Besides the renewed interest in night trains in Europe, besides an increase in awareness something must be done to make cross-boarder train travel in the European Union much easier, there’s also this Trans Europ Express 2.0. A revival of the old TEE network.
The Trans Europ Express, or Trans-Europe Express was an international first-class railway service in western and central Europe that was founded in 1957 and ceased in 1995. At the height of its operations, in 1974, the TEE network comprised 45 trains, connecting 130 different cities, from Spain in the west to Austria in the east, and from Denmark to Southern Italy.
The first services started on 2 June 1957 following an idea of Franciscus Querien den Hollander, then president-director of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) of the Netherlands. TEE was a network jointly operated by the railways of West Germany (Deutsche Bahn), France (SNCF), Switzerland (SBB-CFF-FFS), Italy (FS) and the Netherlands.
The idea was for a network of fast and comfortable transnational trains that would be attractive to businessmen and other regular travellers. All trains were first-class-only and required payment of a special supplement over the normal first-class ticket price, the amount of which depended on the distance covered.
TEE catered to business travellers and tried to schedule trains so they could reach their destination to conduct business there.
Each train was named, and all were expresses, stopping only at major cities.
Originally the idea was to promote only international routes as TEE routes. This idea was abandoned in 1965 with the introduction of the French Le Mistral and the German Blauer Enzian.
Decline and end
From the late 1970s onward, gradually more and more TEE trains were replaced by other trains giving a similar kind of service but also carrying 2nd class. Business travellers used air travel more and more. In 1979 DB completely restructured the network with the coming of the new national InterCity services, resulting in successively fewer TEE services and more InterCity services in the course of time.
The introduction of the TGV service in France in 1981, and its subsequent expansion, along with expansion of high-speed rail lines in other European countries led to still more TEEs’ being replaced by domestic high-speed trains.
After 1984 most services were abandoned, leaving only some national services in (mostly) Italy and France and very few international services.
Most trains were replaced by a new international intercity network with the name EuroCity which provides both 1st and 2nd class service. The EuroCity network began operating on 31 May 1987, and with effect from that date the last remaining international Trans-Europe Express trains were redesignated or withdrawn, except the Gottardo (reclassified as EuroCity in September 1988), but in name, the TEE designation continued to be used for a few domestic trains operating entirely within France until 1 June 1991.
In September 1993 certain former TEE trains operating non-stop journeys between Brussels and Paris (or vice versa), which had been converted to EuroCity and offered both first- and second-class coaches, were rebranded as Trans-Europe Expresses, but remaining two-class trains.
Paris – Brussels
This was during a transition of Paris – Brussels express services to a new TGV alignment, and initially included the trains Brabant, Île de France, Rubens and Watteau, all four serving the route in both directions.
The introduction of Thalys served as euthanasia for the TEE. A few trains continued to utilise TEE branded coaches until 1 June 1996, but the trains themselves were no longer classified as TEEs.
Fast forward to 2020, as Germany presided over the European Union, it proposed TEE 2.0. Twenty-one European ministers of transport underwrote the ‘International high-speed and overnight rail services to promote climate change mitigation‘ written by the Secretariat of the Federal Government Commissioner for Rail Transport.
The Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr (BMVI) sees several routes happening in the short term.
- Amsterdam – Paris – Barcelona.
- Brussels – Berlin – Warsaw.
- Amsterdam – Frankfurt – Zürich – Rome.
- Barcelona – Frankfurt – Berlin.
Further in the future, it sees
- Stockholm – Hamburg – Paris;
- Stockholm – Berlin – Munich;
- Rome – Verona – Munich – Berlin;
- Paris – Munich – Budapest;
The voluntaristic BMVI paper sees existing or almost existing rolling stock being used for TEE 2.0.
Enak Ferlemann, Germany’s previous Parliamentary State Secretary for Transport and Digital Infrastructure, is a strong advocate for the project.
“The 21 Member States who signed the Letter of Intent in May 2021 agreed upon building a network that reaches e. g. from Lisbon in Portugal and Malaga in Spain to Tallinn in Estonia, from Rome in Italy to Stockholm in Sweden, and from Budapest in Hungary to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Thereby, the TEE 2.0 network will be much more extensive than the original TEE network”, het told RailTech.com.
He concedes work also must be done not only to the technical and operational side of affairs, but also on the commercial side.
“Within the International Rail Passenger Transport Platform (IRP), it is consensus that customers shall have a simple, reliable and convenient access to information as well as to tickets. One of the platform’s subgroups is focusing on the customer experience. There, topics such as interfaces and data models are addressed and discussed between the participating members of the platform. During the conference in September 2021, Germany declared their interest in an interoperable, customer-friendly platform and the request that members of the sector shall cooperate and share their data.”
Vested national interests form another obstacle. The BMVI suggests starting a new railway company, but will participating countries, train operators and railway infrastructure companies want to play ball nicely? It remains to be seen.
It remains to be seen if, how and when all of these promises will become reality. But a renewed and genuine interest in international train travel, nostalgia aside, is a good and necessary evolution.
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