It’s huge news for European train travel. A year after the end of the European Year of Rail, the European Commission has announced that it will support ten pilot projects in international train travel to make the sector more efficient, quicker and more affordable for travellers. For despite the free circulation of goods and travel permitted by the Union, there’s no real Europe-wide rail policy. As we’ve mentioned several times before in these newsletters, each country has developed its own network, with its own history, rules and technology. Even though many countries have opened up their networks to private firms, the level of interoperability remains very low, which favours road and air transport (the latter is now operating at 2019 levels again, which shows how borders have little impact on international flight services these days).
To change things, DG Move, which “develops and implements the Commission’s transport policy”, has selected ten timely and diverse projects to encourage long-distance rail travel. It’s worth noting that long-distance travel in this case excludes urban, suburban and regional rail services. However, the list of projects includes both intergovernmental initiatives and projects launched by both established rail firms and startups.
You’ll find new services from the Hungarian government linking it with Austria and Romania, as well as projects from the Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and the Deutsche Bahn between Rome, Munichandt Milan, plus improvements to the Amsterdam-London route backed in a joint venture by Nederlandse Spoorwegenandt Eurostar. There’s also a project from Ilsa – a branch of Trenitalia – between LIsbon, A Coroña and Madrid, along with a project run by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya linking Catalonia with the south of the France and the extension of WESTbahn’s passengers on the Munich-Vienna-Budapest line. Add to that a new route between Germany, Denmark and Sweden that will host both day and night trips courtesy of a collaboration between various public and private actors in the three countries. DG Move has also selected a Flixtrain Munich-Zurich service.
If you’ve been counting, you’ll have noticed that we only mentioned eight projects in the previous paragraph. That’s because the final two are from two startups working in the sleeper-train space. The first is European Sleeper, which aims to link up Amsterdam and Barcelona. And the second is none other than Midnight Trains with its Paris-Milan-Venice route. As the only French project selected, we’re very proud. But above all, it gives us hope that the European Commission is determined to encourage the development of international rail travel and especially night trains.
But it’s worth pointing out that the support from the European Commission isn’t of the financial sort. Rather, it is about logistics. In its 2021 action plan, it “looked at the obstacles to the adoption and use of international railway service by travellers” like “the doling out of capacities” or “the lack of collaboration between those who manage the infrastructure”. The pilot projects will allow us to better understand these issues and help overcome them, as well as identify new ones. There’s no doubt that the mooted services will be pioneers in European rail travel, and (hopefully) pave the way for many more. “I’m delighted to be working with the railway sector on making these ten pilot projects a success, as well as many more to follow”, Adina Vălean, the Commissioner for Transport, said. We most certainly share her enthusiasm.