly 330,000 passengers transported in 2021”.

    “The Paris-Vienna train saves 400kg of CO2 per passenger, 144 tons for the entire train

    “80% occupancy rate in season on Paris-Nice, on average 65% over the year”.

    “Contrary to what people say, it is not only the younger generation that takes the night train”.

    “There is a market: for 90€ you can do Paris-Vienna, it is economically interesting”.

    “politicians must take up the subject”.

    “25% self-financing ratio on the regional trains, comparable ratio today on the night trains, we must accept it and put public money into it”.

    “This Paris-Vienna is today helped on the Austrian side, but it is not helped on the French side”.

    “After 2 years, we will have to look back to see if we have an economic balance on this train”.

    “We have asked the French government about this, no answer for the moment”.

    “No regional train is balanced without public subsidy, no Transilien idem”.

    “We must at least accept the need for public financing at the start”.

    “between 120 and 130 million passengers on the main lines” “3.5 million in Paris area”.

    Kurt Bauer (ÖBB): “Passenger expectations have changed. Capsules are the innovation that will change the economic situation of night trains.

    “After Covid, traffic came back much faster on night trains than on day trains, thanks to the possibility of privatizing a compartment” This is a fact that was highlighted during Covid (I need to find the article)

    “Seasonality is a huge problem for night trains”

    “For night trains to become a real alternative, night trains must be interesting for both leisure and business customers, to fill the train during the week in winter”

    “need for financial support as long as there is no equity between modes

    “between 60 and 65% average occupancy rate before Covid.”

    “Covid period was hard for night trains, but we expect a good summer, and we hope to return to 60-65% occ rate”

    “best line: Munich-Rome: despite the catastrophic service quality, it is always full”

    “Vienna-Paris all the time full, but this is because of the very limited capacity” -> “will become daily within 2 years”, “this train is too small to be profitable, we have to increase the capacity”

    “a lot of people make round trip night train on the way out and TGV or plane on the way back.”

    “the manufacturers are not very innovative, we had to push them a lot to make them innovate”

    “the new rolling stock will be less interoperable than the old one, it’s a shame. For example, the Villach-Venice line will be cut in December, and the train will be diverted via Slovenia, which will no longer be possible with the new equipment.

    Radim Jancura (CEO RegioJet): criticizes OBB for not offering enough capacity on its trains

    “Night trains should offer low prices, cheaper than airplanes, and more capacity than airplanes”

    “RegioJet night train to Rijeka/Split offers 10x more capacity than OBB: profitability by volume.” All year round? he doesn’t specify, he makes the comparison in terms of number of seats per week. Are you taking pictures of the slides? ok (the ones with the interesting numbers) Great

    “OBB operates trains not for passengers, but for rail lovers”

    “RegioJet prefers to transport bicycles rather than cars, because it is an ecological disaster to transport cars by train “Bravo, I agree, especially since the German cars transported by OBB weigh a lot with their (so-called) ecological batteries

    “Cooperation is inevitable today, but it complicates the operation a lot, the future is for lines operated from end to end by a single operator, to contain costs”

    “The need for drivers who speak the language of each country is a major constraint”.

    Kurt Bauer’s answer: “We operate to Split with only 7 cars because the line is forbidden for trains with more than 7 cars, and we cannot make another branch to Rijeka because it is too close to Vienna.”

    “How can we criticize PSOs when we see that there are so many relevant lines that do not have night trains today? Example Paris-Rome, Cologue-Warsaw.”

    Elmer Van Buuren (European Sleeper): “night trains have not declined because demand has decreased, this is not true”

    “Need to put in place conditions to reduce costs” wouldn’t the quickest way be to increase air costs?

    “Problem of access to rolling stock: financing conditions”

    “They would like to be able to recover Corail cars, but SNCF is blocking it”.

    “Need access to data from all operators in real time to be able to inform travellers, especially in case of connections”.

    “Need for long-term perspectives on the availability of infrastructure and train paths

    “It is implausible to have to notify new services 18 months in advance, even when there is no risk of threatening the balance of PSOs”

    “PSOs should only be used where they are really needed, to less dynamic territories. For example, Paris-Rome should not need subsidies.

    Anna Masutti (president Rete Ferroviara Italiana): she quotes the Germanwatch survey

    In Italy, national and international night trains represent 5% of the long distance train offer (she said 9% at another time, I didn’t understand).

    (26 national lines + some international lines)

    Italian night trains are already back to pre-covid traffic

    The mark-up (market fee) on night train tolls is very low compared to other market segments, including for PSO night trains (but the market fee exists anyway, while in France it is zero for open-access night trains).

    The airlines know that they will have to focus on long-haul in the future.

    Gilles Dansart asks if there is start-up aid for new operators: she doesn’t seem to understand the question, she says that the State compensated RFI to reduce tolls during Covid.

    Another question from GD: how is night work managed on the Italian network? Is there as much as in France? She answered that ordinary maintenance is done at night (it is not very clear), but when there is exceptional maintenance to be done it prevents night trains from running.

    The same question on the works to Isabelle Delon (SNCF Réseau): subject on the metropolitan RER, the development of freight, etc. 2.8 billion € per year of regeneration work, 5 billion € in total.

    In some places, we avoid doing the work at night so as not to disturb international freight.

    A conciliatory dialogue has been established with SNCF Intercités, which allows us to find solutions despite the very short deadlines with which the new lines have been announced.

    The AFNT (Aménagements Ferroviaires au Nord de Toulouse) will cause problems.

    Question from GD about alternate routes: she answered that there are some, maybe less than in other countries. They are trying to improve the performance of the infrastructure on these alternative routes, so that they are real alternatives.

    “We have to industrialize the production of night trains”, to facilitate the insertion of night trains on the lines and in the stations. “How do we work together to find a more industrial model?”

    Reflection underway in a working group at SNCF Réseau: is the night train a market segment in its own right? Should it be subsidized? Is there an economic model without subsidies?

    “The night train is an appropriate mode in Europe”.

    Question from GD: that the direct cost on the toll: answer: the current tariff for night trains is among the lowest.

    “The French network is in poor condition compared to neighbouring countries (29 years average age of tracks in France, against 21 years in Germany, 17 years in Belgium), the network continues to age, there is a gap between the ambitions and the condition of the network, while one of the first conditions of performance and development is to have a network in good condition. What’s the point of developing ERTMS if you have a track that’s in poor condition?”

    “We will accompany night train development projects, up to the level of our means” (implying that they are not up to the level…)

    Jordan Cartier (ART secretary general, transport regulatory authority): the ART’s 2020 report gives a mixed picture of night trains: less than 0.5% of mainline services, supply divided by 3 between 2015 and 2019, and demand divided by 3 as well (by 6 if we take 2020 instead of 2019).

    Notifications for new open-access services, even if not all of these services see the light of day.

    We can see that the European countries that opened up to competition earlier were able to see a revival of certain offers, including night trains: the example of Germany and Sweden with Snalltaget.

    Opening up to competition is a major lever for the development of rail services.

    There are still many obstacles to the development of these services: pricing conditions for access to the infrastructure and technical conditions.

    Tolls are not the major obstacle for night trains, because night trains do not have a fare surcharge, which can represent up to 80% of certain tolls.

    The ERA made a study which showed that for international night trains, tolls are 6 times lower than for day trains.

    Interoperability: about 20 different signalling systems on conventional lines in Europe, which requires rolling stock to be equipped with many on-board safety systems -> financial barrier to the development of international night trains.

    It is because of the problems of access to the network and to quality train paths that killed the Thello.

    Closure of some signal boxes at night. CCR (centralized network control) would solve these problems.

    Last minute cancellation rate for night trains is 2 to 4 times higher than for day trains.

    Question from GD: Will ERTMS solve everything? Answer: France’s objective is to have the high-speed lines in ERTMS by 2030, as well as 5,000 km of other lines, but it will be difficult to reach this objective. In France, we already have good signalling systems, so ERTMS is only justified for capacity development issues, on saturated lines (example: Paris-Lyon).

    What is more important than ERTMS is to develop the STM (not understood what it is).

        Bardo Schettini (Operations Director, European Infrastructure Managers): I didn’t notice anything interesting

        Luigi Stähli (Director Consulting Europe South West, SMA consulting firm, who had participated in the TET study, and also in the German TEE2.0 study, and for the Belgian and Luxembourg ministries):

            IPCS can be an issue for the works.

            Question of the storage of these trains, access to the maintenance tracks.

            A night train must arrive before the first plane and the first TGV, and the same in the evening.

            A night train that arrives at 10:30 is too late, and we miss the target.

            If we have systematic paths for day trains, night trains can use the early morning or late evening paths that are not used by day trains -> interest of the service platforms to plan all this.

            Night trains are not the trains for which the compatibility with the works is the most problematic, because they often have relaxed routes. To guarantee regular service throughout the year, the timetable must take into account alternative routes.

            Need to invest in IPCS, plus it is useful for other trains too.

            Maybe allow night trains on HSR as an alternative route, even if it is a taboo at the moment.

            -> GD asks about technical compatibility, he answers that it is feasible.

            Need to coordinate the works on the different alternative routes and on the different sections of the route (example of Thello, there were works in Switzerland, and they had not thought of not doing the works on Dijon-Modane at the same time).

            “Priority rules to be reviewed between the different trains: who has never passed a delayed Thello in the Paris suburbs at the end of the morning?”

            International coordination in traffic management.

            I don’t come up with miracle solutions, but a well-posed problem is half solved.

            “For this ERTMS system to make sense, it has to be more than just a cost, there has to be a benefit.” Tendency to replicate old signalling system settings with ERTMS, which negates the value of installing ERTMS: it’s like scoring an own goal.

        Question from GD to Anna Masuti on the development of satellite signalling: an innovative pilot project in Northern Italy in collaboration with ShiftToRail, but the support of European institutions to develop this solution is still lacking. It allows to reduce costs compared to the installation of beacons along the track.

        Question by Jakob Dalunde, Swedish MEP: How can we put an end to the patchwork of railway nationalisms that are hindering the creation of a unified European railway area? Answer by Luigi Stähli: I don’t understand.

        Philippe Citroën, Director General UNIFE, What conditions are needed to promote the renewal of night trains in Europe?

        65% drop in cross-border night services between 2001 and 2019

        Vincent Pouyet (General Manager France, Alpha Trains): Corail cars are a very interesting type of equipment, particularly because they are interoperable, with a high degree of liquidity on the market, and can be homologated or approved in many countries.

        Some operators are returning to tractor units, because for long-distance traffic this is by far the most relevant solution. We see that DB has recently bought Talgo multiple units, after the fashion for multiple units in recent years.

        The only big order for new cars in the last few years is OBB (and CAF for the UK), so there is a need to revive the machine. An order of 150 to 200 cars is enough to develop a new product. A passenger car is not very technical, because the motorization is in the locomotive.

        When the night train is backed by a public service contract, satisfactory financing conditions can be obtained. State operators have no problem ordering directly either.

        But for new operators it is financially complicated, and solutions must be found.

        The night trains lends itself well to leasing and private financing, Alpha Trains hopes to be able to support the development projects of night trains in Europe.

        Question of Gilles Dansart on the financial risk : answer : in general for public service contracts, the lease contract can be backed by the same duration as the service contract.

        Alain Picard (General Manager France CAF): “If everyone does their own thing and reinvents the wheel by launching a few trains here and a few trains there, we won’t have any economies of scale.

        We don’t talk enough about the employees. The night trains require staff. We’re going to have hundreds of employees working on these night trains.

        Locomotives are not a problem, there is a market for interoperable locomotives in Europe.

        You have to forget about the compartments with 6 berths.

        In 2022 or 2025, we will not make trains as we did 50 years ago.

        Passengers are not asking for the same thing, and neither are operators.

        We need visibility.

        Rail is an old industry that takes its time. If we want night trains in a few years, now is the time to act.

        “If it’s good for the climate, good for citizens, and good for jobs in Europe, why shouldn’t we go?

        We have to distinguish between technical standardization of cars, which is absolutely necessary, and standardization of interior design, which is less relevant (a Paris-Rome does not necessarily need the same interior design as a Paris-Tarbes).

        The demand for bicycles is growing throughout Europe.

Laurent Bouyer (General Manager France, Siemens): real renewal, real desire to make night trains. Political will, both national and European, societal craze, ecological imperative, travel experience.

New equipment designed for OBB: focus on privacy and security.

OBB pushed them to innovate by proposing to completely reinvent the onboard layout.

Acoustics and comfort, absence of vibrations.

The cars will be pressurized so that they can travel at 230km/h.

Wifi.

Contract for 33 trainsets of 7 cars.

This equipment is approved or in the process of being approved in many European countries.

GD mentions the Talgo cars which were also very comfortable

Jérôme Wallut (Alstom sales manager):

    It is Alstom that does the maintenance of CAF’s night trains to Scotland (but will these night lines survive the development of high speed in England).

    Alstom is building sleeper trains for the Tren Maya project in Mexico.

Alstom is not yet present in the night trains market in Europe because it has not yet developed.

Capacity is important to the business model. He has spent nights in planes without compartments, and slept well.

In the same train, need for denser areas and areas of better comfort.

The night trains model is thought to be in competition with air and long-distance bus.

What is expensive in a night trains is the locomotive.

Question from Elmer Van Buuren: we need help, could you answer our requests? Answer from the operators: we are willing to answer you like any other customer, but it depends on your financing capacities and your economic model.

Akiem’s answer: we are willing to propose equipment, but we need guarantees to be able to invest in equipment that will last at least 30 years. Do you need support from the EIB?

Question from the audience: will the new equipment be built in Western Europe, or in Eastern Europe to reduce costs? Furthermore, it is striking to see that everyone praises the OBB model, while RegioJet proposes an alternative model without subsidies.

For Alain Picard, in any case, it would be unthinkable to relaunch the night trains by buying cars built in China.

Karima Delli’s comment: tomorrow everything will happen in Europe with the carbon tax at the borders.

How are you going to anticipate fast-moving technology? For example, in the car sector, the major manufacturers are outpaced by innovations. Industrial policy of circular economy. The question of data.

Concluding remarks by Marc Papinutti, Director General of the DGITM:

    Modal shift to rail, a priority of the French Presidency of the European Council.

    Convincing people to give up flying

    The night train must not be a simple political gadget, it must be a modal shift tool for the climate.

Conference 2022: Night train of the past, present and future

The conference is over with succes. Here you find pictures and videos from the conference. Thanks to the hard work from our Belgium group, who organised this great event!

The European Year of Rail may be over, but we presented a varied insight into the night train of the past, present and future on our conference that took place on 24 March 2022.

Have a look at the pictures on this Flickr-account.

Video Documentation:

Early Morning

Keynote speech by Georges Gilkinet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mobility and the National Railway Company of Belgium 

#Hub4Brussels The vision of Back on Track Belgium about how Brussels van become once more a hub for the future night train traffic in Europe. For details, please visit https://www.backontrackbelgium.be/hub4brussels

Panel and Q&A: Night trains as a factor of development and opening up cities and regions of Europe

  • Mélissa Hanus (Member of the Belgian Federal Parliament )
  • Sigurd Vangermeersch (Deputy CEO Visit.Brussels)
  • Carlos Cipriano (Journalist for el Publico)

Late Morning

Panel and Q&A: private initiatives

  • Kristof Blomme (VentureRail/Ostende Vienne Orient Experience bv, B)
  • Nicolas Debaisieux (Railcoop, FR)
  • Elmer van Buuren (European Sleeper, NL)
  • Emil Frodlund (Member management board EPF)

Early afternoon

Panel and Q&A: The Economic environment of night trains

  • Erwin Kastberger (ÖBB Fernverkehr New Rail Business) 
  • Benoit Vignon  (VP Rail & Retail on Board Development Newrest)
  • Matteo Mussini (CER)
  • Elmer van Buuren (European Sleeper, NL)

Find the whole programme here:
https://www.backontrackbelgium.be/conference2021

Action plan to boost long distance and cross-border passenger rail

The EU Commission has 14.12. presented an Action Plan, that is covering the area of promoting night trains.

>> Read the Back-on-Track comments to the Action Plan (20.1. 2022)

The phrase ‘night train’ is only mentioned four times in the 18 pages document. But anyway many elements goes to improving conditions for night trains. Find also the STEER and KWC report, which is the background document, to which Back-on-Track contributed during 2021.

What about night train services, does the Commission plan specific actions for them?

From a Q&A sheet the Commission answer this question: “This Action Plan aims at boosting long-distance and cross border rail services. As night train services travel long distances and often cross borders, they will benefit in full from the measures foreseen in this Action Plan. The rules on public service obligations set out in Regulation 1370/2007 are relevant for these services as well. In 2022, the Commission will adopt updated Interpretative Guidelines on Regulation 1370/2007 that will include cross-border services.”

We welcome the Action Plan and the publication of the STEER report and look forward to reading and commenting upon them.

Here are some major points from the Action Plan:

Sufficient rolling stock availability

The setting up of new rail services requires large investments in rolling stock, either by railway undertakings, by rolling stock leasing companies or by competent authorities where the service is provided under a PSO.

Although most long-distance cross-border services can be operated commercially, there is a need to kick-start the availability of rolling stock for these services. Public support to the creation of pools of long-distance cross-border rolling stock, or to the mitigation of commercial risks for leasing companies when acquiring and leasing out long-distance cross-border rolling stock, could help generating the desired boost. (Page 7)

To boost the availability of rolling stock, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is now launching the Green Rail Investment Platform to assist investments by both public and private entities in rail projects through existing EIB products and through financial instruments made available by the Commission. (Page 7-8)

For seamless cross-border connections

An integrated Timetabling and Capacity Redesign programme (TTR) effectively allows railway operators to do priority planning for seamless cross-border connections, before completing their planning with national and regional services. This game-changer can make cross-border passenger services in the Union quicker, more frequent and hence more attractive. (Page 11)

Cross-border services often face a disadvantage vis-à-vis domestic services in the competition for scarce capacity. This also affects night trains entering major stations during the morning peak traffic. (Page 10)

Pilot services

The Commission will support rail sector stakeholders and other interested parties when they launch cross-border pilot services. As many key passenger lines will be on the TEN-T Transport Corridors, TEN-T Coordinators will have dedicated responsibilities to develop work plans supporting the development of cross-border rail services on these corridors, notably by proposing strategic investments and by monitoring the performance of rail traffic via operational improvements such as integrated time-tabling and capacity allocation. (…) From 2022, the rail sector will be encouraged to submit proposals for pilot services, either for enhancing existing, or for the establishment of new services. (Page 17)

Track access charges

High and diverse track access charges across borders, notably in terms of mark-ups, are a decisive cost factor and can hinder the setting up of new services, and can hinder to attract new entrants and private investment. (…) The clear objective should be to ensure that mark-ups are only applied where the market can bear them and where it does not damage rail’s competitiveness.

The Commission will:

– provide guidelines in 2023 for setting track access charges which support and encourage the development of long-distance and cross-border passenger services. (Page 12)

Compare and buy rail tickets

It must become as easy and convenient for passengers to compare and buy rail tickets as it is for other transport modes, in a single transaction and using state-of-the-art technology. Passengers needing to connect between trains should be confident that they arrive in time or, failing that, that they will be provided with the necessary assistance to reach their destination.

Ticket vendors and railway undertakings should be able to offer seats based on a level playing field, including well in advance of the actual train journey. Railway companies and ticket vendors should be able to offer attractive tickets without undue market barriers when accessing existing ticket vending channels, ticket and fare data as well as data and operations in reservation systems. (Page 12-13)

Rail Passenger Rights

To make cross-border train travel attractive, passenger also need to be protected throughout the journey. The new Rail Passenger Rights Regulation adopted in April 2021, introduced for the first time an obligation to offer through-tickets from 7 June 2023, but on a rather limited basis . However, the limited obligation to offer them and the lack of existing market offer of throughtickets limits the protection of passengers, and thus reduces the attractiveness of rail. It is essential that passengers combining several trains into one journey are sure that they will not be stranded if one of the trains is late, regardless of whether the tickets were sold as a throughticket or as separate contracts. A solution could be to ensure at least that the passengers travelling on combined separate tickets can continue their journey in case of missed connections under certain conditions. The Commission will therefore address the issue of journey continuation in case of delays as part of the initiative on multimodal digital mobility services.

The Commission will:

– propose a Regulation, to be adopted by the end of 2022, on multimodal digital mobility services to enhance data exchange between mobility providers and facilitate the conclusion of fair commercial agreements among railway undertakings and with thirdparty ticket sellers, including journey continuation and protection in case of missed connections for passengers travelling on combined separate tickets;

– monitor the compliance with the new Rail Passenger Rights Regulation, once it becomes applicable in June 2023. (Pages 13-14)

A level playing field with other transport modes

The Commission has already made proposals to enable competition on equal footing among different modes. With the Fit for 55 package presented on 14 July 2021, the Commission has put forward an ambitious set of proposals to align economic incentives with climate, social and environmental objectives, while recognising differences in the global and competition context under which different modes of transport operate. This includes proposed changes to emission trading and to the energy taxation framework.

The Commission will assess the need for an EU-wide exemption of international rail tickets from VAT to significantly reduce the cost to rail passengers. (…) In the context of the review of the Air Services Regulation, the Commission is assessing the possibilities and the criteria, under which EU countries may limit air traffic on some routes if more sustainable modes offering an equivalent level of service exist, without undermining Single Market principles. (Page 14-15)

PSO – regulation

For connections or networks where the market is not (yet) able or willing to offer services which are deemed necessary for connectivity or otherwise desirable for society, competent authorities can use a public service obligation (PSO) and award public service contracts (PSC) to rail operators in compliance with Regulation (EU) 1370/2007 on public transport services by rail and by road (‘the Land PSO Regulation’). PSOs can be imposed only when open access operators do not provide the services at the level and quality deemed necessary by the competent authorities. (Page 4)

The Commission will:

– publish interpretative guidelines in 2022 for applying the Land PSO Regulation, including to long-distance and cross-border rail passenger services and to promote and support the development of sustainable multimodal land transport services. (Page 16)

>> Main page, press release and related sectors

>> New Action Plan: boosting long-distance and cross-border passenger rail

>> Draft EU-Parliament TRAN report as response to the EU-Commission initiative (20.5. 2022)

Back-on-Track are about to present a comment to the EU-Parliament TRAN Committee based upon own research of the climate reduction potential of night trains in Europe.

VCD RAILtest 2021/22

VCD Verkehrsclub Deutschland has made comparisons and recommendations for a number of train rides from Germany to other European countries with the title:

Europa per Train –
Relaxed and with a good price to the most attractive Metropolen!

The include day-journeys to 12 hours, but also a couple of night trains. VCD conclude these demands:

  • A synchronized, European long-distance train network with fast and long-term connections, attractive transfer times and secured connections.
  • The expansion of the night train network for other parts of Europe.
  • A public, consumer-friendly platform on which all public transport offers as a travel chain can be booked online throughout Europe. Tickets for international train travel has to be as easy as booking a ticket for a flight.
  • Compensation claims must be able to be asserted for a complete travel chain – even if this is offered by different mobility service providers.
  • No VAT on international routes: Take other EU countries like France or the Czech Republic as an example.
  • Uncomplicated, easily bookable option to take Bicycles on the train.

>> Have a look at the VCD report (in German)


Trains instead of planes to 1.500 km

A new report from Greenpeace underlines the need to change from climate harming planes to eco-friendly trains.

We quote from the summary of the report:

Short-haul flights (under 1500km) account for a quarter of EU aviation emissions. In addition to the CO2 impact, the non-CO2 impact of air transport (e.g. oxides of nitrogen (NOx), soot particles, water vapour) is two times worse than its CO2 emissions, as demonstrated by independent scientists and confirmed by a study published by the
European Commission.
Compared to trains, the climate impact of short-haul flights is completely disproportionate.
We must encourage and enable travel that prioritises sustainability, and the future of humanity. 62 % of Europeans support a ban on short haul flights, according to a survey conducted by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and a large majority support the development of daytime and night trains.
The EU must stop flying into the climate crisis, and implement a serious plan to revitalise our railways, instead of continuing to support air over rail. Rather than trying to return to the unsustainable air travel volumes of the past, we should focus on adopting less polluting and more climatefriendly solutions. A ban on short-haul flights where there are already greener alternatives, like trains under six hours, would be a good start.

>> See the Greenpeace report

Belgium ready to subsidize night trains to and from Brussels

We are pleased to notice that the Belgium Minister of Transport, Mr Gilkinet, has listened to Back-on-Track, Belgium laments and is taking the problem of subsidies to night trains seriously, after 20 years of phasing out international rail traffic.

We are aware that the announced budget is limited, only two million euros a year, that is less than €5,500 a day, seems very little to us. But is a point of departure.

We are looking forward to direct outcomes of this positive political statement that is very relevant, in spite of the failure to establish a night train from Malmö (Sweden) via Denmark to Cologne and Brussels.

According to the political comments to the failure the non-existing room for a Belgium PSO was a part of the problem.

>> Further reading (Back-on-Track, Flemish language)

>> Press reading (German language)

Time is ripe for new night train connections

Interview with Back-on-Track co-founder Joachim Holstein, first published in Rail Report Europe.

RRE: Why did you start campaigning to keep night trains?

Railway companies in various countries had been neglecting night trains, reducing their service to day trains which meant a fallback to 18th and 19th century travelling (when you had to stop for the night and stay in a hotel), and in many cases pushing their passengers to take a plane for long distance trips.

There was resistance by travellers, by environmental organisations and by some politicians – and, very important, by railway staff members.
Back then, we faced negative propaganda with the characterisation of night trains as »outdated«, their passengers as purely »nostalgic«, whereas airline and high speed train use was labelled as »modern«. We said – and keep saying – that night trains are a necessary element of a 24/7 railway transport system, especially when it comes to long distance and cross border connections. Night trains can cover distances of over 1,500 kms, even 2,000 kms without changing trains, and without losing a whole day.

RRE: What are the main reasons why night trains were being withdrawn?

The main reasons were political and economic pressure in favour of the airline industry and car/bus traffic, plus the hotel business. On one hand huge subsidies for airports, tax exemptions for air fuel, toll free bus traffic on German motorways, to name just a few.

Then you have the infrastructure business: huge profits for the tunnel boring industry and for construction companies who were interested in building tunnels, bridges, dams – no matter if the new tracks would be used by ten trains per hour or by five trains per day, like the tunnel between France and Spain. Politicians were eager to feed these companies with public money, but they were not eager to order new rolling stock or pay the staff who would work on night trains.

RRE: What are the key measures that must be taken to make night trains attractive and viable?

They must be easy to use, they must be visible, and they must be reliable. Let me explain this.

Until a few years or decades ago, you simply bought a ticket from A to B, and a supplement for a bed or a couchette. You could to this even at small railway stations with ticket offices! Now, the railway website tells you »no connection available« even if a night train exists, or you cannot book it as easily as a day train or a flight. Some trains have special prices which are not compatible with normal tickets. What we need are simple booking procedures, and this starts with clear visibility of night trains. German railway DB, for example, was infamous for literally hiding their night trains from their customers. When it comes to reliability, French SNCF had been a nightmare during many years because they simply cancelled some night trains for some days – and there was no alternative. Now, they are doing a relaunch, and performing better. But even with top quality companies, like Austrian ÖBB or Swiss SBB, there can be a situation when the night train does not show up due to technical reasons. With day trains, this is not a major problem – the next train will start in 30, 60 or maybe 120 minutes. But when the only night train between A and B cannot run, you have a huge problem – if you don’t have a backup solution with spare coaches available at major hubs. This is a common responsibility.

Night trains must offer a broad range of accommodation. Some travellers need single compartments with private shower, some need family or group compartments, and there should be something like a dining car, a bistro or a bar. You need space for handicapped passengers and for bicycles. Not to forget the motorail trains – there is a demand for loading your own car on a long distance train, and railway companies should see the owners of electric cars as an important group of clients: get their batteries charged during the train trip would mean that motorail trains would be kind of 1,500 km range extenders …

And one more thing: it should be emphasised that a private cabin (sleeper, family compartment of couchette, or these new single couchette pods of ÖBB night trains) is the safest space for a travel in the times of Covid-19, compared to day trains, aeroplanes or buses.

RRE: What has persuaded some of the state operators (such as OeBB and SNCF) to expand their night train network?

ÖBB did not have to be persuaded because they already were – they knew their figures! They made more than 15 per cent of their long distance earnings with night trains. And some of these trains ran in cooperation with DB: the trains from Vienna to Rome, Milan and Venice were connected to the trains from Munich to these Italien destinations. They needed the Munich parts of these trains to continue, so they took these former DB routes. And they were smart enough to buy all 42 modern sleeper cars of the 173 series, to modernise their own fleet and to run important services through Germany, like Zurich-Berlin/Hamburg and Innsbruck-Munich-Hamburg/Düsseldorf.

Their success, and the changes with the growing climate awareness of travellers, convinced them to order a three-digit figure of new night train cars. ÖBB were already on the way, and they are making this way broader and longer.

SNCF on the other hand, has made a double turnaround. Several years ago, they reduced their night train network and got rid of their sleeping cars. Night trains had a poor prestige at SNCF headquarters, although some of these trains were the only connection to Paris, or the only long distance trains in some regions – take the Pyrenees, or the Massif Central. What we now see, is a second turnaround: the renaissance of night train lines, and putting them high on the priority list.

One can say that their high speed network is finished, and now it is time to (re)develop connections where there are no high speed trains, there is a special policy feature where trains are handled as instruments to develop provincial regions. Then you have favourable political conditions: France does not have, like Germany, a transport ministry acting like a PR agency of the car industry, but their transport ministry is a department within the »Ministry of the Ecological Transition«. And a very important role can be attibruted to our allies of »Oui au train de nuit« (»Yes to the night train«) who have been campaigning very successfully on the national, regional and local levels.

RRE: What do think about about the new open access operators – such as Regiojet?

They play an important role by developing new connections and giving space to new ideas which might have been rejected by the »big players« of the state railways. They offer flexibility and serve markets that have been and still are neglected by some other companies.

And they prove that you can make money by running night trains – something which has been denied by others.

RRE: What about the further night trains being planned (for example, The European Sleeper?

The European Sleeper is a very interesting and promising project. The withdrawal of some state operators has left several holes gaping in Western and Central Europe. The Netherlands and Belgium have been without night trains for several years. The time is ripe for new connections that follow some traditional connections, like Amsterdam or Brussels to Berlin – and heading on to Dresden and Prague. They come with fresh ideas, they attract new customers – let us not forget that in some regions, minors and young adults haven’t known night trains as a common way of travelling in their lifetime! And they are one of the companies that have an open access operator – in their case: Regiojet – as a partner. Here you see something that might develop into an extended »pool of rolling stock and staff« for private companies: this reduces the risk for new companies as the do not have to buy rolling stock, but they cooperate and can develop their business.

RRE: What do you see as the priority measures and services to be introduced in the next five years?

One measure should be a decision on European level – at least the EU/Switzerland level – to buy common rolling stock with approval to run on the tracks of many countries, and to lease this rolling stock to interested operators. We had this with the UIC car pool several decades ago. This would save capital stock and operating costs for the operators.
Another priority measure would be an easy booking system: one platform, accessible from all other platforms, for night train and other international train bookings. The customer should only have to buy one ticket, even for a trip through six countries in four trains.

And with this easy ticketing, the passenger rights issue would have to be addressed so that a lost connection would not longer be an economic disaster for the traveller, but every operator should be obliged to take care of these customers, no matter who or what has caused the problem.

Talking about priorities for new services, some are on their way already: Scandinavia southbound with Stockholm-Berlin and Malmö-Brussels, and the return of some connections from Paris and from Switzerland. On some of these connections, today there is no reasonable train offer at all, take Switzerland-Barcelona for example.

Thus, connections like Berlin-Paris and Zurich-Rome are to be introduced in the next five years, but the focus should also be directed on the Iberian peninsula. Going to Spain or Portugal by train is a challenge, and the railway share of the cross border model split is ridiculous. Barcelona could be reached (again) by night trains from Milan, Zurich, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels or even London; Madrid could be a destination at least from Paris, Lyon or Marseille; and then there should be a night train to Lisbon, of course.

Towards a Harmonized European Rail Pass

European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) conducted a good webinar on 16.9. Many issues of ticketing, barcodes, on-line data and so on came up. But contributions were not very clear about what was really so slow and reluctant in the rail society, that the goal could be a harmonized system so late as 2030.

Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of ERA hit the nail at the end of the meeting by saying: The ticketing is a very important issue for the users of the railways, for the attractiveness for the railways. Attractiveness is always related to simplicity. It should be about a multi-modal ticket, including the last mile (urban).

How far can voluntary cooperation go, and how far do we need regulation? Unfortunately in rail we are still very fragmented. To be honest with you, I am very disappointed that the panel today has more or less accepted the 10 years of scope. Since the green pass for Covid could be done in a few months, why the hell do we need 10 years to agree on a common format of ticketing. It simply takes too long to implement the most simple things. The things should be done much earlier than 2030.

>> See the webinar

Important issues and relevant suggestions

The European network to promote long-distance day- and night trains “Back-on-Track” met Thursday afternoon 2.9. to digest the presentation 1.9. All in all we are pleased with the process, and happy about the interactive approach during the presentation and feel confident that the many good comments during the presentation were also taken into account. In general we think the presentation handles the most important issues and gives relevant suggestions. See the slides from the Steer presentation.

Although, we took the opportunity to produce another couple of comments to the Steer/kcw presentation, and have send them to Steer/kcw like this:

Remarks to specific slides and recommendations

Slide: Potential for new cross-border rail services

We don’t think that 1,000 km is the right threshold for night trains, already now night trains operate to 1.500 km and with the use of HSL, night trains can go further, probably to 3,000 km in the future. Passengers will anyway want to travel longer in many cases, it is more accepted to use a direct train, instead of changing trains. We would also like to widen up the definition of night trains to include very long distance trains also equipped with sleeping facilities for the involved night-over section(s).

Slide: Potential night train routes based on airline seats

The comparison is good, but there is a risk that the number of lines (limited to space) is giving a wrong picture of the ambitions to replace a very large percentage of aviation in Europe by night trains (and day trains). We lost 200 connections. We fear the ambitions may be too low. In our opinion railways could remove 70% of the intra EU flights, of which a large percentage shall be replaced by night trains.

Slide: Operating costs drivers of rail, air and long-distance coaches

The slide is not very convincing and is giving a misleading and caricature picture of the cost structure. Just as an example with night trains the market will include the cost of a hotel room, which is spared during the travel. The slide does not contribute to the credibility of the report.

The mix of short term and long time measures is in our opinion good.

IC1: Passenger trains pay 5 times more track access charges than freight trains in Belgium, and 850 times more than passenger trains in Slovenia!

IC4: The present system of vertical separation with paid Track Access Charges is made to discourage rather than encourage maximum use of infrastructure assets (meaning the railway network), and the biggest victims are the trains with the lowest profit margins and the highest kilometers and those are the night trains. Infrastructure owners don’t care that tracks are left empty at night because they make loads of money with frequent, subsidised local trains and some high end high speed trains.

CA4: A corridor policy to give certain priorities to long-distance day- and night trains inspired from the rail freight sector is a very good idea.

Such a corridor policy for international trains should also include investments in classic railway lines (main lines). Both to serve as lines to some long-distance night trains, but also to provide feeder lines to the long-distance trains in general. That will furthermore provide better access to remote places in Europe.

RS2: Public funded leasing pool might put all risks to the public sector and leave no risk to the private sector. 

RS4: “Consider” is not a strong term, we wish it should be stronger.

PS1: The problems occuring during the establishment of a PSO on the Malmö-Brussels line is highlighting the problems with PSO’s.

We will argue for a sort of network under PSO regulation, so all capitals and the major cities in Europe are linked with both day- and night trains. An “United Railways of Europe” could work as the organisational structure to handle (not necessarily to run) such a network. The EU should carefully consider a geographical balance.

OP1: Regarding the phrase “level playing field” usually only economic/fiscal figures are included. We will argue for a comparison where real climate impact is included, which will favour very-low emission transport as trains much more than flying.

New OP2: The European policies of the last 15 years are not touched. We would recommend that the policies should be evaluated as soon as possible, since at least the figures of passengers and freight tonnage are not positive. Hereby the policy can hardly be expressed as a good success!