Enthusiasm for night trains is on the rise. At least on paper, the night train offer in Europe is expanding. But there are quite a few challenges. Yet, the Union Internationale des Chemins de fer or UIC is optimistic. “The infrastructure is there, so it should be made full use of at night”, says Philippe Lorand, Senior Advisor at the UIC Passenger Department, talking to RailTech Magazine.
What are those challenges?
- High operating costs.
- Different train operating standards across countries.
- Which coaches, cars or carriages to use?
- Which locomotives or engines to use?
- Overcoming the myriad of booking systems.
But the UIC is optimistic. In June 2021, it established a Night Train Working Group. A unique forum for night train operators to meet.
Lorand has working experience ay SNCF and Alstom. He wrote several chapters in a book on high-speed activities, also dealing with which speed is adapted in a project.
“An ever-higher speed is not always better. Night trains are usually slower than regular trains, but are still efficient as passengers can travel while sleeping. The infrastructure being there, depending on the line it will make sense to operate faster as a competitive alternative to other modes.”
Ecologic, economic and now also hygienic reasoning guide some people who needed convincing towards train travel. Before COVID-19, a business traveller would not consider taking the train for a journey over 1,500 km, Lorand says.
The UIC conducted a study on this subject. This study should provide for a “roadmap for transforming the railways into a sustainable backbone for mobility over the next five, ten and up to 15 years”.
“It calls for transformational projects and enhanced services for passengers, setting new challenges brought by increased traffic in the train and the stations, which will ultimately transform cities and connect communities. Rail can contribute to win the race to zero carbon, but it should innovate radically for physical and digital connectivity with other modes for a door-to-door service, and revolutionise the customer experience”, RailTech writes.
Night trains are more than a European matter. “In Japan, high-speed trains started out as more touristic and luxurious.”
On YouTube, there are heaps of luxury night train reports.
Long term and costs
Investments in train travel take a long time to be visible. One should think ten to fifteen years ahead.
Lorand also points to the Major Issue: costs.
- Night train rolling stock is very expensive and not really readily available, due to a lack of recent investment.
- There are more costs for customer service, for fewer seats.
- Track access charges, the price train operators pay to use the rails.
“We can learn from other countries where money is tight, and digitalisation also helps to improve economic balance”, Lorand says.
Public Service Obligation
Linking up with others
Another challenge is linking modes of transport, once you arrive at your destination. The classic example would be taking the inOui or TGV from Brussels to Paris – Charles De Gaulle Airport instead of flying that segment.
UIC has been working with its airways counterpart IATA on this topic.
“There are still many improvements that can be made, such as that luggage from a flight is automatically transferred to the train, and improving the signage on airports towards the trains. Today, when the plane is late, there is the option of an alternate train on the next leg of the journey. “Behind the curtains there are definitely new developments, which are being implemented”, Lorand says.
High-speed at night
Night trains are slow. Can’t night trains be high-speed trains (HST)? It would help to link eastern and western Europe.
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