(Published on 5th May 2023)
Night trains are on the rise again in Europe and rail travel is taking a new turn for more options, Like a bifurcation in a railway, train travel in Europe is again moving in the direction of more sleeper trains. One example is the Nightjet which began its growth journey in 2017 when 700 000 passengers used the Nightjet services. The year 2022 saw a remarkable gain to pre-pandemic numbers when the number of Nightjet passengers more than doubled to 1.5 million passengers. To learn more about the Nightjet, I get the chance to speak with Bernhard Rieder, spokesperson for ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen), the Austrian Federal Railways. First off, I wonder if the trend with more climate-aware travelers has been visible to ÖBB. Bernhard comments on the European trend that has been noticed.
“European travellers are more and more exploring which climate friendly option exist to arrive to their destination. If there is a train offer, they are very happy to book it. Unfortunately, there are still too few night train routes in Europe. As ÖBB, we want to bring more routes with partners in the coming years in order to provide more opportunities for climate-friendly travel in Europe.”
Currently, a handful of night trains exist around Europe to connect larger cities in neighbouring countries. The initiative by the Austrian Federal Railways has taken a considerable step to provide night trains for travel between key locations in Europe. The destinations have expanded from Austria and Germany to France, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, and Slovenia, to name a few. The future will bring more trains with designs, reflect the needs of rail travelers. There will be max four people in a compartment to improve privacy, compared to the older max number of six people per compartment. Couchette cars have compartments for 1-2 individuals. Free WiFi will be offered on the entire train. This, of course, is not entirely new as other trains in Europe also offer wireless Internet.
33 new Nightjet trains
One key hint that night trains are here to stay is the fact that ÖBB is investing in 33 new Nightjet trains, and Bernhard elaborates on this investment.
“We at ÖBB have always believed in the success of night trains – that is why we have ordered new night trains. The demand proves us right. Last year, we had 1.5 million passengers on our night trains – and the trend is still rising. A total of 33 new Nightjets will gradually supplement the existing fleet from autumn 2023 onwards. Bookings will be possible by end of summer. We are introducing the new trains on some of our Italian routes first, followed by some routes to Germany.”
The new Nightjet Mini Cabin in the new trains are designed especially for solo travelers and should increase the suitability for business travelers who want space to concentrate during their journey. In addition to this, the new Nightjet will have a modern couchette compartment with disabled access and toilet, accessible with low-floor boarding.
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When the new trains are active, the existing older Nightjet trains will be then used for both existing and new routes. At the same time, the costs involved with running Nightjet services is one challenge that continuously has to be tackled, much because in effect it is both a transport method and a hotel, as Bernhard explains.
“The costs of operating a night train are significantly higher than for a day train. A night train combines the journey with a stay in a hotel. Thus, the costs for logistics and personnel are significantly higher. When looking at ticket prices, one has to take into account that, in contrast to air travel, all fees are included. Whether costs for luggage or travelling from the city centre – the train stations are located in the centre of the cities. On the night train, you can travel across Europe in a seat car from 30 euros. The costs for more comfort in a couchette or sleeping car are correspondingly higher.”
Nightjet routes in 2023
(Image) © ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen). NightJet routes. Reproduced in this article with the approval of ÖBB. Please find more information about the NightJet at www.nightjet.com.
Privacy is the top recent trend
As the popularity of the Nightjet is growing so is the feedback increasing. ÖBB’s regular surveys have shown that privacy is the most saught after improvement. With this in mind, Bernhard describes the next steps for improved privacy.
“The strongest trend in recent years has been towards privacy. We have taken this development into account when planning the new night trains. There is no space for max. 2 people in the sleeping car cabin and max. 4 people in the couchette cabin. And for those traveling alone, we will introduce a new category, the Mini Cabins – alone in a small cabin at a similar price to the couchette. We also want to increase comfort. With the new Nightjets, each compartment in the sleeping car will have a private toilet and a shower.”
The ÖBB initiative to introduce more trains in the Nightjet service is a move that could help the service find its place in the common awareness as an easy and readily accessible option for rail travel between cities in Europe.