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New comparison from European Environmental Agency (EEA) on Trains versus Planes

Train or plane?

Two new studies from EEA draw new light on climate impacts and broader environment impacts from European passenger and freight transport. With the new reports we are again able to refer to recent European figures, when we are discussing the environmental impacts of a modal shift from planes to rail.

The new reports updates an old EEA study from 2014 which was already in 2019 declared for not-updated.

The first study (briefing) from EEA (A) is giving the greenhouse gas perspective for both passenger and freight transport. Study also the background paper from Fraunhofer ISI and CE Delft.

The second study (EEA report) (B) is giving a more broad environmental perspective. Here greenhouse gasses are complemented by air pollution and noise. And 20 selected cross border travels are compared.

Both studies have the same weaknesses, which will be mentioned below.

Overall conclusion from EEA

EEA (A) concludes: “Trains are the most efficient form of passenger transport in the EU, with GHG emissions per pkm that are only a fraction of most other modes.”

EEA (B) concludes on page 48: “An analysis of 20 city pairs shows that the environmental costs of rail travel are substantially lower than those of air travel.”

Both studies are suffering by weak sources

Railway statistic is rather poor. That means that it is not possible to separate occupancy rates related to those railway lines directly competing with aviation. Data are to some degree ‘polluted’ with other lines, running on less developed and less used destinations including evenings and other ‘not-top-tuned’ services.

Those routes that are compared are based upon strong business cases in aviation. That is fair enough. But data on occupancy will with weak railway data sets favour aviation with higher occupancy rates (aviation assumed to 80%) and much lower rates with trains. And how is it counted on rail? Many of these lines do not exist as highend-express lines today. So it is a mix of existing HSR and EC/IC/RE-trains, that goes behind the data. EEA mention rates of 66% (HSR) and 36% (IC/RE-trains).

The non-CO2 related effects of aviation is counted different in the two reports and stated wrong both places. But that is probably because the EU Commission to has chosen to do so!

On the non-CO2 radiative forcing effects of aeroplane emissions, both studies use a low RFI (or GWP) as 1,23 (in A) (since the background paper did not have access to the new data) or 1,7 (B) (with access to new data). The reports did hereby not use the direct outcomes of scientific recommendations published December 2020 (see later).

Study A

Figure 1

Click on the picture to get an enlargement!

Study A is probably giving airplanes occupancy rates very close to 100% (unfortunately unclear data), underestimating the climate impact, and comparing with a larger range of rail transport (GHG’es and occupancy rates) according to weak datasets from the railway sector.

Study B

The study is using 20 selected travels in Europe between two major cities with air connections and rail connections of which 7 are < 500 km, 7 are 500-750 km, and 6 are 750 – 1100 km. Distances are calculated as car distance, and rail distance is set to the same. Air distance is set to the shortest line between the two cities (which might be a little bit wrong).

What is the environmental cost in study B?
EEA has selected four elements, that they find comprises the environmental costs:

  • Noise
  • Air pollution
  • Fossil fuel consumption on the move
  • Fossil fuel production
  • Non-CO2 related climate impact related to aviation.

And all elements are calculated in EUR to make it possible to make an overall figure. See this conclusive figure 5.4 (page 55):

Figure 2

Click on the picture to get an enlargement!

To mix so different things as climate, air pollution and noise is a very difficult exercise.

  • How to calculate it correct?

It is very interesting but very hard. With all respect to noise and air pollution, we should focus alone on climate impact, as study A.

How is the aviation climate impact calculated?

In figure 5.4 (see above) the non CO2-related climate impact from burning jetfuel in the atmosphere (Radiative Forcing Index, RFI) is put on top with dark blue and with a uncertainty scale (thin line). The dark blue bar is representing a RFI of 1,7. (In study A from November 2020 RFI is set to 1,23).

That is very strange figures and not endorsed by EASA. The overall European recommendation (December 2020) is RFI = 3,0 by Lee et al and endorsed by the EASA. Let’s have a look at the EASA report from December 2020, from where we quote:

A relatively new application of the GWP, referred to as ‘GWP*’, produces a better temperature-based equivalence of short-lived non-CO2 climate forcers than the traditional use of GWP by equating an increase in the emission rate of a Short Lived Climate Forcer with a one-off “pulse” emission of CO2. The GWP* is an example of a ‘flow-based’ method that represents both short-lived and long-lived climate forcers explicitly as ‘warming-equivalent’ emissions that have approximately the same impact on the global average surface temperature over multi-decade to century timescales (Allen et al., 2016; 2018; Cain et al., 2019). GWP*100 for net aviation impacts was calculated by Lee et al. (2020) for recent conditions. The CO2-warming-equivalent emissions based on this method indicate that aviation emissions are currently warming the climate at approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone.

It could be argued that temperature-based metrics, and the GWP*, are potentially more useful for temperature-based policy objectives such as the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement. They also provide a more physical basis of actual impacts than GWPs for SLCFs.

Quotes are from pages 35-36 in “FINAL REPORT Updated analysis of the non-CO2 climate impacts of aviation and potential policy measures pursuant to the EU Emissions Trading System Directive Article 30(4)

A German study from 2019 goes into details in relation to length of the journey what we need to do. It is J.D. Scheelhaase in Journal of Air Transport Management 75 (2019) pages 68-74 and in this study the RFI of 1,7 is justified for the short distances, but on 1000 km the RFI is rather 3,0 due to the travel in high altitudes. However EASA is not making any differentiation, so we stick to 3,0 both on 500 and 1000 km. flying distances.

EEA write that the factor of 1.7 relates to a 100-year GWP and comes from the same EASA study. But it is not to find in the EASA study and must be a “political modification” of some sort.

How are occupancy rates calculated?

Again we are facing some weaknesses with the EEA report.

Occupancy rates is in figure 5.4 set to

  • Aviation: 80%
  • Passenger car: 1 passenger (study A 1,6)
  • Highspeed train: 66%
  • Intercity train: 36%

The railway occupancy rates are calculated in the Fraunhofer and CE Delft paper from average no. with highspeed trains and European IC trains (seems to include regional trains as well). Since datasets on occupancy rates are not more specific due to poor data from the railway industry, we have to make modifications. Above figures can ONLY BE WRONG, since railway data are mixed among most profitable lines with a large proportion of less profitable lines. The lines of interest of competition with European aviation is the MOST PROFITABLE and most USED lines with the best chance of high occupancy rates.

With cars it is not likely that the average occupancy rate is 1,0 person per car on distances 500-1000 km in Europe. EEA is also mentioning 1,5, as they used in 2014 or 1,6.

Let us go with these occupancy rates: Aviation: 80%, passenger car: 1,5 passengers, all international trains competing with aviation 500 and 1000 km: 70%

Now, let us stick to grams of CO2 per passenger kilometer. EEA is not against further calculations based upon their figures. The price per emitted ton of CO2 is in the report study B set to 100 EUR , so figure 5.4 can hereby be re-calculated. Lets see where that will take us.

The more real figure of climate impact based on study B

This is the re-estimated figure 5.4 with the aviation climate impact in grams CO2e, as it should be, and corrected with comparable occupancy rates:

  • Average fossil car: 111 grams CO2e per passenger kilometer (occ. rate: 1,5)
  • Electric car: 26 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 1,5)
  • International High speed train: 18 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,7)
  • International conventional electric train: 12 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,7)
  • A320 on a 500 km journey: 340 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,8 and GWP 3,0)
  • A320 on a 1000 km journey: 270 grams CO2e (occ. rate: 0,8 and GWP 3,0)

So per kilometer journey on European distances the rail journey is in the range of 22-28 times more climate friendly than aviation.

Sorry to say: This diagram is not what we wanted. We wished for a EEA endorsed and widely accepted calculation on this matter. Since that is not the case, this re-calculation is the second option to take.

What difference does it make – as long as trains is more eco-friendly than planes?
Does it make any significant difference if trains are 5, 10 or 20 times more eco-friendly than planes? Yes it does. The margin will provide room for investments and subsidies all the time as long as market prices are not reflecting the real ecological footprint. With a factor 20 more climate friendly railways, it makes a sound economy to engage in large infrastructure investments and big get-trains-on-the-tracks subsidies to follow the green climate decisions.

Other observations

Night trains in study B
Night trains are mentioned at page 66: “The same applies for the (re-)introduction of night trains, which could offer a strategy to deal with longer rail travel times.”  And on page 68: “Another strategy to deal with longer rail travel times for longer distances (e.g. between 800 and 1 200 km) is an increased use of night trains. The time and money cost of travel is then compensated for by saving the cost of hotel accommodation.”

The two EEA reports does not bring any new facts to the issue of “level playing field”. What could be a very precise figure to bring to daylight is this one:

The average price a transport operator pays per energy unit (for instance kilowatt-hour) to fuel an airplane in Europe and abroad (A1 jet fuel), compared with the price to pay for electricity to an electric train in Europe.

By not providing such a number, it is not possible to have a real picture of the unfair situation. The ETS is not convincing, and will not alone bring level playing field to the transport sector.

The construction of infrastructure
A cradle to grave approach is not used in the studies and neither the impacts from constructions are. It is mentioned, that such figures could be nice to have, but data are not available. But one place constructions are mentioned:

“For new investment in rail to be environmentally beneficial, the environmental impacts from the construction of infrastructure must be compensated for by the reduced environmental impacts made possible by the opening of the new rail link.” (page 19) This is an essential point, when arguing for rail investments, that they are climate-wise sound and justified. But no-where in the EEA report is mentioned new constructions (or extentions) of airports or construction of new motorways. Why not? Can we understand that EEA of course will ague against all extentions of infrastructure related to environmental harming means of transport? It would suit EEA to go open and call for a stop to all investments that will lead to environmental damage.

This article is made by Poul Kattler, Back-on-Track, in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has been (and still is) subject to revisions according to dialogue with the EEA.

Official start of the European Year of Rail – triggering a rail renaissance for Europe


Dear Minister Pedro Nuno Santos (Portugal), Dear Commissioner Adina Vălean,

The European Year of Rail could not have come at a more pivotal time. Passenger numbers are growing and public enthusiasm is surging, but rail services are still only patchy at best. With the right political and financial support, the European Year of Rail 2021 could trigger a climate-friendly train travel renaissance, with a truly connected European rail network that leaves no one behind.

Tackling the European Union’s contribution to climate breakdown will be impossible without a shift from air and road transport to rail. Nonetheless, while the share of rail passengers in EU transport has only slightly increased since 2007, air transport has grown dramatically and cars continue to make up over 70% of passenger transport. Despite its environmental benefits, rail is particularly underused in international travel: cross-border traffic accounts for less than 8% of rail passenger traffic. Boosting rail numbers will be instrumental for a green and just pandemic recovery.

We urge you to ensure the EU takes forward these five major steps, starting in 2021, rapidly moving towards a true European railway system that is a model for the world: 

  • Governments should identify at least 30 underexploited international routes with high potential, and begin plans to start new day-time and night trains running from end 2021. These plans should include seed funding, or cross-border Public Service Obligations, to guarantee services which are currently not financially viable, and the support of the European Commission. Most EU capitals are not connected via direct rail services. This is as true for cities in neighbouring countries, as it is for cities further apart or in peripheral regions. 
  • Governments and the EU should set up a funding programme to build a European pool of compatible rolling stock of international day-time trains and night trains. The cost of compatible rolling stock and the lack of supply because of chronic underinvestment are slowing down the renaissance of night trains in Europe, and the creation of sustainable and high quality jobs.
  • Governments and the EU should significantly increase investments in the upgrade and modernisation of existing railways, thus removing bottlenecks and improving cross-border regional rail. Neither existing national plans, nor the EU’s new transport budget will be sufficient to meet these goals.
  • The EU should create a legal framework to make travelling by train cheaper than flying (on comparable journeys). The EU should introduce a kerosene tax and cut unfair airport subsidies, and governments should reduce rail track access charges. The EU and Governments should also phase out domestic and cross-border short-haul flights where there is a convenient night train or a day-time connection.
  • The EU and governments should ensure rail operators guarantee all passenger needs and rights, from specific assistance to low income families and people with reduced mobility, to a common Europe-wide booking system for rail tickets, and uninterrupted passenger rights on international trips. 

Funding and other measures to support a shift from air and road to rail, and to increase cross-border rail, should be at the heart of national recovery and resilience plans. And the European Commission should monitor these plans to ensure they are. 

We believe the people of Europe deserve a Europe-wide railway system that meets their needs, while boosting a shift from air and road to rail. The EU should seize this opportunity to start building the foundations of a European body with a responsibility to oversee and coordinate international rail, starting with the creation of a European timetable and the allocation of tracks to operators.

To help trigger a rail renaissance in Europe, we call on you to support the measures listed above in the Council of the EU and in the preparation of the European Commission’s forthcoming action plan on cross border and long distance rail.

Without concerted and resolute political action, the European Year of Rail will do little to revive the fortunes of trains in Europe, just at the time when we need them most. After years of neglect, it is time to invest in an industry with a bright future. 

We remain available to discuss these matters further, at your earliest convenience. 

Yours sincerely, 

Magda Stoczkiewicz

Programme Director, Greenpeace European Unit

Also on behalf of:

Back on Track, the European network to promote cross border night trains
eco union
Instytut Spraw Obywatelskich
Natuur & Milieu
Réseau Action Climat

>> See the letter as pdf

Hop on the train: A Rail Renaissance for Europe

This is how a new publication from Germanwatch get started. It is giving a short and clear analysis, and shows good overall directions. Let us quote from the introduction:

While many actors are praising railways, the European rail systemis 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.

The publication focusses on three areas:

  • A European network: launch direct international services on European arteries
  • Easy booking: Make rail data sharing mandatory
  • Smart spending: Use EU money to improve rail infrastructure capacity and connectivity

>> Read the publication here

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, 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 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 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.

Choose your preferred language and sign the petition here (they are all pooled together):

EnglishPortugueseSpanish CatalanFrench – German

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

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.


Joachim Holstein (DE),

Nicolas Forien (FR),

Poul Kattler (DK),

Belgium Back-on-Track,

>> 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):