To promote night trains, they should be treated as an independent transport segment throughout Europe and exempted from all surcharges, demands the European night train initiative Back-on-Track.eu. The cost reduction could also pay off for network operators after just a few years, Back-on-Track calculates using Germany as an example.
The background to this demand is that the EU Commission (Directorate General MOVE) intends to issue new guidelines for train path prices in the first quarter of 2024. The current regulation stipulates that network operators such as DB Netz AG, in future InfraGO, must charge at least the direct costs (€1.073/km in 2024 for DB Netz) but may also demand market markups provided that the market segment is able to pay them.
However, night trains are not yet defined as a mandatory segment, but can be treated as commercial passenger transport on par with high-speed trains. Back.on-Track.eu denounces this equal treatment of unequal transport segments. In its guidelines, the EU Commission should propose to the network operators to designate night trains as a separate market segment in the future and – until proven otherwise – to assume that they cannot pay market markups due to their structural disadvantages (lower space density, slower turnaround times, higher personnel costs).
For Germany, this would mean that train path prices could fall from the current €2.86/km to €1.073/km. This would make the operation of night train routes from, to and through Germany more attractive. Back on-Track.eu points out that this would, however, also require an amendment to Section 52 (8) sentence 1 of the German ERegG legislation, which currently stipulates that train paths are allocated to the train that pays the higher track access charge.
For DB Netz, the measure would initially mean reduced revenues. However, Back-on-Track calculates that at 9 M € per year, this would hardly amount to more than the 6 M € earmarked in the federal budget for the preparation of studies on night train services.
“With the studies, some of which will not be published until 2026, Federal Transport Minister Wissing is postponing night train financing until the next legislative period. In the process, the federal government could immediately have more night trains for a very small amount, which will only be due after 2026 and will decrease in perspective,” explains Juri Maier, Chairman of Back-on-Track Germany e.V.
By comparison, Switzerland plans to allocate up to €31 million per year for night train funding. Belgium currently has a reduction in track access charges to € 0 for night trains, but this expires at the end of 2024 and would need to be extended in an appropriate form. France has already reduced the track access charges for night trains to the direct costs.