Sustainable travel to Kiruna?

Press release, 2023-01-11

The first major meeting during the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union will take place on 12–13 January. The Commission’s meeting will take place in the northernmost city in Sweden, namely in Kiruna.

The presidency’s announcement for the meeting does not mention how the commissioners get there. The Swedish government provides operating support to run climate-friendly night trains up there every night from Stockholm. The train is comfortable and equipped with a dining car, bathroom facilities etc., so you can start a meeting in the morning at 9.30 fresh and well rested.

Unfortunately, European trains are not currently able to take over flights everywhere. Much stronger action is needed in order to achieve significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But if nothing else, commissioners can show their support for climate-friendly alternatives to flying by taking the train when available.

To the press: Ask how the commissioners and officials got to Kiruna – and ask what measures are going to be implemented to support night trains in Europe!

Back-on-Track, Europe

Photo: Night train from Stockholm has arrived in Kiruna, and is ready to continue to Narvik (Norway)

”Enough is enough” – has Eurostar been strangled?

Open letter to the British Transport Minister

Dear Mr Harper,

As we face a Climate Emergency, why is it still so difficult and expensive to use Eurostar-the greenest way to travel to and from Europe?

Eurostar has been continually” strangled” ever since its birth when the first train ran through the Channel Tunnel in November 1994. The responsibility for all this clearly lies with the UK Government. This is mainly due to their ideological obsession of privatising all major infrastructure projects. How has this happened?

1 – The track access charges per kilometer that Eurostar has to pay to the owners of the Channel Tunnel have always been set much higher than the average across Europe.

2 – The need for all passengers to go through airport style security before boarding is probably a complete overkill and not really necessary. This is not done anywhere else in Europe for trains going through longer tunnels on land or tunnels going under the sea.

3 – The track access charges per kilometer that Eurostar has to pay to the owners of HS1 in the UK are again 3- 4 times higher than what they pay the French Railways from Calais to Paris.

4 – The UK Government sold off their 40% shareholding of Eurostar in May 2015. When it came to supporting Eurostar during Covid, the UK Government refused financial support for Eurostar, even though this was provided for UK based airlines.

5 – The UK government’s “Hard Brexit” has made the departure process at London St Pancras less pleasant with long queues all around the station. This has got so bad that St Pancras can now probably only cope with 2 trains each hour departing from the station, which is 30% less than before Brexit. Unless they open Stratford International, we may never be able to have any extra trains running to/from Europe.


At the very least, The UK Government must get the track access charges for HS1 reduced as and when they are set by the Regulator.

At the very least, HS1(the owners of London St Pancras) must draw up and finance a plan to expand the capacity of the station for passengers departing for Europe.

At the very least, introduce “random baggage screening” instead of wasting time by forcing all passengers to have their luggage screened before departure.

And, ideally, convince the UK Government to have a softer Brexit by joining “The European Economic Area”.

Nigel Perkins – Chair European Rail Campaign (UK), which is a part of the Back-on-Track European network.

European Rail Campaign (UK) – The Campaign for Better Rail Links to and from the UK and across Europe (

Action Days 16-18 September 2022: Brussels-Malmö Hop on

In the spring of 2021, a feasibility study was announced with great optimism for, among other things, a night train between Malmö in Sweden and Brussels. In the end, “the market” was only interested in operating a night train between Stockholm and Hamburg. Since this news, in September 2021, the idea of a connection to or from Brussels has also remained very quiet.

Map of night trains and 4 flight connections. Comparison: 205 kgCO2e by plane and 15kg CO2e by night train
Proposed night train route Bruxelles-Malmö with potential GHG savings

On this first ‘Tag der Schiene’ and the start of the European Mobility Week, Back-on-Track Europe, Back-on-Track Belgium vzw-asbl and Back-on-Track Germany e.V. are joining forces. Together with other supporters in Denmark and Sweden, we are putting the night train from #Hub4Brussels to Malmö on track, which was announced a few months before the Swedish Presidency and a good year before the Belgian Presidency of the Council of Europe.

Read also the study we carried out to show that night trains can avoid 3% of European GHG emissions!

Photo stream:

Belgian Transport secretary Georges Gilkinet starts the trip with activists from Back-on-Track Belgium
Georges Gilkinet gets a “wake-up call” for overnight train to Sweden from Back-on-Track Belgium
Activists from Back-on-Track Germany in front of the German Ministry of Transport
Back-on-Track in a meeting with German Railway Minister Susanne Henckel and senior ministry officials
Event by Back-on-Track Denmark in København H with Henning Hyllested, MP speaking
Event by Back-on-Track Denmark in København H with Tony Bispekov (DSB) speaking
Public breakfast in Malmö by Swedish activists from Jordens Vänner Malmö-Lund

Media Coverage:

Waking up in Malmö is still a utopia

On 14 September 2020, the Swedish Ministry of Transport published a public tender for a night train between Stockholm and Hamburg and between Malmö and Brussels. It was supposed to be the successor to the “Nord Expres”, which was abolished in the early 2000s, as were many night trains, and made it possible to connect Stockholm to Ostend in 22 hours.

Departure / Arrival BRX-MMX 19:44-09:15 MMX-BRX 18:00-08:33
Suggested timetable for a future Bruxelles-Malmö connection.

No less than two years later, a passenger is waiting for Godot in Brussels-Midi. Nevertheless, the Swedes are firm believers in this connection, which also offers possibilities to Paris and London. No less than 62% of those questioned in the study found the link quite or very attractive. So there is a lot of potential. A further extension to/from Stockholm was even suggested.

The market is not interested in the connection with Brussels because of the lack of political interest

Unfortunately, however, the deal was only found for the Stockholm – Hamburg – interesting route and the Swedish state-owned company SJ has been operating this route since the beginning of September.

“No one has signed up for the Brussels route. This is not illogical, as it is not easy to operate a night train profitably, which also has to cross three national borders. However, the Austrian ÖBB (public) does manage to do so. But potential operators find it difficult to navigate the many requirements, and the lack of interest or concrete action to reduce obstacles for night trains means that no one takes the plunge. This is not only bad for the passenger, but also for the climate! “Maarten Demarsin of Back on Track Belgium, which campaigns for the return of night trains, points out. “There should be a European vision and not only the market should be responsible for the supply (as is currently the case in the liberal vision of the European Commission) but also a public institution should be able to design a network and be responsible for it. All this should be properly discussed in the public debate.

Night trains as a more sustainable alternative

“The low-cost airlines themselves are already indicating, due to the energy crisis, that low-cost flights are no longer viable or that they are simply going away, which has an effect on employment. And the traveller, who is left out in the cold with no less polluting alternative.”

Together with other organisations from all over Europe, the Back on Track Belgium collective has calculated that a journey by night train emits only 15 kg of CO2, whereas a plane easily emits 305 kg. That’s 20 times more. The study, entitled #3procentovernight, even calculated that if 362 million travellers took the plane for journeys of up to 1,500 km, this would save 73% of megatonnes of CO2. This represents 3% of European transport emissions (or 3/4 of Belgian emissions). If you also replace journeys of up to 3,000 km with high-speed trains, you save even more CO2!

To Malmö in any case

In the past, the Federal Minister for Mobility, who is also responsible for the NMBS and the National Airport, has already indicated that he has discussed the night train to Malmö (several times) with his ministerial colleagues in the European Council, but so far there have been no concrete consequences. And on the presumed date of 22 August that Trafikverket had put forward as the start date, no train has left. That is why Back on Track Belgium joined forces with the German, Danish and Swedish collectives and organised its own – unfortunately virtual – night train to Malmö. The departure signal was given at 7.44pm in Brussels South in the presence of Minister Gilkinet, who was given an alarm clock. He could have used it to wake up in time for breakfast on the platform in Malmö. Today, it is mainly a symbol to awaken the initiative of the Swedes and take concrete steps towards connection.

Continuing efforts for #Hub4Brussels

“The connection with Malmö has everything to appeal to: a great potential of passengers, an interesting route through important Belgian, German, Danish and Swedish cities, ecological and economical advantages. We will continue to follow this dossier”, concludes Demarsin from Brussels South Station, the hub of their #Hub4Brussels network to the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark and Sweden.

See the images of the day here or at Back-on-Track Belgium.

The Global Warming Reduction Potential of Night-Trains

New report: Night trains can cut 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions

According to opinion polls, 7 out of 10 Europeans would be willing to take the night train instead of the plane if the offer seemed reasonable to them. Back-on-Track, a European network of night train initiatives, has used this as a basis to examine air passenger numbers in the EU in 2019 to see which air connections could be replaced by night train connections. Distances up to 1500 km as well as distances up to 3000 km were considered with different scenarios. Overall, up to 32 % of passengers could switch to night trains if there were an attractive offer. This would reduce emissions from air traffic by 26 %. In order to create such an offer, up to 2500 more night trains would be required, as well as a considerable improvement in the framework conditions, in particular a reduction in track access charges.

Why this report?

The potential of night trains has been investigated in a number of recent studies, but none of these studies answered the question of how much greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided by shifting passenger traffic from air to rail in a best-case scenario where all barriers are removed. The studies either investigated the potential of a predefined network or the examination of passenger potential passenger numbers were based on some given constraints.

And when climate effects were calculated, the non-CO2 radiative forcing of aviations was either ignored or more cautious assumptions were used. In particular, knowledge about the effect of water vapour has only consolidated in recent years.

How did we calculate aviation emissions?

We wanted to base our calculations on the latest findings and to do this we first had to supplement the most reliable database, the EEA emissions data, with the best available calculation value for the greenhouse effect of contrails, which makes a significant difference. Since the effect of water vapour weakens quickly, it makes a big difference whether one wants to calculate the current global warming (with GWP*) or the effect over a period of 100 years (with GWP100). We have opted for the former. Not so much because a saving of 1.7% sounds less exciting than 3% – even 1.7% would be an impressive figure. But because the question is how to combat current global warming, not how to predict the climate in 2122, and here GWP* provides the better answers.

Figure 1: Transport share of EU greenhouse gas emissions 2019, CO2e incl. non-CO2 radiative forcing (GWP*), incl. UK

Adding the radiative forcing of contrails and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases based on GWP* triples the CO2 value to a share of almost 12% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions (not the CO2e value, which includes greenhouse gases other than water vapour).

Even the CO2e emissions share from aviation of more than 5% of total emissions (inserted in Figure 1 for information) may come as a surprise, as the aviation industry keeps referring to two figures – either the share of CO2 emissions from domestic aviation (not including flights between two EU Member States) which which is about 1% of national emissions, or the share of aviation in global CO2 emissions, which is between 2% and 3%.

A serious problem

Emissions from international aviation (e those from international navigation/shipping) have been excluded from nationally determined contributions (NDC) so they are not part of binding agreements. For this reason, they are usually not included in transport sector emissions in statistics. This is misleading, as flights between two EU Member States also count as international aviation by definition. So about 80 % of all emissions from aviation do not appear in transport statistics – We have corrected this in Figure 2.

This makes more obvious, why emissions from aviation have become a serious problem. Unlike in road traffic non-fossil sources of energy are not even in sight. And unlike road traffic where emissions fell for some time and then stagnated, emissions from aviation have steadily increased. Aviation emissions are the main reason why transport is the only sector where emissions have not decreased in the last 30 years, but have increased by almost 40% – of course, if you don’t exclude international aviation. We have extended the development of aviation emissions according to the WEM forecast to show: If we do not act, aviation emissions will be the single largest contributor to climate change by 2040, ahead of the energy supply and industry sectors

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions per km by mode of transport in gCO2e per passenger incl. non-CO2 radiative forcing (GWP*)

To tackle this problem the European parliament recently discussed slowly increasing the share of so called sustainable aviation fuels – carbon-based fuels derived from biomass. That is generally to be welcomed, as these fuels are carbon neutral, more effective but also much more expensive. However they cannot solve the problem of water vapour, so a significant global warming effect remains.

Other solutions are batteries, which make the planes too heavy to travel longer distances, solar cells, which require huge wingspans that slow the planes down, or hydrogen, the most reasonable solution so far, but only if the water vapour from the fuel cells is emitted pre-condensed. However, all these other solutions are still far from being ready for the market.

Why night trains are an obvious solution

Night trains do unfortunately not yet play a role in this discussion.

Although a commonplace is that trains are better for the environment and especially for the climate than planes, the debate cites very different dimensions of this relationship. As the TRAN Chair of the European Parliament, Karima Delli, said at this year’s Back-on-Track conference, “some say emissions are six times higher, some say as much as ten”. Austrian railways, by the way, say 50 times. While all these ratios may be valid for something, we need to define what we want to know here: The valid ratio for the EU energy mix, for night trains with high load factors, for well-to-wheel emissions (i.e. including emissions for fuel production and transport) for the reference year 2019, for a per-km value and including radiative forcing of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. The correct ratio is then 1:28, which means that an average night train in the EU will cause 3.6% of the emissions of air transport on the same route in 2019. We have visualised this ratio in Figure 3 and compared it with other modes of transport.

However, night trains are the only obvious solution to replace the aeroplane on routes of more than 500 km (perhaps 700 km in France) by land transport, where high-speed trains can no longer compete, at least not in terms of travel time.

Figure 4 Travel time by distance: train vs. plane

As shown in Figure 4, night trains become an attractive alternative to air travel above 500 km, when high-speed trains and routes can no longer compete with the total journey times of aircraft. Up to 1500 km, they can use conventional tracks and RIC-compatible standard rolling stock. High-speed night trains running on existing high-speed lines can cover even further distances of up to 3000 km.

Night trains could save the greenhouse gas emissions of air travel in just a few years if policy makers acted now. We have to admit, however, that EU railway policy is not the easiest field in which to act. In order to measure whether the effort is worthwhile, one should know what result can be expected in return. That is why we have calculated the achievable greenhouse gas reduction.

We were able to base our report on the 2021 study by our french group Oui au train de nuit, which examined EU passenger data to determine the volume of passengers that could be shifted to night trains.

Unlike the present report, our 2021 study suggested that distances between 1500 and 3000 km could be covered by conventional rolling stock running for more than one day – albeit with only a fraction of the passenger volumes assumed for distances below 1500 km. While this is still a viable option, high-speed night trains could of course keep travel times competitive with air travel, so it can be assumed that a higher proportion of passengers will transfer. For this reason, high-speed trains are the means of choice in a best-case scenario in terms of avoidable emissions.

What is in the best case scenario?

We assumed a capable rail infrastructure on TEN-T lines prepared for at least 160 km/h max. speed and equipped with ETCS, the completion of construction projects (like Fehmarnbelt or Brenner tunnel, Madrid-Lisbon or Warsaw-Tallinn), the opening of high-speed routes for technically suitable night trains, modern rolling stock with substantial improvements of privacy, security and comfort, an average occupancy rate of 80% like for other means of transport that require booking, track access and station charges at marginal cost, a VAT exemption for cross-border journeys and platforms allowing the purchase of tickets from start to finish for all rail routes with a best price guarantee. These are a lot of wishes, we know that. It is a best-case scenario, but none of it is unachievable.

What is the answer to the question?

To learn more about our calculations, please read the report, which also answers some frequently asked questions we gathered when discussing our paper with other organisations working on transport and environmental issues. You can also download our dataset. The table contains all assumptions and methods, some of which can be changed to check their influence on the result. But we won’t keep you in suspense any longer, here is the answer to the question of how much greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided by shifting passenger traffic from air to rail:

Figure 5: Greenhouse gas saving potential of night trains.

Frequently asked questions

1) The network does not have the capacity, particularly looking at congested main stations:

True right now, it would not have the capacity for all the lines needed to reach the calculated goal of 3%. But apart for some exceptions we would not need more than the realisation of reinforcement projects which are currently under way and could be finished by 2035. Night trains are a very effective way to increase rail capacity, as they are flexible to fill gaps and you can add padding at night. We estimated that with our maximum scenario, high capacity and occupancy rate they would in average add not more than 3 trains per hour per direction to one of the 12 main gateways. This is 15% of the total capacity. We think this is not impossible.

Regarding high speed tracks, this would imply political decisions on the best way to use them over night: For cargo traffic or maintenance (are they really doing works every night?), or for high speed passenger traffic? With our study politicians can now decide which usage could do more to protect our climate. 

Regarding congestion in the main stations, night trains can do with minor stations without loosing too much passenger volume: Frankfurt Süd, Wien Westbahnhof, København Ny Elleberg … Of course stopping in the main station would be ideal for changing to day trains. But these minor stations are still much easier to reach than airports. 

2) The rail industry does not have the capacity to build all these trains

Our best-case scenario would require a lot of new rolling stock, indeed. Spread over a time frame of 12 years our estimated need for rolling stock would add 14% to the current market volume. This is a lot, but not impossible. Five percent growth have been predicted for the rail industry anyway. It also depends on what you need. For 200km/h carriages the capacity is there right now. This might not be true for high speed trains but at least Alstom currently has spare capacity in Germany – it wants to lay off people. But mainly it depends on the demand. If Tesla has extra demand they build a new plant. Rail manufacturers will do the same, but only if clear political decisions are taken which will create the demand: By lowering track access charges, speeding up ETCS rollout, opening the high-speed lines and sorting out rolling stock financing. 

3) Using opinion poll data is not suitable to estimate shift potential

No. The real potential is in the end a political question: How do you set market conditions that allow trains to be attractive? This will ultimately change the chosen means of transport. Recent studies estimated the potential by looking at old perceptions of night trains. This method did lead to predictions that have recently been outnumbered. There is a conceivable shift in preference by travellers, most night trains are currently booked out. And current preference rates might further increase once the new generation of rolling stock with capsule beds as recently presented by ÖBB is available. These studies were very valuable non the less, as they show which constraints have to be lifted to increase potential.Provide a better product and you might attract a new market: Once these constraints are lifted, we end up with the hypothetical general preference, for which these opinion polls provide the best data available. And even if you don’t want to believe in more demand: Even under given circumstances there is proven demand for at least 15 more routes in Europe. Let’s make a start with those, and a start with the rolling stock to run those, and see where we get.

4) The result of opinion polls are very dependent on how you ask.

This is true in general, but the consumer preference of 7 in 10 form the poll on which we relied, is in line with other polls. At a recent Civey poll for Germany with a slightly different question (focused on availability, not on reasonable price) also showed that 7 in 10 would decide in favour of night trains  So we are confident that this number is quite close to real preferences. 

5) The potential estimation is imprecise

True. We can be more precise once we look at each possible train in the future. This will decrease potential here and there. On the other hand we did not include flights under 100.000 passengers, this might increase numbers. Also, some flights might disappear completely due to a good alternative, this effect was also not yet considered. So we are confident, that the magnitude will not change too much. 

6) The study does not aim to provide a realistic plan

We aim to define a potential, not to provide a prediction. This is why our calculation is only looking on a best-case scenario. But even a best case-scenario is attainable – the estimated potential is technically possible. The question is, whether it is politically conceivable. Here, we share some scepticism. 

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. 

Press release: Czech Presidency does not want to bet on the night train. What about the train to Prague?

Yesterday, several Czech ministers presented the spearheads of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union to the members of the European Parliament. Back on Track Belgium vzw, the campaigning organisation for new night trains to and from Brussels, followed the Committee on Transport and Tourism and was left wanting. This is strange, because all the night trains are full, the demand is clearly there.

All horses on high-speed rail

Minister Kupka told MEPs that the presidency wanted to tackle some rail issues, but that the main focus would be on high-speed lines and aviation. Nothing new under the sun. The focus on high-speed lines was already apparent a few weeks ago, when a French TGV travelled across Europe to a railway conference in Brno to serve as a “showcase”.

As a first reaction, Romanian Marian-Jean Marinescu said that the focus should not necessarily (only) be on high-speed trains and that there are other bottlenecks that need to be solved. A glimmer of hope.

No enthusiasm to do anything about the night train (to Prague)

Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg asked the ministers: “How will the night train and the use of bicycles be part of the Presidency’s actions? Minister Kupka answered laconically: “This is another important question you raise. But it is not possible to focus on everything. We are focusing on urban mobility. So that’s the end of the matter.

At the same time, we note that a public consultation is still open until 21 July for the European Commission to extend the Covid19 aid to regional airports by three years (which now runs until the beginning of 2024), without further adjustments, conditions or impact assessment. The European Commission claims to want to create a level playing field between different modes of transport, but in practice it continues to support mainly the air sector, while international rail travellers, especially at night, are left to fend for themselves. It is becoming increasingly clear that the “European Year of Rail” was a publicity stunt, a greenwash of the purest kind.

Completely undermining the new initiatives

After a few new night trains, only in intra-France and during the high season, this again undermines the optimism of a few new night train operators who last year had announced with great optimism their intention to run eastbound services to and from Brussels. Yet in December 2020, it was the city council of the Czech capital, Prague, that wanted to pay for direct night trains to Brussels instead of expanding the airport. It is understandable that the Czech Republic also wants to be connected to the high-speed network, but to say that there will be no night trains for at least 6 months is mind-boggling at a time when all night trains are full and tickets are selling fast.

Not logical now that all night trains are full

“We will certainly continue to explain the importance of night trains and the economic, ecological and social benefits. A 6-month halt would be a disaster and would not correspond to the demand for more and more comfortable night trains to and from Brussels! concludes Gomme.

German Group supports Deutsche Bahn’s participation in Nightjet

Back-on-Track Germany also supports the demand addressed to DB Netz AG for a reduction of track access charges for night trains. Back-on-Track refers to a study published in March by Mofair e.V., according to which Germany and France in particular charge three to four times the rail tolls that are otherwise customary in Europe. “This has so far effectively prevented the development of an attractive European night train service, even for longer distances,” Cornelius said.


The Back-on-Track night train initiative supports the demand of the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) for Deutsche Bahn to participate in its night train business. Just as Switzerland’s participation in SBB’s night train business enables ÖBB to set up a night train network for Switzerland, DB should also become involved as a partner and enable ÖBB to soon provide German rail customers with a genuine international night train network again. “This would be a sensible further step towards a European night train company. An Austrian state-owned company cannot bear the sole responsibility for the development of a night train network for the whole of Europe, that would not be politically acceptable in the long run,” says Back-on-Track Chairman Peter Cornelius.

Back-on-Track Germany e.V. is the German branch of, the European network supporting cross-border night trains.


French and Spanish railways “war” is blocking night trains

Originally published by Oui au train de nuit

Simultaneous demonstrations for night trains took place on July 2nd, 2022 in Lisbon, Madrid and on several Pyrenees’ border stations. The demonstrators are celebrating the return of the Paris-Hendaye night train after a five-year absence. This event is an opportunity to put forward proposals to improve cross-border connections that are currently impaired by the conflict between railways and some EU rules.

Night trains for the Iberian Peninsula 2009
Night trains for the Iberian Peninsula 2022

Of the 100 million passengers travelling between France and Spain every year, less than 2% arrive by train. Indeed, between the border stations of Hendaye (France) and Irun (Spain), only 2 km apart, no passenger trains have been running for months. High Speed (HS) Trains are hardly attractive, with journeys to Europe often taking more than 6 hours. The long distances between Spain and Europe might favour night trains, but Spain dismantled all of them by removing the last ones in 2020. To denounce the lack of rail coherence, demonstrators coordinated between the three countries of South-West Europe for a marathon of mobilisations on July 2nd, 2022.

09h17: A new Cerbère-Portbou donkey service to extend the night train to Portbou

Since 1st of July of 2022, the Paris-Portbou night train can no longer enter the latter station of Portbou (Spain), and ends its route in the previous station of Cerbère (France), with no possiblity to cross the border. Mobilised on July 2nd, the Perpignan-Portbou Train Users’ Association (UTPP) valiantly proposed a new inter-border donkey service to carry passengers’ luggage across the mountain to Portbou station, which is barely 1km away as the crow flies [photo]. 

Beyond this action day, the Catalan associations are asking for a cross-border train that serves the stations of the coast, with a real timetable coordination between RENFE and SNCF’s regional trains.

Faced with the administrative blockade preventing the night train from entering Portbou, users organise themselves to carry luggage across the mountain

100 years after the creation of border stations: now Spain and France require drivers to be bilingual

The night train can no longer enter Portbou, because since July 1st 2022 the Spanish rail network requires a “B1” language certificate for SNCF drivers. Régional trains are also threatened.

A train driver explains: “For decades, a High-Speed Train (HST) driver could travel from Paris to Stuttgart without speaking German. Of course, she/he was trained for the German signalisation system. Now, a new European regulation imposes a B1 level in the event of a signalling failure: a form is then given to the driver to be able to cross the faulty signals. Yet, the national agencies should have made an exception for border stations.”

A railway worker complained: “The railways have been pioneers in harmonising Europe since 1922 with the International Union of Railways – UIC – which guaranteed access to border stations. 100 years of experience confirmed that the most efficient way is that border station staff speak both languages, but not the drivers. Unfortunately since 2007 the UE has undermine some of the UIC rules.” (see legislation and debate on twitter).

France was the first to impose the strict regulation to border stations, as a freight driver from Portbou testifies on twitter. And in Irun, “a translator now accompanies all Spanish freight trains travelling to Hendaye.

When questioned, the Occitania Region’s Vice-President for Transportation underlined : “We did not accept this unilateral decision of the railway safety authorities of the two countries … Thanks to the spanish training of controllers, Regional trens remain cross-border“. From Montpellier, the CGT union gave its analysis: “This is above all an economic war between SNCF and RENFE linked to the opening up to competition.

For a railway worker in Irun “the required language level, B1, is not so hard to obtain. With a 2 or 3 month anticipation, we can train the drivers or controllers.” As Occitania Region, RENFE has trained its controllers to maintain regional trains. ADIF has also given a derogation for French trains until October 1st of 2022… but only for freight.

Once again being the last to be considered, the night train is the only train removed. The SNCF operator sent a bus to complete the last kilometre. Unfortunately the narrowness of the streets of the border village of Cerbère hardly allows the bus to reach the station. The train will always be more suitable… and it was finally a RENFE train that took the passengers to Spain.

Spanish railway workers march to Hendaye to celebrate the arrival of the night train

09:30 AM – March from Irun to Hendaye to denounce the homologation “war”

The second march of the day was undertaken by the Spanish Coordination for the Public, Social and Sustainable Train and the Spanish railway union CCOO. They walked the 2 km between Irun and Hendaye stations to denounce the lack of connections:

  • The new French duplex HSTs are not approved to enter Irun, officially due to a gauge problem. For the Spanish railway workers « It’s an excuse. There is no tunnel nor obstacle. It’s rather an administrative blockage. » For the French railway workers the SNCF is also not interested in sending its HSTs far beyond Bordeaux for few passengers and prefers to shorten the ends of the lines.
  • Concerning the new regional trains, Irun railway workers comment that “all the homologation stages have been completed. It was at the very last moment that there was a political blockage so that the homologation was not signed“. Today, as a consequence, no passenger trains – neither RENFE nor SNCF – can run between the two stations.
  • The night train does not arrive in Irun either. A Spanish railwaywoman argued that “the night is the only one homologated to cross the border. It has been running for 40 years !“. When questioned, the French Ministry of Transport (DGITM) and SNCF unfortunately denied this analysis: the homologation has been withdrawn because the night train was not running to Irun for 5 years. The homologation remains valid only for Portbou, as long as the train continues to run there… And beware, the Spanish Railway Safety Agency (AESF) already threatened since several month to withdraw the homologation for the night train to Portbou.
  • On the other side, the french railway institutions are also blocking Renfe trains. The spanish HST are not homologated for the northern half of France: they cannot therefore enter Paris, Brussels and other European cities, although there is of course a demand from Europeans to reach Spain by train… 
  • It is still possible to travel by foot as the Hendaye – Irun stations are only 2 km apart. However, the French police have barricaded the pedestrian bridge that would make this crossing more direct and pleasant…
  • Another possibility is to take the small metre-gauge « Euskotren », which is a real success with half-hourly timetables from 5.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m., and even all night at weekends, which is what every user dreams of in France, and which is only seen abroad… Unfortunately, the Euskotren only covers 500m of French territory, which is of course insufficient to offer a real cross-border alternative to the private car. Note that the president of the Basque Country wants to invest in railto reduce car congestion : 45,000 vehicles cross the border every day, more than 85% of cross-border journeys are made by car…

The EU may solve the problem quickly and for the whole continent, as one freight railway worker reminds us: « 

In the 20th century the UIC stipulated that trains homologated in one country could run to the border station of the neighbouring country. Unfortunately, the EU has undermined this agreement by creating national railway safety authorities that impose their decisions within the strict borders of the country. This is a no sense for cross-border railways, which are thus subject to double regulation. It adds layers of extra costs and that is what is killing the railways. Fortunately, this 2007 European regulation is currently being renegotiated. It is essential to ensure that it nows complies with UIC agreements. Under pressure from the German operator DB, the problem has already been solved positively for the Saarbrücken-Forbach border stations »… where it was often necessary to change locomotives twice for 6 km tracks.

Furthermore, European legislation already proposes an exemption for “networks separated from the rest of the railway system“. Yet the Spanish tracks in France (at Cerbère and Hendaye) are separate networks. They cannot be used by French trains because they are at Iberian gauge. The same separation occurs on the tracks used by French trains in Spain at Portbou and Irun. The choice not to apply the exception is therefore all the more absurd. It is apparently only motivated by the railway dispute between the public railway companies of both countries. However, this is a good opportunity to improve EU regulations, which have been seeking for years to bridge the gaps at the borders: in order for trains to be able to move more easily across the EU, the exception should not be left to the random arbitration of each Member State’s safety agencies. The European Rail Agency – ERA could generalise it to all EU border stations, in accordance with the UIC agreements.

Meanwhile, the deterioration is rapid: towards Italy, the border station of Ventimiglia no longer supplies power to the catenaries so that the Paris-Nice night train can access it. In Portugal, railway workers are also worried : Another cancer spreading in Europe. It always worked well and safely, now we have this madness. The same thing is expected between Portugal and Spain.” 

10 AM – Demonstration in Hendaye, is competition both the source of blockage and the solution to everything ?

The trains are blocked. For a rail worker, the competition generates the blockage: “There was a non-aggression pact between SNCF and RENFE, which SNCF betrayed by launching the low-cost HST Ouigo in Spain. [600 million euros of French public funding is funding low fares and a level of service that Ouigo does not offer in France]. Their Elipsos cooperation has been shattered.” Now Spanish operators are eyeing the French market. RENFE or Euskotren would like to operate regional trains in New Aquitaine (Hendaye Region). In the meantime, they show no interest in unblocking traffic.

However, another strategy is possible: back in 2017, the CEO of SNCF confirmed the advantages of cooperation over competition: “between Germany and France we did not choose competition but cooperation. […] If we were in competition, that would mean that if you bought a ticket for a TGV, you could not get on an ICE, it is not exchangeable, and vice versa. We thus chose a model of cooperation and we are happy because with our German colleagues it has strengthened the links between the two companies.

Cooperation was a widespread behaviour among the railways in the 20th century. The decline in cooperation dates back to the European regulations 3rd and 4th railway packages (2007 and 2016) – which put railways in competition. The hostility began in 2011, when the public companies SNCF and Trenitalia stopped their cooperation Artesia.

Already In 2016, Oui au train de nuit called on this subject on the European Commission – DG Move, which replied that the new regulatory tools would solve all the problems. Six years later, one question remains: how much longer will it take to finally be able to travel those 2 km by train, where the tracks and trains are already in place and only a signature is missing ?

And above all, isn’t it time to introduce a miminum of mandatory cooperation ? It would be useful to:

  • Create continuity between operators (rail benefit to operate as a network).
  • Relaunch night trains, which are fragile, cross several countries and need this cooperation.
  • Offer through tickets mixing night trains + day trains of all companies. This will allow in the future to travel 2000km and cross Europe.
The first Paris-Hendaye night train has entered the station after a 5-year absence

Night trains return to South West Europe

The Iberian Peninsula benefited from some twenty night trains in 2009, running on both national and international connections. The operator RENFE has definitively dismantled all the night trains, on the occasion of the Covid crisis, despite Portugal’s opposition, which is seeking to revive the offer. 

The night trains Lusitânia (Lisbon – Madrid), Sud Express (Lisbon – Hendaye) and Barcelona-Galicia have thus been dismantled, despite high occupancy rates. Portugal is isolated from the larger European rail network. Such a situation has not happened since the two World Wars.

In such desperate situations, Oui au train de nuit has already had the opportunity to sing it’s only goodbye. In fact, already, the night trains are coming back!

11 AM – the first night train arrives in Hendaye!

The new Paris-Hendaye night train approaches 500 m from the border, after 5 years of absence. This is a victory, but there is still a lot to be done.

First handicap: this night train to Hendaye only runs in the summer (like the night train Paris-Portbou which only runs on weekends and holidays). The demonstrators are asking for these 2 trains to be daily. Moreover, the time of arrival is very late (10.40am). In addition, numerous HSR works are likely to prevent traffic for the next 10 years. See the press release.

5 PM – debate in Bayonne between users, elected representatives, NGOs and railway workers

In the Basque Country, train is the subject of debate: the french Basque Country has voted against the High Speed Line project to reach the border. The EU is also reluctant to pay. Brussels seems to favour the modernisation of existing lines that are more useful for daily mobility.

This was the occasion for a debate which showed the importance of providing more funding for the conventional railroad network. This network is under-used by far: local trains could be operated at half-hourly intervals, with a wider range of hours. And to double the freight, the « rail freight highways », such as Cherbourg-Bayonne, are expensive and unsuitable. By only linking one unique depature with one destination, they abandon the territories located in between.

6 PM – Lisbon dances for the night train as an alternative to aviation

In Lisbon the Aterra collective is mobilising for alternatives to air travel [press release]. It has called for a demonstration with choreography in front of the historic Santa Apolonia station. Anne denounces Portugal’s railway isolation: “Lisbon is one of only two European capitals without any international rail links. We are completely dependent on aviation, which is the worst choice for the climate. The situation is dramatic. We want night trains to Europe and also national night trains to connect the North and South of Portugal“. [see video]

Aterra also calls for fair taxation between air and rail. It claims that a train journey should cost, at most, half the equivalent journey by plane.

Aterra alerts on the rail isolation of Portugal and the need for alternatives to aviation

7 PM – Madrid for the revival of night trains and the conventional rail network

In Madrid, the NGO Ecologistas en Acción denounces the imbalance of funding in favour of High Speed Rail, as well as the abandonment of the conventional railway network. The latter provides more social benefits with local trains, suburban trains in the regions, freight, and night and day long distance trains. 

Beyond the demonstration, a joint declaration by 14 social, trade union and environmental organisations, was also proposed on July 4th, accompanied by a dossier of proposals. The action was particularly noticeable in medium-sized cities served by the night train, such as Salamanca, [press release] and Granada.

The left-wing coalition in the Spanish government has promised the return of night trains… by 2050. In 2022 it is carrying out a study (with no news about it) and at the same time authorising RENFE to cease operations and send some of its most modern night trains… to Turkey. As a reminder, Western Europe is experiencing a shortage of this type of equipment, and several operators are also looking to rent it.

Demonstration at Madrid-Atocha station for night trains and the conventional rail network

8 PM – the first night train returns to Paris with a batch of demands

This long day of mobilisation ends with the night train sending a message back to Paris (and Brussels). Could such accumulations of dysfunctions take place in Paris regional trains? Or it is just an effect of over-centralism on the forgotten edges of France? 

Oui au train de nuit had already occasions to denounce that the railway geography seen from Paris is overly simplified. So its proposals include night trains on a diversity of cross-country routes between regions (while actual night trains are strictly limited to connexions to Paris). Similarly Portugal’s government also denounce the excessive railway centralism in Madrid’s strategy and is calling for an real Iberian rail network, which would to be not limited to tracks to Madrid.

At present, french government is concentrating new tax revenues for infrastructure projects for Paris and the metropolises: the « Grand Paris Express » is typical of this trend – this new infrastructure plans a tax to collect at least €35bn. The South-West HSR project want to raise €14bn. Yet, these projects forget about the conventional railways for medium-sized towns and give rise to a feeling of abandonment and injustice.

In many rural areas, the Yellow Vest mouvement and then the rising scores of the Extrem Right parties have largely sounded the alarm: it is time to fix territorial divisions by funding the conventional railway at least at the same level as the big projects for the metropolises. This is especially relevant as there is a backlog of investment to be made up and more than 60% of the french population lives outside the metropolises. Spain also wants to balance those investments, but fails to achieve it.

The first night train leaves with a message to Paris

Oui au train de nuit therefore demands :

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.


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.