Back On Track Belgium reiterates necessity for new night train rolling stock

Last week, European Sleeper announced the actual start of night train service between Brussels and Amsterdam at one end, and Berlin at the other. Prague is for later. Back On Track Belgium takes this opportunity to reiterate the necessity for new sleeper train rolling stock. 

Back on Track Belgium, the non-profit organization that strives to make Belgium once again a hub for the night train, is happy with firm news at last.

“This train makes it possible to travel not only to the Alps overnight, but also to the great metropolis from Berlin which makes it possible to travel further to Central and Eastern Europe“, it says in a press release.

“We are still waiting for the quality of the carriages. As the cooperative itself indicated, they start with rented carriages because new purchases due to the marginalization of the means of transport by the (European) governments have not built new carriages in the past twenty years – except for the Austrian ÖBB, which is currently the market leader. Since the number of coaches remains the same and all coaches in the season are already in daily service, each new train channels a part of another night train, which is also one of the reasons why so few new night trains are starting.”

“To get more night trains, the carriage fleet needs to be expanded, and European Sleeper is aware of this. And the demand is there, we notice that from the reactions now.”

“An agency, government or private coach builder, who makes a pool of modern night train coaches available would really mean a renaissance in the range. Just look at France. The French State is renovating carriages en masse and making them available to third parties (now only the SNCF until more providers arrive).”

“There is indeed a renaissance there. Belgium can do that too! We calculated this ourselves. It would only require a fraction of funds like the Green Deal, Fitfor55…. Not only the ecology would benefit, but also the economy with more jobs, tax revenues…”

What do we think?

Back On Track Belgium’s analysis is correct obviously. Night trains need sleeper cars and couchette cars. In sleeper cars you get a bed, in couchette cars you get something closer to a bunk. 

To make a night train service really work commercially, you need to cater to different types of travellers. Environmental, budget conscious people ready to ‘roughing it’, people more prone to a certain level of luxury and people travelling for work. 

So there needs to be diversity. Danny and I are willing to pay extra for an ensuite shower-toilet combination. Not having this option is a bit of a turn-off for us.

So we share BOTB’s scepticism: we want to see it first before really believing it. 

But we should look at the reality. Russia‘s war in Ukraine, energy crisis, government budget issues, inflation, staff shortages at railway companies and rolling stock providers, politics in general… make creating a pool of night train rolling stock everything but a priority for countries. And certainly in Belgium. 

But yes, it would be very nice. 

What is Back On Track Belgium anyway?

Back On Track Belgium is the Belgian branch of the European collective Back On Track, a European network that supports and aims to improve cross-border rail traffic and night trains.

In September 2021, it published ‘A Plea for a Night Train Renaissance: Presented by Back On Track Belgium‘.

Twenty years ago, in 2003, Belgium lost its last regular night train service. It only returned in January 2020 with the Nightjet from Brussels to Vienna and Innsbruck.

More on night trains and transcontinental train travel

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