NewsComeback of the night trains - learning from the...

Comeback of the night trains – learning from the past

From December 13th, two new night trains will run through Europe again – and offer themselves as an alternative to short-haul flights. But there are still many connections missing that existed years ago.

Brussels – At the end of the 19th century, the still world-famous “Orient Express” night train operated by the Belgian entrepreneur George Nagelmackers ran for the first time. With upholstered sofas and decorative elements, the luxury train sponsored by the Belgian king was a novelty.

A trip in the cozy sleeping cabin across Europe, for example from Paris to today’s Istanbul, was something special – and only affordable for the rich.

Later, traveling through Europe by rail was also established among the bourgeoisie. Other railway companies now also used the name “Orient Express” – although the trains did not have the luxury features of the Nagelmackers train. According to a spokesman for the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), trains called “Orient Express” ran until 2009.

Night trains in trend

New connections should now give a boost to travel in night trains again. From December 13, such trains will run on the Vienna-Munich-Paris and Zurich-Cologne-Amsterdam routes, as Deutsche Bahn announced at the start of a joint night train offensive by European rail companies. The offer should be extended to further routes in the coming years. “With the Nightjet we are offering a climate-friendly alternative to short-haul flights within Europe,” said Andreas Matthä from the ÖBB board of directors about the new offer.

In view of the climate crisis, more night trains could actually be a good development: The carbon dioxide emissions when traveling by train are lower than when flying. Night trains can replace many a flight – but recently there have been fewer and fewer such connections over the years. “If Deutsche Bahn abolishes the night train, then people will fly,” says Joachim Holstein.

“Fantastic routes”

The former night train attendant at Deutsche Bahn and night train activist knows about developments in European night trains at the end of the 20th century. There have been “fantastic routes”, for example from Hamburg via Innsbruck and the Brenner to Verona and Venice or across the Swiss Alps and Cinque Terre to Livorno. Trains went much more often and you could choose longer routes.

Holstein says that as a conductor he traveled a lot on night trains and also used them privately. “Night trains are extremely communicative. The conversations that took place in the corridors, ”he says. The dining car is also a popular meeting place. You can experience Europe on the night train – not only on the train itself: the air that flows in when the doors are open also changes over the course of the route.

Comeback der Nachtzüge: Lernen aus der Vergangenheit


From the platform, people with white handkerchiefs wave after the Orient Express. On May 19, 1977, seven minutes before midnight, the legendary “Orient Express” luxury train set off on what is for the time being its last journey from Paris to Istanbul.

Martin Randelhoff from the Technical University of Dortmund collected previous night train routes for his online blog “Zukunft Mobility”. According to a travel guide for European trains from 1996 and 1997, there were around 100 cross-border night train connections in Europe, according to Randelhoff. In addition, there were around 100 night trains that ran within national borders.

Competition pressure

According to a spokesman for the Allianz pro Schiene transport alliance, low-cost airlines and long-distance buses have become competition. The demand for trips in sleeping or couchette cars has decreased. High-speed trains have also led to night trains being canceled. One of them was the night train between Amsterdam and Paris: after the introduction of the French high-speed train Thalys, it was discontinued, as can be read on the Randelhoff blog.

Comeback der Nachtzüge: Lernen aus der Vergangenheit


Travelers have made themselves comfortable on the night train of the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) on the journey from Zurich (Switzerland) to Hamburg.

But speed alone is not always the solution, says Bastian Kettner from Verkehrsclub Deutschland. “If I arrive somewhere in the night and then don’t have a connection, then the connection doesn’t really help me.” It is important to get a connection quickly everywhere – for example to get from Lisbon to Moscow or from Stockholm to Naples be able.

Not only the connections need a holistic system. If there is no cooperation, it is necessary to buy extra tickets for the individual railway companies, says Kettner. In the event of a delay, it would then be difficult to assert passenger rights for the continuous journey through several countries.

Marion Jungbluth from the Federation of German Consumer Organizations believes there is interest in a good night train offer. The head of the Mobility and Travel team sees a great need to redesign such connections from the consumer’s point of view and with a view to climate protection. dpa

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