Automatically translated from Basque, translation may contain errors. More information here. Elhuyarren itzultzaile automatikoaren logoa

Second chance for night trains? The alternative to the plane goes slowly

  • Ordinary night train journeys disappeared years ago across Europe, favouring air transport. However, the climate emergency has now displaced many people to polluting aircraft and the train network of a few hours is being tried to relaunch between several cities in mid-distance. It will not be an easy task, without strong public policies, if it falls at the neck of competition and competition.
European Sleeper Herbehereetako kooperatibak crowfunding bidez lortu du dirua Brusela eta Berlin artean gaueko trena martxan jartzeko. Benetako inbertsio eta politika publiko sendoen gabeziak zail jarri dizkie gauzak halako trenei, hegazkinez bidaiatzea b

We seem to have returned to the time of the proceedings,” says Anne Tanné, an 80-year-old grandmother, when she recounts her journey on the conventional night train on December 25. That afternoon, when he went to Aurillac station in Occitania, he received a surprise: The train that was going to take to Paris was not going to leave because it was broken. She and 50 others were first taken by bus to Brive, where after an hour of waiting in a icy room with the bathroom closed with padlock, the “rescue” train arrived at 01:30 in the morning. They sat in sparse locations where they were free and the following day they were able to reach the Paris-Austerlitz station, but did not receive any financial compensation.

Angry, Anne wrote to the mayor and a deputy. The local newspaper La Montagne has received the complaint and has spread the famous aggregating news Huffpost. The woman accuses the authorities of having been the revenge of the “mythical” night train, as the trips are made with obsolete machinery, and considers that a “media exajeration” has been made with the return of the night train: “They are just smoke.” Fourteen distant nuts, four steeled.

In December 2023, the French Ministry of Transport announced the launch of four night trains on the regular rail network, including the Aurillac-Paris network, and one that would travel from Baiona to Paris, known in Le Pyréné for Tarbe and Orthez. The joy has not lasted long for Basque families who had planned to see Eurodisney or for citizens who by chance have to go to work or make a thousand formalities to Paris. When not a month has passed, the problems are continuous, and in the case of the Baiona-Paris train we have already read on the website of Urdin Euskal Herria: “The promises have not been fulfilled.”

Aurillac train station. It runs one of the night trains recently launched in the French State.

A few years ago, in the 1980s, the whole of Europe was united by an extensive rail network that allowed travelling from night to city without any problems. In France alone there were 30 night lines remaining at 550 stations. The train was the most common way to travel between towns and cities many kilometers away.

But when authorities started spending money on the expensive High-Speed Train, they left the conventional network abandoned and the last punch that gave it the extension of low-cost flights. In the decade of 2010, there were barely two night trains left in the French state.

This is what Joséphine Maunier, a freelance journalist based in Berlin, tells us in the critical radical magazine Socialter, in his report Les trains de nuit s'éveillent peu à peu (Night trains wake up gradually), written in June 2022.

Sunrise in Sena

The demand for night trains as an alternative to half-distance journeys has now become stronger. Not only because they pollute much less than aircraft – aircraft can emit more CO2 between 14 and 45 times, according to a report by the European Environment Agency – but also because the annoying controls and delays at airports are avoided and because the passenger can save time, and money from the hotel, while the train leaves next to Sena at dawn.

“If the passengers no longer catch night trains it’s because they pulled them off,” explains Socialter Oui au train de nuit journalist. (To the night train yes!) Quentin Marsal, member of the collective. Since 2017, a campaign has been underway in which over 200,000 signatures have been collected to request the implementation of night train services: “The demand goes to legitimize and demonstrate the return [of the night train] that the number of passengers was not a reason for dismantling.”

Oui au train de nuit! According to the group, starting night trips and improving the conventional rail network would create 130,000 jobs. But, as we saw with Anne de Aurillac on Christmas Day, the road is not easy for the train

According to this group, starting night trips and improving the conventional rail network would create 130,000 jobs. But, as we saw with what happened on Christmas Day to Anne de Aurillac, the road is not easy for the train...

First of all, there is a lack of investment: obsolete machinery must be accompanied by the need to use diesel locomotives on still unelectrified roads. Night use of the TGV network is also prohibited due to its maintenance. "It aims to make a profitable SNCF company, focused on services like TGV," says Marsal.

Another paradox is that airlines' offers today are much cheaper than those on night trains, even if transport is more polluting. In Europe, aircraft do not pay tax on kerosene, one of the main emitters of carbon dioxide, or VAT. On the contrary, trains have to pay for energy spent, access to the railways and eleven other things.

Night train from Hendaia. In recent years, only a train which once travelled to Paris has been launched at certain times in the summer.

This situation cannot be justified at all, according to Cristina Artoja de Greenpeace Spain: "States must reduce taxes, recognize that it is a public service and abolish rail access fees," explains the Spanish newspaper El Diario.es in the environmental section Ballena Blanca. But, in addition to fairer taxation, the rail network needs a change in the mentality of the public authorities in order to get out of this dynamic of competition and competition as crazy as short and medium-distance flights.

Meanwhile, in many parts of Europe, it is the citizens who are driving the train from the social economy. In addition to the Austrian company Nithjet, which offers night services, Ballena Blanca mentions another project launched in 2023: The European Sleeper cooperative has crowded funding to unite Brussels and Berlin at night, with the support of 1,700 people. Yes, travelers will have to look at the landscape from the vintage rented second-hand cars of the 1970s, perhaps because fate is the way.


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