Skip to content
Home » HowTo: Night Train Potential Analysis

HowTo: Night Train Potential Analysis

Back-on-Track has some experience in the feasibility analysis of nigh train connections. This description is a collection of our best practice when doing this research work, so it might not exactly apply to all past research as we permanently update this collection. If you would however like to join our endeavour defining potential routes, this is your best starting point.

1. Examining Viability

To examine existing or potential night train routes we used an Open Railway Map / OSM service of available at This gave us a first indicator on the route and travel times. We made sure we can work with a standard night train configuration by checking all three options “electrified only”, “normal gauge” and “avoid high-speed-lines” unless we wanted to work with a special night train configuration (e.g. assuming high-speed rolling stock in order to examine travel time advantages when using the French high-speed network until 23:00 and from 06:00 onwards on the Amsterdam-Madrid route).

The travel times the service indicates are when using the maximum speeds at each segment so planned stops must be included with 3 minutes for breaking and acceleration and the time at the stop. We kept in mind night trains need more time for exit an entry than a regular train if tickets are checked when entering the train. These times were also be buffered with 10-20% to allow for signal stops, and delay catch-up times. Finally we checked the itinerary of a comparable day-train on that route for a reality check of our calculations.

We assumed entry times between 19:00 h and 22:00 h and arrival times between 07:00 h and 09:00 h are ideal. Entry and arrival times beyond these timeframes, but within 18:00 h and 24:00 h and 06:00 h and 10:00 h would not significantly decrease the passenger potential (Our French group assumed a factor of -0.##). Entry and arrival times beyond the wider timeframe would result in a stronger potential reduction factor (Our French group assumed a factor of 0.##). The factors were able to predict passenger volumes with an accuracy <10% error margin when night train routes were re-introduced in France 2021.

2. Estimating passenger potential:

From aviation

First we looked at public passenger airports that serve cities on the route. Then we were looking for flights between these cities. The number of passengers between two desitinations is avialiable at Eurostat:

From Coach

From Car


3. Defining an operational model

Routing types:

When planning traffic be aware of your options. Basically, there are three route types:

Point to Point: You would choose this model if you have a large enough metropolitan area (or multiple metropolitan areas which are not further apart than 3 hours) on both ends of the route.

X-Shape: This shape is used when you don’t have sufficient potential for a point-to-point connection. It is four connections altogether. It is cost-optimised as you have the full length on each leg of the shape (e.g. Gothenburg/Stockholm = Umeå/Duved). However if you chosse a shape that resembles rather a Plus than an “X” (e.g. Vienna/Berlin = Brussels/Paris) over a more direct alternative you have to face higher track access charges than necessary. This model is also quite sensitive to delays as 4 trains have to arrive within a given timeframe, which should be at least an hour. Your should additionally have access to a spare loco and driver at your shunting point.

Y-Shape: This shape is used when you have sufficient traffic on one end but need to split the traffic to different areas on the other end (and when these areas cannot be aligned into one route as you would arrive too late in one of the areas). It could be two ends (e.g. London = Glasgow/Edinburgh) three (e.g. London Fort William/Inverness/Abedeen) or even four ends (e.g. Bucharest = Bistrita/Cluj/Satu Mare/Sighetu Marmatiei) This shape is not cost-optimised as traction cost and track access charges fully apply for each leg on the splitted end. So this type of route is typically chosen by operators who can attach the night services to some of their own morning/evening intercity services. This model is also quite sensitive to delays in relation to the number of ends.

4. Estimating operational cost

For the estimation of the operational cost use the cost model in the spreadheet for our 2023 TAC study. Go to the Operating_Costs tab and start filling a new column (e.g. AI). Your can pick a train configuraion:

  • NJ_7cars NJ_14cras would use the data for a single next generation NightJet trainset.
  • EN_4cars, EN_5cars and EN_10cars would use the data of a typical configuration with old rolling stock.
    The 4_cars configuration would allow a Y route with 3 legs on one side.
  • The ES320 configuration is uses for examining potential High-Speed Night Trains. It uses the data of a SIEMENS Velaro as used by Eurostar, assuming these would be equipped with self-convertible standard couchettes without waiter (6 x 60 per coach), Mini-Cabins in a configuration as used in the latest generation of Chinese High-Speed night trains, however with lockable doors instead of curtains (5 x 52 per coach, without waiter but with shower and coffee vending machine) and classic sleeping car configuration (36 beds per coach, with waiter, shower and either bathroom or basin in the cabin)