Night trains to Europe – New opportunities to Scandinavian sustainable travelers
This debate article is send to major newspapers in Denmark (in Danish) and in Sweden (in Swedish). >> German 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