The latest threat to European airlines: night-time trains

Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria will expand their cross-country rail services.

By Bloomberg News, December 11 2020
The latest threat to European airlines: night-time trains

European governments have agreed to expand night-train services linking the continent’s major cities, creating another headache for airlines fighting to recover from an unprecedented slump in air travel.

Ministers from France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland unveiled a plan Tuesday to boost rail traffic between cities including Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Milan to curb rising carbon emissions.

The Trans-Europe Express 2.0 initiative will be established in late 2021 and allow travelers to journey across multiple national borders without changing trains, a direct challenge to aviation.

The Trans-Europe Express 2.0 initiative will link capital cities with fast overnight trains.
The Trans-Europe Express 2.0 initiative will link capital cities with fast overnight trains.

Full steam ahead

The revival of Europe’s night-train network comes 25 years after the collapse of the original Trans-European Express that linked 130 cities across the continent.

The boom in short-haul flying eroded its appeal, but campaigns by environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg are making people more aware of their carbon footprint.

There is “growing demand for young people for other modes of transport other than aeroplanes,” said Marc Papinutti,” an official at France’s environment ministry.

Expansion of night-train services comes at an awkward time for Europe’s airlines as they struggle to cope with the fallout from the coronavirus, which punctured a decades-long boom in air travel.

Sleeping in style

Showcasing the possibilities for overnight travellers are new night trains being built by Siemens for Austria’s OeBB.

Costing €200 million, the 13 specialised trains feature cabins designed by London-based industrial studio PriestmanGoode and inspired by the first-and-business class compartments of airlines and minimalist hotels.

The newly designed cabin of the OeBB sleeper trains.
The newly designed cabin of the OeBB sleeper trains.

“We’ve tried to bring a more domestic feeling to the experience; thought about what environment people are experiencing at home, in hotels, bars, or restaurants,” said Kirsty Dias, a designer at the studio.

PriestmanGoode gave the OeBB sleeper trains a fresh, relaxed look.
PriestmanGoode gave the OeBB sleeper trains a fresh, relaxed look.

The new coaches, due to roll from 2022, will have more sleeper wagons, “pods” for more privacy for budget travelers, deluxe cabins with longer beds and wheelchair-accessible compartments. 

The newly designed sleeper pod configuration.
The newly designed sleeper pod configuration.


Flying still faster for business travellers

However, rail’s impact may be limited by the difference in traveling times. A direct journey from Amsterdam to Rome would take over 13 hours under the TEE 2.0 plans, compared to just over 2 hours flying.

That’s unlikely to attract time-short business travelers, although could appeal to climate-conscious holidaymakers.

Furthermore, the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic means countries leading the night-train charge are major stakeholders in national airlines, and are unlikely to undermine their recoveries.

Trains are a more relaxing, greener but slower alternative to flying.
Trains are a more relaxing, greener but slower alternative to flying.

Germany, which coordinated the TEE 2.0 launch, is the biggest investor in national carrier Lufthansa following a US$10 billion bailout of the company earlier this year.

German state rail operator Deutsche Bahn said it expects to see a “golden age” for train travel after the coronavirus passes, while Austria’s equivalent is adding night-train capacity in expectation of rising demand, buoying manufacturing-order books.

“European rail traffic is a game changer for a climate-friendly and economically successful future,” said Michael Peter, chief executive officer of Siemens' mobility division, one of Europe’s largest train manufacturers. “Night trains will enjoy a renaissance."

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 206

Those cabins looks great actually, i would certainly consider this, especially where it doubles as overnight accom

how does boosting rail traffic between cities including Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Milan curb rising carbon emissions ?

Answer - it doesn't

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 198

Rail travel is the currently the best sustainable and environmentally friendly travel mode of moving groups of people from A to B when the direct and indirect costs are factored in.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 390

If people catch the train instead of flying, it definitely reduces rising carbon emissions, by as much as 90%. Plenty of comparisons out there, here's one:

07 May 2020

Total posts 151

I'm a big fan of trains in Europe and I already saw some of these countries ramping up their overnight services when I was there between March and July. One thing for certain is that they WILL NOT require that passengers are vaccinated. Many of us in Europe during those months already had covid so need for that.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 451

makes sense over there except for the time poor.i will admit in a lot of cases compared to australian trains.if one uses adelaide to melbourne or melbourne to sydney or sydney to brisbane as comparisons to what one gets in about 10 to 13 hours over there you will have gone through more interesting scenery,many countries and learned new language on the one is better off flying.


28 Jul 2013

Total posts 28

A good idea, further market segmentation. However the beauty of train travel is sitting comfortably, watching the world go past and enjoying a nice lunch preferably with a glass of wine. 

5 or 6 years ago, I chose to travel by train from UK to Vienna, instead of flying.  I stayed overnight in Cologne and Zurich.  It was more expensive, but I got to see the scenery, even though the weather wasn't the best.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2018

Total posts 20

Last year used the hi speed trains from London to Paris, Paris to Barcelona and Barcelona to Alicante with no customs or security line ups or endless waiting.   Absolutely the best way to travel ... smoothly scooting along at 250+kph in air con comfort, wifi on tap, dining car service and plenty of room to stroll.   Australia badly needs this type transport on the eastern part of the country and would prove to be a major factor in keeping air travel prices down but unfortunately due to lack of foresight (both past and present) no chance of this new network in my lifetime.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 153

In the 1980's I travelled on the original Trans Europe Express trains.  They were very comfortable and of course had the advantage of getting on and getting off in the centre of cities. These TEE's mostly did the daytime job today's high-speed trains do albeit at a much more leisurely pace.  There were night trains too, their distinct disadvantage was no toilet or shower ensuite - you went to the communal facilities at the end of the carriage, unlike Australian trains like the Southern Aurora that had full ensuites in the twin cabins and washbasin + toilet in the single sleepers. I'd certainly travel on on TEE ver. 2 if cabin amenities include similar to those we had in Australia. 

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 24

The new carriages tommy that OBB (austrian raliways) are getting are pretty damn nice looking to say the least :) Their existing newer stock is not shabby either - really looking forward to trying out a nightjet or two when we are lucky enough to travel again at some point..

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