Steps to decarbonize the European passenger transport before 2030

With a special focus on how night trains may play an important part in making it possible.

PROPOSAL by Back-on-Track, edited by Poul Kattler, Denmark

European transport must reduce climate impacts according to the Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper (EC, 2011) and according to the baseline described by European Environment Agency in TERM 2017 (published early 2018) – EEA Report no. 22/2017.

The demand

Flying is growing, but ought to be reduced rapidly in Europe to meet the climate goals. Trains in Europe can meet the need for most passenger travels – if the railways are developed.

Night trains are needed on long distances in Europe where High Speed Trains (HST) do not exist or where a HST-journey is more than four hours.

Night trains are needed at distances from 600 km and upwards where air traffic does a large part of the transportation today.

Night trains are not just A to B journeys, but a part of a 24-hour international rail network offering good local connections evenings and mornings.

The train has the advantage of offering travel at night in comfort like a moving hotel, offering a choice of levels of comfort.

The challenge

Competition between rail and other modes is very much welcomed, but on equal terms (level playing field), with same or similar taxes and VAT. It will be even better if taxes take into account the actual climate costs. Steps in this direction must take place before 2030 and will make the following initiatives much easier to undertake.

The solution

  • It is not free to change systems and habits in the transport sector. In the future travellers will have to accept higher transport prices than with planes today, and public investments are needed in railways. But it might not be so expensive as many other CO2-reductions we will meet in the years to come.

We need an independent European body which has the responsibility to plan and initiate cross border European direct rail connections day and night.

To make this happen there is a need of:

  • A system of European Public Service Obligations (PSO’s) to a number of rail connections, day and night, connecting capital cities and major cities. A minor financial contribution is needed to make an international train run as long as unfair competition with air traffic exists.
  • Establish a pool of cars to night train services, to make it possible to enter contracts of night trains.

For international day and night services we need better harmonization of rolling stock, signaling and other equipment.

It must be at least as easy to look up connections and buy through tickets as it is with airline tickets today. The quality must be supervised by the mentioned independent European body.

The time frame

Within the next two years (at the beginning of 2021) an independent European body must be in place and the first PSO contracts be offered from then.

  • The first European initiated trains can then run from December 2021.
  • 2024: A minimum network is established and running.
  • 2024-2030: Capacity is increased and investments are made to remove bottlenecks in the technical infrastructure.
  • 2030: Air transport within Europe is no longer needed and can come to an end.

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