The following article by Bernhard Knierim appeared in the German weekly “Der Freitag” issue 31/2020. It has been translated by Trevor Garrod.

Future mobility based on Europe-wide rail network with emphasis on night trains.

A super-train at 350km per hour from Lisbon to Helsinki – a new project as a cure for the climate, as Michael Jaeger recently demanded (DF 28/2020). This is an appropriate critical look at such a promise.

Firstly, the building of high speed lines itself requires an immense amount of energy and concrete, which means a gigantic advance of CO2 and in addition is very destructive for the natural world, even if far less then new motorways. Even if such a European silk road tempted large numbers of people from plane to train, it would take many years to compensate for this damage and the maintenance of such a route would remain costly. The realisation of this megaproject would also take many years, probably decades. Rail Baltica, the section of the proposed line from Warsaw to Helsinki, has been planned since 1994, but its realisation up to now is in the stars. As good as nothing has been constructed – after 26 years. We no longer have such an amount of time, in view of the acute climate crisis.

However, travel at 350kph is anything but climate-friendly. It is known that the energy consumption increases exponentially with the speed – but usage in no way increases likewise. The highest speeds only cut journey times by minutes. Greater gains of time can only be realised when the trains travel for long distances non-stop.

That has a further consequence. in that many people along the route outside the capital cities are disconnected.  Rail as a mere point-to-point link between metropolitan areas, like the aircraft, is a false comparison.  It is only really useful as a network of well tuned across the whole country, as indeed is proposed by the “Deutschlandtakt” (even interval service for all of Germany).

For that there is hardly any sense  in speeds of over 250kph in densely populated central Europe. Instead, the right approach is to optimise the network in a way that Swiss transport planners have honed to perfection. Often a convenient journey with good connections is more valuable than top speeds on specific sections of track. Furthermore, sharing a super high speed line with freight traffic is barely credible; the speeds and demands on the track differ too much. Each new high speed line in Germany is made to look worth the money by the claim that it can be used by freight trains. But the 10 billion euro new line from Halle and Leipzig via Erfurt to Nuremberg is not the only such route on which, up to now, no freight train has travelled.

This is in no way special pleading against new or improved rail links. In many places in Europe, especially across national borders, they are urgently needed. Targeted filling of gaps or increased line speeds in the right places can do a lot to optimise the existing rail network and make connections more attractive. But a completely new line which is not integrated  in the existing network has limited usefulness. For fare too long, especially in Germany, new high speed lines have been planned without integration in the existing overall network and a slow rethink is only just beginning. We should not repeat this mistake at European level.

Instead, and especially for long stretches of route, going back to tried and tested technology is helpful. With night trains it is also possible, without costly new lines, to cover distances of over 1000km over night, and indeed on the existing network which fortunately in Europe is still very dense. Where fast lines already exist,  significantly longer distances can also be covered. In this way the time taken for the passenger,  even without high speed, is much less than in daytime trains, because one is on the move comfortably asleep. Even at 350 kph. a journey right across Europe in future would not take much longer than most people would like to spend  sitting in a train.

Instead, what is more pleasant than, after having had a good night’s sleep and breakfast, arriving in a new city. in this respect rail even has an advantage over air, when one has to get up in the middle of the night  to start a journey.

Slowing down is enriching
Unfortunately, many European railways, with Deutsche Bahn AG at their head,  have withdrawn from the night train market in recent years because they could not compete with subsidised low-cost airlines and because for many the sleeping car had an old-fashioned image – unjustly so.

Nevertheless, there is at present a small renaissance and some new links. With appropriate support, a new night train network could be built up within a few years, and  all of Europe, not just for a few metropolitan areas, could be connected up in a convenient and climate-friendly manner. In the “Lunaliner” project, activists already four years ago drafted a plan for a night train network across Europe, with many direct links
there are also ideas for new trains which are suitable for changed journey habits and can make overnight travel even more convenient; in this field  the Austrian Federal Railways are way out ahead as the largest night train operator in Europe. Even today rail is ahead of the low-cost airlines in terms of convenience – from the queues and security checks at airports to the aircraft in which, despite the danger of corona infections,  travellers are densely packed together.  A somewhat slower pace could only be an enrichment in this respect.

Those of us who want to gain more people to use rail need not only new routes but also political action. The construction of new lines does not in itself create a network of useable train links. Booking of international train tickets nowadays is most time-consuming and, in comparison to air, often expensive. Alongside rail improvements, dismantling the privileges of the airline industry is also necessary.

United Railways of Europe
First of all, the massive tax advantages .for air travel must be abolished. Why is air travel exempt from kerosene tax, only paying a small proportion of the CO2 certification and not even liable  to Value Added Tax on cropss-border flights? Furthermore, why are working conditions accepted which often amount to exploitation?

As a good alternative we need, in the final analysis, a return to a real Europe-wide network of convenient and fast  international daytime and night trains, integrated with ferries where there is no overland connection.  The aim everywhere must be an attractive  climate-friendly alternative to plying. To this end, the EU should give financial support to the development of new links and investment in new rolling stock and at the same time promote co-operation between railways in cross-border travel.

Would not the “United Railways of Europe”, with the promise of Europe-wide mobility by rail, be a terrific aim?  It needs to be coupled with  a Europe-wide unified booking system so that the purchase of rail tickets in future can be at least as simple as it is today on the airlines. Flight-shame is gradually spreading from Sweden to the rest of Europe. What is lacking is rail pride. A lot remains to be done in this respect, and the money and energy  would be better spent towards this goal than  for a new megaproject.

Bernhard Knierim

The renaissance of night trains in France is on its way!

During his speech for the French national day, on July 14th, president Emmanuel Macron announced his priorities for the coming years. Among them, a “massive plan” for rail freight, for the redevelopment of overnight trains and for small rural railway lines.

Later, the French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari announced that, as a first step, two night train routes will be relaunched by 2022 : these will be Paris to Nice and Paris to Tarbes (in the South-West). In the meanwhile, the rolling stock for the remaining lines from Paris to Briançon and Rodez/Toulouse/Latour-de-Carol/Portbou will be refurbished. For the moment, we do not have any precise informations about the restart of Paris-Nice and Paris-Tarbes, so we do not know which rolling stock will be used, if the trains will be daily, which operator will run these trains, if they will run attached to the already existing night trains, or if completely new trains will be created (which, for Paris-Tarbes, would allow for more capacity)… etc.

From April 2018

We will soon know more about all these details, when the French government will publish its report about the development of night trains, wich is expected to be released by the end of this summer. This report will detail the long-term stategy for night trains, possibly including perspectives for reopening of more lines in the coming decade, both national and international. So the reopening of Paris-Nice and Paris-Tarbes is only a first step forward: Maybe this is what can be done on the short run using the existing old rolling stock which will be refurbished, and a possible wider development will have to wait a few more years for the construction of new rolling stock.

The transport minister says he has “high ambitions for night trains”, so we hope that the mentioned report will be quite positive. We are trying to encourage this ambition by presenting our vision of what could be a possible network of national and international night trains in France in 2030. We have published a map of national lines here, and we will very soon publish an other map showing international connections.

We are calling for a 1.5 billion € investment in new night rolling stock, which would allow to develop a dense network of 15 national lines and 15 international lines.

The governement is now discussing with the Regions to know their interest in new night train services, and the choices will be made in the coming weeks. In late August, the governement will detail its recovery plan so we will likely know more at that moment… stay tuned !

A small selection of the press coverage:–s

German transport policy has consistently favored motorism

From the frontpage of the report

Germany, like the rest of Europe, has a transport sector where CO2 emissions are steadily rising and where politicians and authorities do not seem to be able to come together to do something about it.

Germany’s great love relationship with motorists and the automotive industry since World War II is reflected in a unique distortion of costs in the transport sector. The railways are disadvantaged, pay a green fee, pay high infrastructure charges and only recently have VAT been reduced.

The automotive industry has been able to rely on politicians to be friendly and compliant, so even moderate EU political ambitions on CO2 emissions reductions have been delayed – and covered by fraud cases. And the industry has automatically been forgiven.

A policy paper from Germanwatch by Lena Donat explains very well these circumstances. The report points to the following solutions:

  • Short term: Stop public investment on new federal highways, additional highway lanes, highway-like roads and bypasses
  • Prioritise railway infrastructure, both regional and long-distance, especially projects that are key for implementing the nationwide integrated regular interval timetable (‘Deutschland-Takt’) and cross-boundary connections
  • Revise Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan, and undertake a 1.5°C check. Include reduction of road passenger and freight transport as a strategic target in of the Plan
  • Plan infrastructure based on coordinated timetable intervals (‘fahrplanorientierte Infrastrukturplanung’

>> Get the report yourself

Stop Aviation Bailouts – Support trains as an alternative to flying!

Letter to the respective National governments before the upcoming EU meeting.

The French government’s plan to support the airline industry with 15 billion euro threatens the Paris Agreement and should be rejected. Every European country and the EU must use the opportunity to support climate friendly initiatives like international night trains.

This is the message from rail activists all over Europe in the Back on Track network. 

Aviation is responsible for a growing global climate impact. There is a lot of greenwashing talk about sustainable flights, but in reality no technical solutions are available to reach the Paris agreement with the amount of air traffic we had before the Corona crisis. For example, there is not enough sustainable bioenergy available and also not enough electricity to produce hydrogen for all air traffic globally. Airplanes not only consume much more energy than any other means of transport, but they are also more dependent on high energy density than any other vehicles, and even carbon-neutral fuels have significant climate impact because of specific effects of emissions in the high atmosphere.

The crisis has shown that many of the flights can be avoided through digital meetings. It made many people realise that weekend flights to New York or to the beaches in Thailand are no necessity.  

If Governments and the EU consider support is justified for air transport under certain conditions, this must be limited to unavoidable flights. Moreover, it must be combined with the introduction of taxes on flights. No airlines should be supported on distances where you can reach the destination by train in four hours or less. The Austrian government agreement proposing a three hour limit is a good step in this direction.

To encourage environmentally friendly travel in European night trains for distances up to 12 hours is a good solution. With modern night trains you can have dinner, go to bed and reach your destination in another European country in the morning with very low climate impact.

State money and any EU package aimed at starting up the economy after Corona should be focused on climate friendly alternatives, and investments in rail and night trains is one good solution. In order to save air transport workers from unemployment, retraining for work in the railway or urban transport industry is a more sustainable solution than postponing the inevitable decrease of air transport for some years.

As aviation pays almost no taxes, it is not fair to save the aviation industry with taxpayers money. This gives aviation an unfair advantage over lower emission modes of transport. Tax exemptions therefore must be stopped: airlines must be obliged to pay a tax on kerosene or a CO2-tax; and instead of Air Miles programmes which incentivise air travel, fair and progressive levies on frequent flying must be put in place.

It is important to use the current unintended pause in aviation for building a climate-safe transport sector and creating resilience for future crises.

Statement agreed by Back on Track representatives in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain, Belgium and The Netherlands. 

>> Pick up the pdf-version of this press release (incl. contact info)

Dutch initiative to support long distance trains gets full EU support

The European Commission said on Wednesday (3rd of June) that train travel should be given special attention in 2021 as part of the EU executive’s Green Deal environmental agenda, suggesting that next year should be the ‘European Year of Rail’.

A new agenda should “offer the legal […] framework for attractive alternatives to make railway become an attractive alternative in distances in which it is not currently competitive”, the letter adds. The idea is to agree on a calendar of milestones within 12 months.

Issues such as complex ticket buying systems for multi-leg journeys with different companies should be addressed by digital solutions, it adds. Frequent rail travellers have long called for an online platform similar to ‘Skyscanner’ to be set up, perhaps by the EU.

The ministers also insist that international services can increase their share of passenger numbers in the 300-800 km category, suggesting that rail will be taking the fight to short-haul flights, which generally fall under the 1,000km mark.

EU heads of state and government are due to meet virtually on 19 June for “thorough preparation” ahead of their next meeting, which could be held physically for the first time since the pandemic hit Europe.

The initiative originates from the Dutch Government within the EU-Council, and you can read their letter to Commissioner Adina Válean dated 2.6. here.

The initiative was earlier mentioned here on this website here. Here you will see, that night trains are also clearly mentioned.

>> The story was covered by Euractiv here.

Coronavirus stops the Renfe ‘Tren-Hotel’

NEW DEVELOPMENT: There has been strong protest against the discontinuation of the last night trains i Spain, which was justified by Corona, that Renfe is now turning around and assuring that the lines will be continued. The protests ranged from passengers to associations and organisations and even to the governments of the affected regions.

The night train connections that connected Madrid with A Coruña, Pontevedra and Ferrol, and Barcelona with A Coruña and Vigo, disappear. The operator say they are trying to reduce the losses they anticipate from the halt in transport during the coronavirus pandemic and its expected “slow” recovery.

Renfe does not expect to put its ‘hotel train’ back into service once the railway traffic resumes after the state of alarm, which could mean the definitive disappearance of this historical night service, according to sources in the sector.

22.8.2020: “The return of the hotel train that connected A Coruña with Barcelona and Madrid is conditioned to “the new demand that arises after the pandemic”. This is the answer offered by the central government to the deputy Néstor Rego of the BNG, who asked about the reasons for the suspension of this service and whether it would become definitive. The news of the elimination of this service was known last May and it was known that its return was not planned in the short term.” From

Photo: JT Curses 2009

The railway company recorded an annual loss of around 25 million euros for the provision of the ‘hotel train’ service, despite the fact that in the last few years it had already been reduced, so that currently only two connections are provided in Spain and one international connection.

The only international connection that these trains used to make was the Madrid-Lisbon one, since the one connecting Madrid and Barcelona with Paris was cancelled in 2013. The Lisbon line The Sud Express trainhotel,
Hendaye to Lisbon, is not mentioned, and it seems as if it will continue.

With its ‘hotel train’, Renfe offered a “rolling hotel room”, to “enjoy the comforts of a hotel, with all the advantages of a train” and “take advantage of the night to travel while sleeping and wake up the destination city centre”.

The trains offered three different types of cabins with beds, or armchair seats, as well as a cafeteria and restaurant, and were aimed at both leisure and business travel.

These services were for long time on the brink of disappearing, especially those linking Madrid and Galicia. Trains were ever shorter, the restaurant became a sad, Hopper-like bar… But they were always full, people did find them useful! The Barcelona-Galicia service had newer and cleaner rolling stock but also suffered long delays (3+ hours were not unheard of in any of them). These delays were often related to the locomotives, which seemed not to have proper maintenance. They did not seem profitable, especially with the refunds they were forced to do so often… As elsewhere, night trains are expensive for a variety of reasons.

All in all, it looks as a final solution since the service was poor, uneconomical and deteriorating over the last years… In addition, construction company Adif is ending the work to link Madrid and the NW with a high speed rail. Clearly this is the way to go for them, Covid was simply a useful excuse.

Based upon an article in

Read also:

Support our Brussels conference in October

Back-on-Track will organize its annual conference on nighttrains this year in Brussels on 15th, 16th and 17th of October, if conditions allow, and we have agreed that this year’s will be in a new and more institutional format:

Night trains were until recently the most common means for intra-European transport. However for ecological as well as resilience reasons, we need to put them back at the heart of our long distance mobility on our continent. This conference will allow specialists (BOT members, MEPs, professionals (railway infrastructure operators, train companies, manufacturers)) to discuss the different aspects necessary for this renaissance (challenges and opportunities) and inform a wider audience about what modern night trains are.

Because of the current situation, we shall also focus on postcorona safety aspects. It will furthermore be necessary to discuss how the cards have to be re-dealt between train operators and airlines after this crisis.

Several projects keep us busy on a daily basis and will be discussed during the event: a study (EU Tender!) on the return of night trains, that will be discussed with DG MOVE and other experts, a feasibility study on the relaunch of the Paris-Brussels-Berlin connection (and the associated petitions) and also other projects such as the Malmö/Stockholm-Copenhagen-Cologne-Brussels line:

One of Back-on-Track’s missions is to facilitate communication between the different parties to accelerate the development of night train connections of common public interest in Europe and our 3-day conference is the platform to move forward on important points.

Beside motivation we need your commitment to have more and better night train connections through all Europe!

So help us in participating in our crowdfunding campaign and share this article to spread the news!

Soon, the complete program will be available on Back-on-Track´s website.

>> Find our crowdfunding website here and donate!

EU-project: Revitalisation of cross-border night trains

The European Commission has launched a tender “Pilot Project on the revitalisation of cross-border night trains”.

The indicative starting date of the study is 1 September 2020. The period of the execution of the contract is 9 months.

What is remarkable is the concise focus on main obstacles to night trains and a positive approach. The report shall:

  • Become a positive contribution to a better future with night trains (and not only a sad story of the existing situation)
  • With a close consultation with DG Move focus on precise improvements to be made
  • A scope of work, that will result in a coherent set of potential measures to be taken at either European, Member State or sector level

The accompanying documents can be found on the Document Library tab here. The most interesting is “Identification of measures to promote cross-border long-distance passenger rail services”. To make it easy to readers, we have downloaded it, and you can pick it here. We quote elements from that document below:

1.1 Background
Against the backdrop of the European Green Deal, which aims inter alia at shifting transport to less polluting modes such as rail, the European Commission has been asked by the European Parliament, by means of a Pilot Project, to assess how cross-border night train services can be promoted. The study will address the relevant elements for cross-border passenger rail services in general, with a special focus on night trains as these two types of services complement and reinforce each other and are confronted with similar obstacles. A detailed study on night trains was prepared at the request of the European Parliament in 2017. Now it is time to go one step further and to propose concrete initiatives, where meaningful and effective.

2.1 Aim and scope of the study
The objective of the study is to assess the main obstacles for the further development of night train and of cross-border (high speed) rail passenger services in Europe. Where relevant, concrete measures at the European level to overcome those obstacles are to be defined, as well as an analysis of their impacts. Areas of intervention might include but not limited to:
– legal framework;
– financial intervention;
– providing a platform for exchange of information;
– the use of the convening power of the Commission, achieving agreements between relevant stakeholders.

3 Description of tasks
3.2 Identification and analysis of obstacles hampering future development of cross-border services including cross-border night train services

3.2.2 Easy ticketing options for passengers
For rail passengers travelling cross-border within the Union, finding (on-line) tickets spanning more than one carrier is very difficult. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the situation is worsening and that this lack puts a real threat to rail being able to compete with other transport modes. Passengers wanting to travel in a sustainable manner, simply cannot find information on the different cross-border train services or the train tickets they would like to buy, even for connections which seem straightforward. In some extreme cases this leads to misleading information to passengers and to a denial of passenger rights from the side of railway undertakings.


3.2.3 Technical / operational barriers / safety-related for the operations of cross-border (night) train services

In spite of progressive harmonisation of technical, safety and operational rules and legislation in Europe, the cross-border operation of train services still entails additional barriers compared to operating domestic services.


3.2.4 Infrastructure capacity allocation for cross-border (night) train services

International passenger trains are in general not prioritised by infrastructure managers during the capacity allocation process. This may lead to suboptimal timetables for cross-border passenger services, leading to a lower level of attractiveness of the service for passengers. In addition, for night trains, priority issues may occur with capacity needed for maintenance works which often take place or intensify during night hours, as well as with freight trains.


3.2.5 Infrastructure track access charges and mark-ups for cross-border (night) train services

According to Directive 2012/34 EU, amended by Directive (EU) 2016/2370, track access charges are to be calculated based on direct costs. Mark-ups should be the exception. However, earlier findings suggest that in many Member States mark-ups are the rule and affect especially long distance passenger services and high speed services. It is needless to say that increased infrastructure charges ultimately have a negative effect on the offer of rail services as well as on the prices of train tickets and thus the attractiveness of cross-border rail travel.


3.2.6 Cross-border PSO services

As described above, cross-border rail services can be operated under a Public Service Contract and a number of existing cross-border passenger services indeed are. The Commission is currently drafting guidelines to provide its interpretation of key provisions of Regulation 1370/2007, including on how cross-border PSO services can be established in line with Regulation (EU) 1370/2007. Also for night train services, some Member States (such as Sweden and the Netherlands) are considering the use of cross-border PSOs.


3.5 Organisation and management of a conference on the results of the study

Towards the end of the study, the consultant is requested to organise and manage in one of the EU27 Member States a conference to present the results of the study. The main characteristics of the conference include: – a one day conference; – no participation costs for participants; – a maximum of 200 attendees, plus live webstreaming.

B-o-T reaction to Swedish report on night trains

Back-on-Track, Denmarks say: Now Danish authorities has to enter the machine room – and begin with a look into our recommendations!

Monday 27.4. the long awaited Swedish report on the re-introduction of Scandinavian night trains to the continent was published with three annexes.

>> Find the Swedish report here (in Swedish)

>> Find the report in this in-official translation (to English)

>> Find a summary of the very interesting ASEK7 report. ASEK is a Swedish abbreviation meaning the principles and values that are recommended to be used in social cost-benefit analyses (CBA) in the Swedish transport sector.

Before the report came, politicians in Sweden and Denmark have backed the work, also by reserving funds for the first years of operations of night trains. The report is an excellent piece of work and will now form the basis for quick and practical handling by politicians and authorities so that the popular and political wishes can be unfolded in the practical world without delay.

From Back-on-Track, Denmark, we have already provided feedback to the Swedish Transport Administration’s interim report. Our feedback seems to have been heard. But there are still unresolved issues and places where the Swedish Transport Administration acts as a Swedish national authority for good reasons. Now we turn our expertise towards Danish politicians and authorities, to support the Danish positions, so that we can act

Quickly and wisely for the benefit of Danish travelers

Have a look to a future where trains can reduce CO2 emissions from passenger transport work in Europe

We have gathered the most important observations and recommendations in schematic form.

>> Read the Danish recommendations here

European trains can lift the climate challenge of the future

New Danish report from Back-on-Track, Denmark

European railways need to get out of their sleep and will, by 2030, be able lift much more of passenger transport at distances up to 1,200 km. The railway companies cannot do this alone. They must be helped by CO2 taxes, as recommended by the Danish Climate Council, and by a coordinated and unprecedented European effort to clear the way for European trains.

In this way, climate-damaging aviation can be reduced dramatically.

A new Danish report shows that it is definitely not impossible to explore Europe, even if air travel gradually is disappearing as a European phenomenon.

Here is the report presented briefly at a Back-on-Track webinar 25.4. 2020

In exactly one week, the Swedish Transport Administration will show how the first night trains from Sweden and Denmark can get started. Now it is important not to sit on your hands and be satisfied with the establishment of one or two night trains according to the Danish political traffic agreement. The establishment of night trains must be seen far more broadly, we must examine whether trains can really replace flights in Europe? and when it can be done? Is there a good social economy in it? And if there is good finances in it, then there must also be the necessary willingness to invest.

Excerpt from the report’s conclusions:

  • European railways have the potential to gradually replace flights in Europe until 2050.
  • Both capacity and speed must be increased on the rails, and this requires a large and coordinated European investment program.
  • The large socio-economic gain from the conversion of aviation to electric trains provides enough room for investment in infrastructure and operating support for the main routes, which will not initially be economically viable.
  • Restructuring of European passenger transport seems impossible without aviation paying for climate costs in the form of CO2 taxation. But timing for escalating taxation and strengthening trains can follow several different tracks. A long-term plan will give the industry something to relate to. Work should start now.
  • The changeover must take into account the comfort of the passengers. Travel times will be significantly increased from aircraft to train; it must be compensated through comfort and service.
  • The geography of Europe makes it possible for remote areas such as Scandinavia to include the night hours, which means that huge growth in night trains with different categories of service must be anticipated.

For more information, contact Back-on-Track, Denmark or call Poul Kattler, +4526177223

>> See the short presentation of the report from the Webinar 25.4. 2020

>> Find the full report here