Lund – Malmö quadruple tracking contract
Prime Minister inaugurates Napoli Afragola station
ÖBB starts Pyhrnstrecke station upgrading
Weekly LCL service widens appeal of China-Europe rail route
Siemens to buy planning software company HaCon
Hupac orders eight multisystem locomotives
Montecargo privatisation cancelled
IONX and Ermewa agree telematics partnership
High-value chemicals travel from China to Europe by rail
DB Regio selected for Rhein-Neckar operating contract
Few aspects of railway operation evoke the romantic appeal of the overnight sleeper train. Redolent of the earliest days of the passenger railway, overnight trains conjure up images of leaving the metropolis behind, retiring to a cosy cabin and being rocked to sleep, before waking as the sun rises over some bucolic idyll next morning.
It is not hard to understand how overnight trains have captured the imagination of the mainstream media in recent months: thanks to the pandemic and the climate emergency, romance has met practicality. Why waste time on short-haul flights when the most efficient time to travel is when you are asleep? And all with a dramatic cut in carbon footprint thrown in.
It is clear that much of Europe is already sold, and the renaissance is firmly underway. ÖBB must take a lot of the credit: the Austrian state railway’s bold vision to expand its international network and launch the Nightjet brand in December 2016 has paid dividends, starting to reverse a sharp decline in western European sleeping car services.
As regular readers of our news channels will be aware, Nightjet has acted as a catalyst for a wider resurgence. Last month, the French government confirmed its intention to support the launch of two more domestic services, linking Paris with Hendaye and Nice, to complement the two surviving routes run by SNCF — a victory for the grassroots campaign group Oui aux Trains de Nuit. Then on September 15, Swiss Federal Railways issued a bold blueprint to increase the number of international overnight trains it operates in co-operation with its Austrian counterpart. SBB hopes to launch a further four services by 2024 on top of the six already radiating from Zürich; these would serve 25 destinations and include new routes to Roma, Barcelona and Leipzig, plus a second nightly train linking Zürich with Berlin and Hamburg to meet strong demand.
Elsewhere, Trafikverket continues to push ahead with plans to connect Sweden into the European overnight network, while new services have been launched in short order this year by independent operators including RDC Deutschland and RegioJet.
All of these initiatives have been widely lauded, especially by environmentalists who see overnight trains as a perfect mix of low-carbon mobility without the need for costly additional infrastructure.
However, there are worrying signs that a more cynical political stance lies behind the romantic appeal of the sleeping car renaissance. French politicians are able to cite their backing as further evidence of the repudiation of the tout-TGV philosophy of their predecessors. In the UK, Green Party peer Natalie Bennett in August backed calls for the introduction of a London – Barcelona overnight train, despite the complex cross-Channel security regulations that put paid to the Nightstar vision more than two decades ago. And while any such service would make extensive use of tunnels and high speed infrastructure built over the past 30 years, her party remains stridently opposed to the construction of Britain’s own high speed network, now finally gathering momentum.
Within the rail sector, the delicate economics of overnight trains are well known, and despite the rapid rise in public enthusiasm those challenges have not gone away. For a start, the capacity of sleeping cars is much lower than the seated stock used on daytime services, new vehicles are costly to procure and difficult to maintain, and the operating patterns are fraught with complexity, with portions often splitting and joining mid-journey. Emerging social and economic trends are now posing fresh challenges: passengers generally prefer privacy over sharing a berth, and premium farepayers expect hotel standard en-suite accommodation.
‘Within the rail sector, the delicate economics of overnight trains are well known’
The Nightjet rolling stock on order from Siemens for introduction from 2022 will feature personal ‘mini-capsules’ as well as traditional couchettes. There may also be scope for borrowing layout ideas from the airline sector; Anglo-Scottish operator Caledonian Sleeper had planned to offer lie-flat seats in its CAF MkV coaches before regulatory concerns over crashworthiness put paid to the idea. In Australia, lie-flat Rail Beds have been provided for premium passengers on the Spirit of Queensland tilt trains for a number of years, and the idea may well be worth wider consideration.
Even so, policymakers must be realistic in accepting that overnight trains alone cannot deliver the modal shift to rail which will be necessary to meet climate goals. Indeed, a widespread revival may even have unintended consequences if passenger services block out scarce overnight paths on key main lines that are also sought by freight operators.
That said, the rail sector must harness this rising tide of public and political enthusiasm for night trains to push for wider investment in passenger rail. As a successful niche product, night trains may serve as a vehicle to raise the debate about wider issues, such as access charges on specific corridors or in particular territories.
Looking ahead, it is surely time to ask how far overnight services could reach with the benefits of new infrastructure such as the Ceneri Base Tunnel, complementing rather than rivalling daytime trains. China Railway runs 250 km/h sleeping car EMUs across its high speed network, providing overnight connections between widely separated cities. If the night train revival in Europe is sustained, it should not be inconceivable that a similarly ambitious approach could be adopted in the west.
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
About this website
Railpage version 3.10.0.0037
All logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owner. The comments are property of their posters, all the rest is © 2003-2021 Interactive Omnimedia Pty Ltd.
You can syndicate our news using one of the RSS feeds.