The national railway companies of Austria, Germany, France and Switzerland have announced new overnight train routes linking some of Europe’s largest cities. The new routes are intended to offer a more sustainable option for travelers to enjoy the continent’s beautiful and historic metropolises.
In a press conference on December 8 the railway operators Deutsche Bahn (Germany), France’s SNCF, Switzerland’s SBB and Austria’s ÖBB committed to launching six new sleeper train services across the continent by end-2024. The intended start dates for each service are:
Zurich – Amsterdam
Vienna – Paris
Zurich – Rome
Berlin – Paris
Berlin – Brussels
Zurich – Barcelona
The new routes will be operated by ÖBB’s NightJet sleeper train service, which already runs overnight trains in central Europe, connecting Vienna to Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich, Venice and Rome among other destinations.
Trains Offer Sustainable Alternative To Cheap Flights
The new sleeper train routes being offered will considerably expand inter-European transport options for travelers and provide a more sustainable and convenient alternative to flights as a way of seeing the continent’s major cities.
Overnight train routes have declined significantly in the last few decades as the rise of budget airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair has opened up cheap and fast air travel to European destinations for many more people.
However, with many travelers increasingly concerned about their carbon footprint, rail travel is becoming a more popular option for visiting the continent once again. Trains offer a much lower-emissions way to travel than flying, but travelers will still balance this against the low cost and convenience of flights.
Using sleeper train services is appealing in this context as it can save on the cost of accommodation for one night of the trip while also getting travelers from A to B. Being able to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another can be a very relaxing and convenient way of traveling, particularly for multi-destination trips.
Europe’s extensive rail connections make train travel an ideal alternative to flights, with existing infrastructure already connecting all the major cities. Rail travel also offers the ability for passengers to arrive directly in the centre of major cities, avoiding the potential headaches of navigating from distant airports at inconvenient times, which is often the cast when taking low-cost flights.
With night train services already in place in parts of central and eastern Europe, the expansion of new routes will make sleeper trains even more attractive for travelers considering a multi-city European trip. Rail operator RegioJet is also launching new sleeper service routes in 2021, adding destinations in Poland and Ukraine to its existing connections between Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia.
With Interrail passes already a popular choice for young travelers exploring the continent, the addition of new overnight rail routes will further boost the use of rail services over coming years as overseas travel begins to return to normal following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harmonization Of Ticketing Needed To Improve Traveler’s Experiences
While the expansion of overnight rail routes is good news for travelers looking for sustainable transport options, there remain some obstacles to the successful launch of integrated European sleeper train services.
In particular, passengers do not have access to a harmonized single ticket window in order to book train travel across Europe. Responsibility for ticketing continues to lie with the individual national rail operators, meaning that for multi-destination trips travelers must use various different booking sites – making planning rail-based travel in Europe somewhat difficult.
This issue has been recognised by the authorities, with German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer saying that “An essential requirement for the Trans-Europe Express is a common digital booking platform. In the next few years, it must be possible to book all European rail connections in an app or on a website”. Nevertheless, no such plans to exist as yet, deterring the use of rail travel across Europe.
Any significant expansion of sleeper services will also require more investment in railway infrastructure and trains themselves, with current plans adding only 20 new trains for sleeper services. This will not be enough to significantly boost passenger numbers or upgrade the existing ageing carriages which are used for sleeper services.
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