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Dialogue at the Paris symposium – revitalisation

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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.


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.

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