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.