Back On Track Belgium happy with first European Sleeper arrival, but wants more from powers that be

Yesterday evening, 25 May, European Sleeper‘s first commercial run departed Berlin. The first train with passengers left Berlin Gesundbrunnen station and has arrived in Belgium in the morning, passing Amsterdam and Antwerp. The non-profit organisation Back on Track Belgium, the interest group of night train passengers, is pleased with that train.

The train is organised by European Sleeper, the new railway company of two Dutchmen who want to use crowdfunding to introduce new night train connections from Belgium and the Netherlands including to Barcelona.

Another step in the right direction

 “It is another step in the right direction,” says Alexander Gomme, spokesman for the non-profit organisation, who himself has 257 night train journeys on the counter.

“Berlin is a very important destination for us and can also serve as a springboard to travel to Poland or to Czechia. It is therefore planned that this train will continue to run to Prague from next year, which was not possible this year because there are works on the railway line between Berlin and the Czech border”, Gomme says in a press release. 

30-35,000 passengers fly monthly between Brussels and Berlin

Eurostat figures show that around 30 to 35,000 passengers fly monthly(!) between Brussels Airport and Berlin. According to the website Ecopassenger where emissions from various means of transport can be compared, they emit 135 kg of CO2 per flight. Per month, this corresponds all together to the annual CO2 footprint of around 400 Belgians. Those travelling by high-speed train emit ‘only’ 23 kg. Per night train, because it travels slower and needs less new infrastructure, that’s even only 11.5 kilograms, about 12 times less!

Changed economic structure vital

From December, Brussels will get a second night train to Berlin, operated by ÖBB‘s Nightjet, which already operate a Brussels-Vienna train. Yet the tracks are not entirely free for more night trains.

“At European level, surely something has to change the economic structure, the night train offer is now completely determined by the free market and has to be profitable, only this is very very difficult due to the high costs. Moreover, there has been no investment in new sleeping and reclining carriages for the past twenty-five years, making it impossible to find good carriages”, sighs Gomme.

The latest night train makes this clear. For instance, during the test run, the non-profit organisation saw that the new train is a hotchpotch of carriages cobbled together from all over Europe. European Sleeper has therefore been looking for carriages for years because having them built by itself is virtually impossible because banks do not want to give guarantees because, like others, European Sleeper does not receive long-term guarantees from the railway managers.

Very positive though is the possibility of taking bikes on the night train for about 10 euros.

Many promises but only some progress on the margins

Belgian federal Transport Minister George Gilkinet (Ecolo) promised in the past to put night trains on the European Union‘s agenda. However, the non-profit association sees little from the European Commission, which continues to preach the mantra of open market and offers little concrete help beyond just showmanship.

Our view

BOTB’s efforts are laudable and enthusing. Its enthusiasm is… uhm… enthusing. As Gommme points out, the lack of proper rolling stock living up to contemporary demands and expectations is a problem.

There is another aspect. Potential customers have an unrealistic image of night train. They think of the Orient Express, of dining cars, dome cars, panoramic cars. But that’s not how sleeper train work in Europe. Unless of course if you book such trains as the Orient Express or heritage trains such as Al Ándalus in Spain. Those are more ‘cruises on rails’. 

As we speak, we are in Canada enjoying night trains with all bells and whistles. Dining cars, dome cars, showers, steward service. But here in Canada and the United States distances are something else. Compared to this, sleeper trains in Europe are ‘commuter trains’. 

So the public should also have some realism. But yes, we need modern sleeper rolling stock with enough power outlets, privacy and washing options. 

More on night trains and transcontinental train travel

3 Comments Add yours

  1. elvira797mx says:

    Looks interesting, thank´s Timothy.
    Have a lovely weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      It is! One day will try it ourselves

      Liked by 1 person

      1. elvira797mx says:

        Thank’s Timothy.
        That’s will be great!
        Nice weekend!

        Liked by 1 person

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