Next-generation European night trains aim to keep passengers away from planes | Rail transport

FFrom comfortable sleeping cabins to sliding doors, from ambient lighting to curvaceous seats, a new generation of night trains designed to maximize passenger comfort and privacy are set to criss-cross Europe from next year. .

NightJet, the sleeper division of Austrian National Railways, ÖBB – considered one of the world’s pioneers in night rail travel – unveiled the interiors of its new carriages this week.

Travel writers and railway enthusiasts invited to Vienna to inspect them said they had the potential to give new impetus to the industry at a time of enormous challenges such as the energy crisis and the climate emergency.

The design of the cars focuses on passenger wishes for more privacy and security, including cocoon-style cabins with lockable doors for single travelers and sliding shutters between head-level pods to allow for privacy. conversation between cabins when desired. Other modern conveniences include free Wi-Fi, power outlets, dimmable lighting, and plush seating areas.

The routes that NightJets are expected to fly span cities such as Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, Milan, Rome and Zurich.

The first of 33 NightJet trains, in which ÖBB has invested 700 million euros, will be launched next summer and the fleet will be fully deployed by 2025.

Each has seven cars including two seated cars, two sleeping cars with compartments for two people and three sleeping cars with suites for four people as well as mini-cabins for single travellers.

Each train is capable of carrying 254 passengers, more than the capacity of most short-haul aircraft, and will be able to travel at up to 230 km/h (143 mph).

NightJet has promised that its prices will be competitive with those of the airlines, with sleeper tickets available between €50 and €100. He said the cars will provide wheelchair access.

The launch of the trains has been delayed due to pandemic-related supply chain and personnel issues.

“A trip with a NightJet is 50 times more climate-friendly than taking the same trip by plane,” Austrian Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler, who championed efforts to boost travel by plane, said at the launch. night Train.

But train enthusiasts and lobbyists have warned the promise of overnight train travel and the hope that it could increasingly replace flying risks losing its romantic appeal unless politicians at the levels national and European level give it their explicit support.

They cite a series of problems such as high prices due to rising energy costs, a chronic lack of staff and a summer full of abysmal delays on the railways. The potential for problems that could threaten the development of the movement is only likely to grow as passenger travel, especially at night, is increasingly forced by law to give way to freight trains carrying coal in the midst of the energy crisis and military equipment to support the war in Ukraine.

“Compared to day trains, night trains remain a niche product,” Philipp Kosok, public transport expert at German think tank Agora, told Austrian daily Der Standard. “If the will is there, there is a whole potential to develop them.” But he said night trains were at a disadvantage, “facing higher taxes than air travel and often hampered by aging infrastructure and insufficient capacity”.

The German Greens, in government since the end of last year, have tried to present a project for a European network of night trains bringing together around forty destinations such as Warsaw, Amsterdam, Vienna, Bordeaux, Munich, Barcelona or even London.

Mary I. Bruner