Developed for almost ten years and ordered in 2018, the “Nightjet of the next generation” is about to start on its first connection: Vienna & Innsbruck to Hamburg on 10 December 2023. We had the opportunity to experience sleeping conditions under real conditions on a promotional trip from/to Vienna with stops in almost all Austrian state capitals with an overnight part between Bregenz and Klagenfurt.
What’s so special about it?
The “newest” sleepers currently on track date from 2003- 2006 (“Comfortline” WLABmz 173.1) – so new rolling stock was long awaited. The pandemic and the Russian war of aggression interrupted supplies and caused an overdue delivery by almost two years. This made operations for ÖBB increasingly difficult as the trains were intended to replace old rolling stock that urgently needed to be overhauled or even scrapped.
Furthermore, this night train is more than just a modern night train. The concept realises a whole bunch of fresh ideas on how to operate night trains in the future. Let’s have a look at the main new features:
1. A fixed “Push and Pull Set”
Did you ever wake up on a night train because it was not moving for some time? Or by a sudden jolt from shunting? Interrupting sleep is just one problem of shunting night trains, the other one is that engines for shunting have become a rare and costly commodity – as the trend goes to self-propelled multiple-unit trains.
The control car idea
By installing a control car at the end of the new Nightjet, ÖBB can now reverse the direction of the train so that only the train driver has to switch to the other side of the train. This saves the operator costs and time in the many cul-de-sac stations in Europe, such as Munich, Zurich, Frankfurt, Milan, Rome and Venice (to name but a few). However, the control car still lacks an operating licence from the European Railway Agency (ERA). For this reason, the advertising train had to be pulled by a second locomotive when turning in Bregenz. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the ERA will give the green light to the Nightjets reversing capabilities on time.
Fixed Joints instead of free composition
If you’re trying to avoid shunting anyway, why include the option of coupling? Furthermore, the new Nightjet is not only fully air-conditioned but also pressure-resistant so that it can be used on high-speed lines where the train could meet a high-speed train in a tunnel. Pressure-resistant gangways are expensive, and even more expensive if they are to enable coupling.
Flexibility reduced to two possibilities
With this fixed set of seven carriages, ÖBB can offer a double train with 14 carriages, optimised for the maximum length of 400 m for passenger trains and serving up to 508 passengers on very popular routes. Or just a single unit with 7 carriages for up to 254 passengers, which is connected to another unit from another location on (part of) the route – to save on track access charges and a loco driver on nightshift. One end offers a RIC-compatible gangway, so the new Nightjet can still be coupled with a classic one.
Capacity per coach decreased by 29%
This passenger volume roughly corresponds to the capacity of a classic Nightjet composition with two sleeping cars, two couchette cars and one seating car. However, this was 5 coaches, for which the new Nightjet now requires 7 coaches, reducing the capacity per coach by roundabout 30% and increasing the average CO2 emissions per passenger by 40%. But even with 20g/km instead of the average 14 g/km, the night train will still be the most sustainable mode of transport.
2. The All New Capsule (or “Mini Cabin”)
Yes, you can – sleep. And it’s your consideration: Privacy, but only about one square meter. Fresh sheet, blanket, the usual super-mini cushion. Pressure-tight trains always come along with ventilation, which you can feel if you want in this capsule. Air condition nozzles can be opened/closed and directed where you like it. Temperature adjustment however is only available for all capsules by your steward. The dimmer/colour of light can be chosen, symbols inform you if the toilets are free. A moveable table can be folded up. Cabin & locker work with your personal key card. If you wonder why your mobile charged overnight: The magic happens in the inductive charger, alternatively you may recharge your devices by 230V or USB socket.
Two parallel capsules share a small sliding door, a “kissing door” as ÖBB calls it, which only opens when both sides are unlocked. This construction has a safety background: in the event of an evacuation, this space is needed: Two small windows become an exit, as the centre part of the window falls outwards (for the upper ones, a rope ladder is unfolded to get out safely, we were told). Knowing this, you might feel better sleeping in such a box.
3. The non-convertible Couchette
If you are a frequent Nightjet traveller you may have already experienced ÖBB’s next-generation couchettes, as they are quite similar to the refurbished “Liegewagen comfort” where the control panel works as a night light. Lesson learned: In the newly built Nightjets, only the light symbol stays illuminated.
The 4-berth compartments come with a wall-mounted inductive charger for the lower beds, which was specified two years ago. Do you know what size mobile phones will be in 2026? – The device looks quite expensive and like a waste of money. When you use it, you have to be careful not to scratch your device as there are two springs hidden in the rails that push it onto the induction surface.
A great innovation is the new “retractable” table, which can be pushed down and, in combination with a seat cushion, serves as another seat connecting the two beds. A perfect solution for families with small children who prefer to sleep at a 90° angle to their parents’ heads. We predict a long life span for the beds/couches as just like in “Liegewagen comfort”, the padding is quite hard.
Like the capsules, the couchettes have two types of blinds (one against the sun and one to make it dark). Their doors can, again, be opened with key cards. Technically even by the NFC chip in your mobile, so further cost savings might come with a nighttrain-app that guides you to your compartment instead of stewards having to hand out key cards. Unlike the capsules, the couchettes offer compareativly ample luggage storing space, even for bigger suitcases underneath the lower beds.
4. The Sleeper-Apartments with an en-suite bathroom
On this journey, we tested the capsules (mini-cabin) and the couchette carriages, so we can only give our visual impressions of the sleeping car. The new Nightjet raises these to a new standard. All sleeper compartments now have their own bathroom. These bathrooms even have a shower, but not a separate shower room (except in one of the nine compartments, which ÖBB wants to sell as “Comfort Plus” class at a higher price). For most sleeping car passengers, showering will therefore result in a wet floor, a discouragement that is perhaps intentional. One tonne of water is carried in such a carriage, which is not enough to supply twenty people taking a long shower in addition to all other water needs including the sprinklers which are now required in Italy.
The single sleeper class in the classic night trains, which only had a washbasin and a communal shower at the end of the carriage, has been abolished. Too few people use the communal shower – no wonder, it rarely works properly, as we experienced in classic Nightjets. Some people will also miss the option of combining two compartments into one, which was possible in some of the classic sleeper carriages.
As with the couchette coaches, ÖBB has omitted the third bunk bed so that passengers can sit upright on the lower bed (which in turn saves the conversion from/to daytime operation and thus reduces the need for staff). It is actually a kind of one-and-a-half lower bed, as the seating area can be used in two different directions. This could make it possible to take small children into the room. Above all, however, the arrangement results in a much lower density with a maximum of 20 passengers instead of up to 36 passengers, which a classic sleeping car can accommodate.
5. Higher density in the seating area
We spent the daytime in the seating coach and can say: Well done, it’s comfortable travelling with good wifi, plenty of power sockets … but no rubbish bins. As we learnt, ÖBB relies on their passengers to take the rubbish to the entrance area, or perhaps even the staff as they pass through. As we know, the compartments of night trains are often, well, messy in the morning. Our prediction is that the Siemens sales team will soon receive an order for table litter bins.
On the downside, these seats are not reclining. The seat surface can be pulled out and the seat can be reclined by a few degrees, not more than 8 cm in total. They are intended for additional commuter traffic or for people who are used to sleeping in economy class on an aeroplane or coach. The light can be dimmed and each seat has a small reading lamp. The seats are quite flat, which is not very comfy in daytime usage, but can be an advantage if the neighbouring seat is free and you like to lie down for a nap.
In one part of the coach, the seats are installed directly on the floor, with a luggage rack above the seats. In the other half, the seats are arranged around a table that is raised by around 25 cm, leaving plenty of space for luggage between the seats.
6. High Speed
Yes, officially this could be described as the first European high-speed night train. The carriages are technically prepared for a speed of 250 km/h, which corresponds to the Zefiro night train from Bombardier, which travels through the night at up to 250 km/h in China. However, these multiple-unit trains will not be able to exceed 230 km/h, as there are not yet any engines that could do more.
The higher speed of the internet connection is likely to be of greater significance. On the route from Vienna to Linz, ÖBB’s on-board Wi-Fi service enabled a video conference with 25 people sharing their camera image and screens – completely uninterrupted, even in tunnels. This is remarkable when you realise how complicated it is to operate fast-moving objects in mobile networks. This was not that good on all parts of the route, and it may not be as good when the train is not travelling through Austria. For these cases, the connection via your mobile phone has also been significantly improved by new windows with a giraffe-like pattern, designed to allow the waves from your mobile phone to pass through better.
The new Nightjet is an outstanding piece of technology and design. It represents a major step forward in terms of sleeping quality, privacy, working ability, safety and – space. More space naturally comes with higher fixed costs for rolling stock. In the case of the new Nightjet, this could be offset by many small savings in operating costs. Longer units also theoretically increase track access charges, but in reality, most Nightjets will presumably not have to pay more than with current constellations. So the increased comfort will not necessarily increase prices. However, ÖBB’s strategy was obviously not to engage in a price war with aviation, the new Nightjet will stay more expensive than many flights. They rather leave it to politicians to make sustainable night trains as affordable as air travel. However, to achieve that, night trains must be attractive enough so that more people can imagine these to be a great alternative to flying – just waking up at your destination. In this regard: mission accomplished!
- Max. speed: 230 km/h.
- Propulsion: Loco hauled / Loco pushed (steering car ahead)
- Maximum capacity:
- Seat car: 76 passengers
- PRM / Seats / Bikes / Luggage: 30 passengers (26 seats, 4 PRM Couchette beds)
- Couchette / Mini Cabin : 3 x 36 passengers (3×4 couchette beds, 24 capsules)
- Sleeper: 2 x 20 passengers
- Complete set of 7 cars: 254 passengers (36 average per car)
Manufacturer: Siemens Mobility
Coaches ordered: 233
Production time: 5 years
Purchase volume: 400 M EUR for 20 7-coach sets
Price: 2,86 M EUR average per carriage (excl. haulage)
For media inquiries, please contact the authors of this post (Juri Maier and Patrick Neumann) via email@example.com