Why are there still trains

Deutsche Bahn : Why the dream of a sleeping car in Germany will not come true anytime soon

Taking the night train to Lisbon - or traveling to another place of longing sounds not only like getting around, but also like a dream. Driving through the night, being on the move while staying with you, using the night to get around without having to sit behind the wheel - and last but not least: the romantic dream of traveling in a sleeping car, most emphatically inspired by it Names like "Orient Express" or "Trans-Siberian Railway".

Hamburg is the place where players from all over Europe will meet next weekend who are committed to expanding night train traffic - and the resumption by Deutsche Bahn AG. The largest German state-owned company gave up all its classic night and car trains three years ago despite major protests.

With the climate debate, the railways are now increasingly becoming the focus of attention as a sustainable alternative to environmentally harmful low-cost flights. Initiatives such as Back on Track have been demanding for years that night trains with comfortable sleeping and couchette cars in particular become an integral part of a traffic turnaround. German politics and DB management around CEO Richard Lutz are to be shaken up. Because the night trains are missing in the climate package.

Austria as a model for the night train

The Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) are the largest train operator in Europe with 26 lines. The Viennese have also taken over some of the earlier DB connections and have since shown how to do it better with their Nightjet. “The connections from Hamburg to Zurich and Vienna, as well as Innsbruck-Hamburg, are particularly in demand,” says spokesman Bernhard Rieder. Around 1.4 million travelers use the entire range of night trains every year. “The trend is rising,” emphasizes Rieder.

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The climate and flight shame debate is apparently bringing new customers. "In the last few months in particular, we have seen further growth," reports the ÖBB spokesman. One reckons on some lines with up to ten percent more passengers this year. In Scandinavia, Benelux, Switzerland and Germany in particular, “a strong movement towards environmentally friendly travel has emerged”. Politicians and railways were also increasingly concerned with night travel there.

At least in the Berlin DB Tower, this trend does not seem to have arrived yet. "A new offer with classic sleeping and couchette cars is currently not planned," says a spokeswoman for Berthold Huber, DB Board Member for Passenger Transport. However, they support the offers of cooperation partners such as the ÖBB and expand their own offer of night-time ICE and Intercity trains.

After all, the state-owned company accommodates the desire for more connections at night. When the timetable changes on December 15, there will be an intercity night connection in cooperation with ÖBB on the Zurich-Berlin and Zurich-Hamburg routes. For the first time, the night ICs will run in conjunction with the classic ÖBB night trains.

Passengers can either book beds or beds in the ÖBB wagons or seats in the IC wagons on the same train. Advantage: As in daytime traffic, there is a discount of at least 25 or sometimes even 50 percent on IC tickets for Bahncard holders - the night journey is cheaper because there is no Bahncard discount for ÖBB tickets. Which once again shows that the tariff systems in rail transport are a world of their own.

200 million for new night jets

Unlike DB AG, ÖBB is pushing ahead with the expansion of classic night lines. 13 new Nightjets have been ordered for more than 200 million euros, and production at Siemens has started. The new trains should be in use from the beginning of 2022, with the promise of a state-of-the-art design and even more comfort.

SBB AG in Switzerland also wants to increase night train offers and has agreed to work closely with ÖBB. The Nightjet connections from Zurich via Basel to Hamburg and Berlin have reached their capacity limits, emphasize the two state railways in neighboring countries. The Czech Railways (CD) are also planning to test the use of additional couchette cars between Zurich and Prague.

In addition, SBB and ÖBB want to include as many cities in Europe as possible in the night train network and work to ensure that politicians better promote environmentally and climate-friendly offers. In this way, energy charges and train path prices for the use of the state networks could be reduced. In Germany, too, there have been good proposals for years that the government has not taken up.

Low-cost airlines are too strong competition

The Alliance Rail for All is campaigning for the Europe-wide “Luna-Liner” night train network, which could extend from Lisbon to Moscow and from Oslo to Athens and Istanbul through cooperation between national railways. Sleeper and couchette cars have “more than ever a future”, are the only good alternative to airplanes on longer journeys and enable climate-friendly, comfortable travel, says spokesman Bernhard Knierim.

In reality, however, more and more offers have been discontinued in recent decades due to competition from low-cost airlines, most recently in Eastern Europe. In Hamburg, thanks to the ÖBB Nightjets, at least some connections to Vienna, Innsbruck and Zurich were retained. In the 1990s, however, night trains ran directly to Venice, Stockholm, Minsk and Moscow.

Joachim Holstein, co-founder of Back on Track and former works council at the discontinued DB night train division, fears that the last night train offers in Hamburg-Altona could be threatened in the medium term. The long-distance train station there is to give way to a new station outside in Diebsteich, a highly controversial DB project that has some parallels to Stuttgart 21.

Holstein warns that the new “mini station” with only six tracks would “never ever” have enough capacity for night trains. The Prellbock Altona e.V. initiative is committed to modernizing the existing terminal station and expanding it into a center for night and car train traffic. The motto: "Our station stays where it is!"

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