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.

By Back-on-Track, 4.2.2019

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) does not exist or where a HST-journey is more than four hours.

Night trains are needed at distances from 600 km to 1800 km 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 overnight travel with a choice of different levels of comfort, from seats and berths to hotel level with individual privacy.

The challenge

Competition between rail and planes has tipped to the advantage of planes. Trains could be profitable if competition took place on equal terms (level playing field), with same or similar taxes and VAT. Or better: If all external costs by flying could be internalized. Steps in this direction must take place before 2030 and will make the following initiatives only temporary.

The solution on short term

We need European public support to railway operators to initiate cross border direct rail connections day and night until level playing field with air transport is achieved.

To make this happen there is a need of:

  • EU-support to make it possible to award contracts with operators to run a number of missing international rail connections, day and night, connecting capital cities and major cities, where lines are not already established.
  • A pool of cars to night train services established by EU to make it possible to enter contracts of international night trains.

Infrastructure owners shall make room for night trains on all lines, also in morning rush hours, although such trains by nature are ‘strange birds in the nest’ compared with hourly or more frequent services. Access fees in night time shall be reduced to a minimum. Infrastructure is in many places congested, and must be improved, to allow many more international trains.

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 EU.

The time frame

Within the next two years (at the beginning of 2021) a relevant European cooperation and funding must be in place and the first contracts be offered.

  • 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 on distances between 0-1.800 km. and can come to an end.