Austria, Sweden, France… After being marginalized by low-cost air links and high-speed trains, night trains are making a comeback in Western Europe. A paradox at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic encourages people not to stay too long with strangers in a confined place.
The Austrian national company ÖBB has become in recent years the champion of night trains, even buying up the activities which the German Deutsche Bahn wanted to get rid of in order to build up a network in central Europe.
It now connects Brussels from Vienna and has just bought 20 new trains for 500 million euros, with the aim of going further by the end of 2024. “So I can realize my dream of going to Paris“, his boss Andreas Matthä recently told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Austria, Sweden and France on the move
“In the coming years we want to focus on building the night train network“, also stated the Austrian Minister of the Environment Leonore Gewessler in the journal Kleine Zeitung.”We want to strengthen this pioneering role“she added, proudly noting that Vienna is served by more night trains than any other city in Europe.
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Another model for night trains: Sweden, kingdom of “air shame“, the feeling of guilt in the face of the harmful environmental effects of air transport. The government has just released 400 million crowns (39 million euros) there to relaunch daily connections Stockholm-Hamburg and Malmö-Brussels by summer 2022. Stockholm wants “be at the forefront“, hoping that this investment”will make school“elsewhere in Europe.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced on July 14 that he was counting “massively redevelop“night trains, as well as rail freight and small lines. And the Minister for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has already announced the rebirth of two lines”by 2022“, which would be Paris-Nice and Paris-Tarbes.
Not yesterday’s night train
Night connections have been removed one after the other in recent years in France, victims of the development of the TGV network, the abolition of military service, lack of investment, work, strikes, delays, lack of comfort … And of course competition from low-cost air travel. A report almost completed them completely in 2015, pointing that each passenger cost the taxpayer more than 100 euros.
Two lines survived, however, judged “essential due to the lack of a sufficient alternative offer for the territories concerned“: from Paris to Briançon (Hautes-Alpes), and from Paris to Rodez, Latour-de-Carol (Pyrénées-Orientales) and Cerbère (Pyrénées-Orientales). They cost the State 20 million euros per year, to which is added a budget of 30 million to renovate the trains.
But all over Europe, the tone has changed with the search for ecological alternatives to the plane, due to a climate emergency.
The return of the night train, in tune with the times
Often accused of having sabotaged night trains, the French public company SNCF – whose management has just changed – also feels the times.
“I think there is a real expectation“, Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, told AFP, citing in particular”a young population that pays attention to carbon“and take more time to travel.
“But we must not just say that we want night trains, we must reinvent the market“, with undoubtedly new types of trains, according to him.”We can’t do yesterday’s night train again!“
“The comfort of night trains is no longer really adapted to the time“, explained last year to AFP Guillaume Pepy, then boss of the SNCF.”Six compartments to sleep with people you don’t know, it’s no longer a standard“.
The ÖBB also notes that, due to coronavirus, demand is strong this summer for private compartments, in particular for Vienna-Zurich, Vienna-Hamburg and Munich-Rome.