Night trains are making a come-back in continental Europe as an environmentally friendly alternative to air travel.

Leading the movement is the Austrian Federal Railway company ÖBB. The Austrians are the engine behind a broad agreement involving German, French and Swiss rail authorities.

Last September, the European Union decided to make 2021 the year of the railways. This will not only involve the further development of high speed trains across the continent. It also includes the revival of a trans-European night train network. To this end, a cooperation agreement was signed in December between the German, Austrian, French and Swiss railways.

Night trains to link Europe’s capitals and economic metropolises

The future night trains will carry a traditional name which, in the past, symbolised excellence of service: TEE or Trans Europe Express. The 2021 version is designated as TEE 2.0.

According to Andreas Scheuer, German Federal Minister of Transport, “2021 will see the expansion of TEE 2.0. With a greater range of services, we are ushering in a new golden age for railways. Eventually, night trains will be able to connect all major capitals and economic metropolises of our continent.”

The European Union is supporting this development as part of its commitment to a green sustainable strategy for the continent. Last July, the EU voted to allocate €1.6bn to the development of rail networks.

Indeed, night trains are back on track right across the European continent. “It is a real quality transport alternative with a European dimension. France is thus fully committed to this movement to renovate and reactivate its night rail network,” said Marc Papinutti, Director General of Infrastructures, Transport and the Sea at France’s Ministry of Transport.

For Jean-Pierre Farandou, CEO of France’s SNCF group, night trains must be considered by EU leaders as the railway instrument of European unity. “Indeed, night trains make it possible to cover distances of 1,000 to 1,500 km in excellent conditions of comfort,” he stressed. France announced the reopening of previously abandoned night lines. A night train will again link Paris to Nice in 2021 and Paris to Tarbes in 2022 complementing the only night train line for now between Paris, the Alps and the Pyrenees. A link between Paris and Venice was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic.

The most ambitious development project comes from Austria, spearheading the night train revival. “Today we operate 19 night lines. But in three years’ time we will be operating 26 night lines in cooperation with our European partners,” told Andreas Matthä, Managing Director of the ÖBB. Austrian Federal Railways recently ordered new generation night trains to be delivered from 2022.

In 2020, the company launched night lines between Vienna and Amsterdam/Brussels as well as between Munich and Zurich. The ÖBB is also moving into Switzerland. In cooperation with Swiss rail SBB, Austrian Nightjet services are planned to operate ten routes from Switzerland to a total of 25 destinations by 2024.

Paris and Berlin in the near future

The target of the Austrian Federal Railways is to grow the number of passengers from 1.6 to 3 million by 2023 for its night services.

In the recent agreement, the four rail partners started working together to offer night trains with high safety and service standards. This will mean a homogeneous fleet for all operators and high quality of service.

December 2021 will see the launch of two long-due night services. Nightjet trains will finally arrive in Paris, connecting the French capital to Vienna via Strasbourg and Munich. Another line will connect Zurich to Amsterdam via Cologne.

More international night services will be available from December 2023: Paris/Brussels-Berlin and Berlin-Vienna. This will be followed in 2024 by Zurich-Barcelona via Southern France.

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