New dawn for sleeping trains as European railway companies expand their night network

Four European national railway companies promised new cabins connecting 13 major cities on Tuesday in the largest expansion of Europe’s night network in many years.

The € 500 million ($ 605 million) investment announced by the state railways in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland comes a year after the German government declared railways crucial to its plans to reduce CO2 emissions from air travel.

Night trains are still widely used in Eastern Europe, where routes such as St. Petersburg to Moscow are served by cabs, but they have been in decline in Western Europe for decades, and they seemed to be killed by budget flights.

The new routes will be operated by the Austrian OeBB with 20 new trains and should add 1.4 million the number of night passengers carried by the four operators each year. From next December, sleepers will run from Vienna to Paris via Munich and from Zurich to Amsterdam via Cologne.

Two years later, Berlin to Brussels and Paris and Zurich to Barcelona will be added to the network.

So – today’s press conference highlighted plans for restored night trains, most of which had already been moved, but it’s still great to see commitment from both politicians and railway companies – and to see start dates in writing. Paris-Italy and Paris-Spain are still big gaps.

– The Man in Seat 61 (@seatsixtyone) December 8, 2020

Billed by ministers from the four countries as a return to the heyday of the Trans-Europ-Express 1960s – the business-class rolling hotels immortalized in the Kraftwerk song – the service will still be very modest.

“Get on the train in Munich or Berlin in the evening and arrive rented to Brussels or Paris the next morning,” said German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer. “We will travel in a more climate- and environment-friendly way.”

But dreams of a revived Orient Express are premature: the 20 new trains ordered are a “drop in the ocean” compared to the many hundreds of high-speed ICE and TGV trains operated by Germany’s Deutsche Bahn and France’s SNCF, wrote blogger Jon Worth . on Twitter.