Skip to content

Night trains to Europe – New opportunities to Scandinavian sustainable travelers

This debate article is published in Denmark, in “Information” 23.3. and in Sweden in 7.4., Dagens Nyheter 11.4. and in Norway, in 4.4.

>> German translation here >> Norwegian translation here >> Danish translation here

More and more people realize how unsustainable it is to fly as we do today. We Danes and Swedes belong to those who have increased the number of flights at most in Europe – we are now flying like 5-6 times a year. The climate impact from the planes thus follows the wrong path. Fortunately, there are good opportunities to replace the flights, at least in Europe: We should be able to take a night train that can provide convenient trips to many destinations. Night trains are heading for a renaissance because of their climate friendliness. The European Environment Agency points out only on night trains as an alternative to flights at long distances in Europe.

Meeting in Cologne next morning? Take the train from Copenhagen in the early evening. You might be at the platform an hour in advance, but two minutes had been enough. It’s a beautiful February evening, and after departure, the train slides through the suburbs and leaves the capital city. Maybe you enjoy a dinner in the restaurant car or hang out with a colleague in your compartment. Or you will work on the presentation for tomorrow’s conference – on board there is of course Wi-Fi and improved mobile coverage. When the day is finished, a comfortable bed is available in your compartment. At six the next morning you will be awakened, the train has an hour to go. After breakfast and a shower on board you are already in the middle of the city of Cologne, rested and ready.

Is it possible? Absolutely. In cooperation between Denmark, Sweden and the countries to the south, two sets of good night trains can be established. The first starts in Copenhagen at 18:25, collecting passengers in Odense and Kolding and crossing the border to Germany around 22:00. It has a section to Cologne (arrival 7:00) and Amsterdam (arrival 10:25). A section runs to Basel (arrival 9:20) and Zurich (arrival 10:55). And finally a section to Munich (arrival 9:05) and Innsbruck (arrival 10:55).

The next train comes from Stockholm, and is also in two sections. This train runs from Copenhagen at 23:30. Running without collecting more passengers, the train is in Hamburg at 6:26. From here, high speed trains can be reached to many destinations in Germany. The train is split in Hamburg and one section arrives at Berlin 08:40, and the other arrives at Dortmund at 9:25, to Cologne 10:40, and to Brussels for lunch.


The proposal is based on existing tracks and technology. And is based on DSB’s future electric locomotives, hauling the cars from Copenhagen to Hamburg.

Compared with an airplane in the evening, train travelers save both time and hotel costs and compared to the first morning flight you do not have to pick up at four to a brutal morning plan. Trains also have good opportunities for carrying large luggage and bicycles, and trains do not require cumbersome procedures at the airport. For society, international night trains are a perfect complement to aviation taxes: we must limit the number of flight, but also make it easy to travel sustainable over long distances. Here the train – often driven by 100% renewable electricity – is a natural choice.

Until the 1990s, the train “Alfred Nobel” went between Stockholm and Hamburg, although it was to be divided into several ferries across the Øresund and the Baltic Sea. Now there are tracks all the way across, and locomotives that can handle the various electrical and security systems in Europe. The possibility of international night trains from Sweden and Denmark to the continent is therefore in many ways better than before and we need it more than ever. Until 2014, there was a night train from Copenhagen southwards via Kolding. It closed meaningless at the top of its passenger figures.

What is needed to make this happen? We propose that the Swedish government buy equipment in order to make the one night train drive from Sweden and south. Such purchases have already been made by the Swedish state of trains to the legendary Polar Circle Express. The equipment is hereby leased to an operator, and it might be unnecessary to involve public subsidies for the operation, but PSO would give security to get started. Regarding the second train from Copenhagen, DSB is required to cooperate with the Austrian operator ÖBB, so that a new branch of the Austrian NightJet can find the rails to Copenhagen in 2021.

Night trains help us meet our climate goals in the transport sector and link Europe together – both very relevant issues. Will we be able to take the train to the continent already in 2021?

Per Eric Rosén                                 Uppsala

Ellie Cijvat                                          Malmö

Poul Kattler                                       København
Back-on-Track – the European network for cross border night trains

42 thoughts on “Night trains to Europe – New opportunities to Scandinavian sustainable travelers”

  1. Hallo
    As interrailer since 1990 and rail entusiast i appreciate this new. In 2021 i ll get to norway (narvik) then to lofoten then by ship to bergen and from there to kopenhaghen and berlin via oslo and hamburg . All with my wife and using interrail .
    A trip koln stockolm with a change only in kopenhaghen could be attrattive in sleepingcar car.
    We are from. Milanonimi

  2. I like the idea a lot.
    But there are some logistic problems, I don’t think it will be possible for several hundred passengers all to get a breakfast and take a shower within one hour (the same hour), I definitely think there will be problems of congestion and conflict.

    There are showers etc at most big stations, certainly at Brussels.

    People are used to 8 hour or more flights to USA without the chance to get a shower. Sitting in standard airline seats too, not in beds (unless you are travelling first class).. So I am in favour of an airline-like layout and invest more resources in developing really high speed trains. I recently travelled from London to Rotterdam on the new Eurostar route. It was magic.

    1. You may not be used to the night trains. Today a full train arrives to its terminal destination, and the breakfast exercise is working. Sure, if 30 passengers share one shower, it might not be possible, that is simple logic. But:
      If High speed train journeys are more than four hours, they are less attractive compared with planes, and here night trains are alternatives.
      And night trains can be introduced here and now, high speed takes many years of construction.

  3. Hi, good initiative, and please – remember to demand these night trains to be accessible.
    As it is now, if using a manual wheelchair, it’s so much more convenient to take a flight than to go by train, not having a chair to move over to, not having a table to work by, not being able to come to the bistro and – not being able to take a night train.
    As Agenda 2030 and the World Bank says, to reach sustainable development we must include persons with disability in the changes we make.

    Regards Maria

  4. It would basically not even reach a noticeable effect on flight travels. If you somehow cram in 1000 persons on the train in, say, stockholm, thats not even a rounding error on the number of available flight seats from arlanda alone, much less from arlanda+bromma. And with current density of a bout 40 places per carriage that would mean 30 carriages long train. In order to have any effect of significance the amount of available seats much be way, way, way higher, like a factor of ten higher. I like night trains, but this is not a solution to long distance travels.Lets keep realistic, planes are good fro long distance travelling, lets look at how we make them more efficient.

  5. Don’t forget the new tunnel between Denmark and Germany! Once ready the travel time with high speed train between Copenhagen and Hamburg will be less than 3 hours. Currently Denmark is driving this project alone which is crazy considering how important it will be also for Norway and Sweden. If the whole Scandinavia put more support and pressure on the project it could probably be finished well before the current plan which is to open 2028. This would also put more pressure on high speed train in Sweden, but then we also need high speed from Gothenburg to Malmö which would push Norway to get going with high-speed from Oslo. I believe Norway (and Gothenburg) is very interested in high speed from Oslo to Copenhagen.
    With this the travel time from Stockholm/Oslo could be down to 6 hours or maybe even lower.

  6. Very good idea. We are 2 cyklist that used to go by ” City Night Line ” from Copenhagen to south of Germany. Now it take us 2 days on train with our bikes and 1 nigth at hotel . It would be wonderful if we could get the “Nigrh Line ” back !

  7. Fantastic! I support your project wholeheartedly and hope that the Swedish government “jumps on the train” to connect to Europe and stay “on track” to future environmental friendly – and most comfortable and enjoyable – travelling!

  8. The real problem is to be able to reach the early departures from Hamburg southbound. There is a definite need for a night connection Copenhagen-Hamburg, like the night sitting train last summer (2017), departing ca 23.45 from Copenhagen arriving 06.00 in Hamburg. The opposite direction had the same timings. With a departure slightly before 24.00 there will be good connections from Stockholm, Oslo and Göteborg. And in Hamburg there will be good connections all over Germany and further. There are problems with night train sleepers in Hamburg in the morning and in Copenhagen in the morning . And sleepers are costy. They only run once in 24 hours, and they only convey appr 35 passengers at most per trip, and they need extra care before and after the service. Economy is a problem that has to be recognized. A lot of persons would be prepared to travel during the night in a sitting train, since this offers an option that does not exist today. The alternative bus via Rödby is a joke or even worse. A train with higher quality than a bus and a train that is not shunted on the ferry and the passengers chased from the train to the upper parts of the ferry is not acceptable. The route via Odense and Neumünster is quite ok during the night. The train must not leave too late and must not arrive too early, just enough for the connections. The distances from Scandinavia to central Europe are just too great for pure day travel. The idea to make a stop-over in a hotel is not an attractive alternative, so night trains have a clear role. But the demand has to manifest in figures in order to convince train companies and politicians. There is certainly a market for Scandinavia-Germany night travel. But i believe the companies are rightly afraid of costs and of track congestions in the morning rush. The companies know about problems they do want to avoid. A train just passing through Hamburg in the morning might be a good idea, especially if they are sleeper train, in which case the train’s terminus has to be in another station at a later time. That is why I believe Köln or Frankfurt would be easier to use, just making a short stop in Hamburg in the early morning. Sitting in a train during night is better than sitting squeezed in an airplane, and much better than squeezed in a bus. I even imagine that the IC train Copenhagen-Hamburg last summer immediately went back from Hamburg to Copenhagen via Rödby in a morning trip. That i even good rolling stock economy. IC trains can do several trips during the day, unlike sleepers.
    I would be happy if there were a night sleeper, but I imagine that is a pure fine wishful idea. When the number of passengers successively increases it will perhaps be possible to develop a more high quality alternative. I am convinced that the awareness of the climate situation will make more people choose a train alternative, which is much more attractive that the subsidized low-price flights. If then there could be a night sleeper from Copenhagen to Köln and Frankfurt-Basel it would be excellent. I don’t mind, I am just realistic for the moment. Stepwise improvements are sometimes necessary.

    1. Good analysis, except maybe, for the night sleeper aspect.
      At least I am definitely not ready to travel sitting during the night in the train. The larger space provided by the train compared to a bus, is to be used to get better accomodation confort for the passenger. For me the price for a night sleeper should be compared to the price for one (maybe two) hotel night(s) at the destination. A night sleeper could also be used in day traffic.
      To further improve the travel efficiency, the train could include a dining car, giving the opportunity to dining and travelling simultaneously.
      Also for the longer travel, with travel not only during the night but in the afternoon and/or morning, it would be important that the train propose free WiFi to be able to work or stay connected over the Internet while travelling.

      1. Erkin Alp Güney

        > A night sleeper could also be used in day traffic.
        Book 12 people for 4-bunk couchette for day trains (each bunk becomes a seat for three) and voila.

  9. Please connect London and Amsterdam over Groningen, Bremen and Hamburg. We don’t want to go to Cologne.

  10. When Norway is not included, it is not something “Scandinavian”. Scandinavia is: Denmark, Norway, Sweden. Why leave out the Norwegians in your proposal?

    1. Sure, Espen! It was some sort of chance, that this initiative (to press and politicians) came up between Danes and Swedes. In fact, in the Danish follow-up to our MP’s we are mentioning the Oslo-Copenhagen night train on the same level as the other ideas. And if possible the extension of the Stockholm-Malmö night train to Copenhagen (and further day-train connection to Hamburg).

  11. Dominiek Dendooven

    In 1985 I traveled from Bruges (Belgium) to Norrköping and I had to change train only once , i.e. in Copenhagen. The train was recomposed and split up again along the route and consisted of parts that ran to Berlin, Warsaw and CPH.

    I have always thought it was an absurdity that while Europe was more integrated, the railway system was increasingly less so.

    What you propose is a return to the past, but a most commendable return to the past

    1. This old train was the nord express that acrossed baltuc search in 2 Times and hauled by diesel lok between hamburg and kopenhague

  12. Overall a good proposal!
    Good if Oslo and Gothenburg will be included. SJ has night train which runs from Jämtland to Stockholm and Gothenburg. This night train could then via the lines futher down continue from Gothenburg to Malmö and Copenhagen.
    Maybe this night train could start to be divided in Gothenburg with one part to Oslo and the other part to Stockholm and Jämtland.

    SJ today also has a night train between Stockholm and Malmö. Maybe this night train could be lengthen to Copenhagen.

  13. At last. Very good proposal for sustainable travel in Europe, thank you.
    An additional needed connection would be between Copenhagen and Paris, former Nord-express, to handle travelling to south west Europe (France, Spain, Portugal).

  14. At last. Very good proposal for sustainable travel in Europe, thank you.
    An additional needed connection world be between Copenhagen and Paris, to handle travelling to south west Europe (France, Spain, Portugal)

  15. Hi European train enthuaistics
    Unfurtuntely I was not at the Forum which was Held 1 month ago Brusselles.
    I am a trainguard in Switzerland. Currently I was on duty on a nighttrain which was full with 1000 footballsupportes
    please the video:

    Such trains will be my future since I decided 3,5 years to overtake nightlineservices when the DB or now the SNCF do not any longer. My Company is registerd in Switzerland and I want to start with first lines in December 2019.
    The first lines are planned from Neumuenster / Kiel, since Hamburg Altona will be gone soon to Geneva / Brig in Switzerland. Latzer I want to rejoin until Narbonne in South France and Spain / Portugal in the south and to all Scandinavia: Denmark Jutland and Copenhagen; Sweden to Malmoe – Gotenburg – Stockholm – Kiruna (Narvik / NO) Norway: Oslo – Lillehammer – Bodoe and Bergen-
    This would be a supplemnetary or cooperation what is written above.
    Now we are going to find money for a crowd founding based society.
    Who would be able to join us by giving money or supporting by other means

    David Loher, Switzerland

  16. Ehh guys, I appreciate it, but … do you really want to divide the trains in the morning at 6:30 am in the rush hour in Hamburg? I am sure that you wont get a track for that long procedure at that time. Even during day time it will be critical, Hamburg main station always has a platform shortage. Hamburg Altona might be a possibility,too, but that one will be closed down in the future. Not sure if the new build station “Diebsteich” would suffice to configure trains. And even if – Diebsteich-Hamburg main station is one of the bottlenecks in the north-south traffic, there is only 1 track in each direction. Better to go through there with 1 train, not with 2.

    Furthermore, the division of the train into different parts also needs more personnel, which is expensive and furthermore it costs travel-time.

    Thus I would postpone that ambitious plan with several parts of trains and would advice you to do everything on a smaller scale. Have one train to Köln and one to Berlin. Leave out southern Germany. If people want to go there, they will find a lot of connection ICEs either in Hamburg or in Berlin. That is good enough. A night train traveling at daytime is not a night train …

    Hint: There is one tourism IC for Hamburg’s citizen to be able to visit the Alps, it’s number is 2083 and the departure is at 7:29 from Hamburg Main station.

    P.S: Do you really intend to stop in Jönköping, or do you mean Nässjö instead? For Jönköping you would need the new highspeed track, due sometime in 203x. But you wrote “The proposal is based on existing tracks” If you meant Nässjö, also include Alvesta, that little town connects the whole area from east to west coast of southern/middle Sweden.

    REPLY from the author: You are absolutely right about the congestion in Hamburg. It will need real preparations from an operator to plan which lines and which hubs can be used. Also your question about stops in Sweden will need further investigations.

    1. Hi,

      thanks for the quick reply.
      About Sweden: Yes, more investigation is needed. As I said, Jönköping is currently impossible, if you dont want to spend 2×30 min there for changing the direction of the train in Nässjö and then again in Jönköping, to drive back.

      Then I think I found a little error in the text, when I checked all the train sections, the text says::
      “The next train comes from Stockholm, and is also in two sections.”

      But the first train has 3 sections:
      1. Köln-Amsterdam
      2. Basel-Zürich
      3. Munich-Innsbruck

      I’d say 3 sections are next to impossible, already 2 are not easy to handle, 3 are definitely too much. For 3 I’d say you should use EMUs, e.g. combine 2 traction end cars from Siemens’ Desiro HC with 3 double deck sleeping middle cars. Then one section is ~130m in length,3 of them thus 390m.

      Advantage: No need for time consuming shunting.

      Disadvantage: Different sections not accessible from other sections, traction divided up in 6 traction cars instead of one locomotive. i.e. 6 cars have to be modified to run with all the different voltages and security systems in Europe. I assume that costs a lot, in comparison of using only one locomotive. Hence I’d say one should concentrate the traffic on a few lines without shunting operations first.

    2. Erkin Alp Güney

      You can sort the wagons such that the split will leave diverting cars behind and merge will get them at the back.

    1. excatly if the fr Oslo and Göteborg , were linked up in Malmö whit train towards Cph / Europe and visa versa , it would serve a Double Succes

  17. Do you have an estimate of a realistic ticket proces? Why don’t you include cheap couchettes without shower in the plan?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *