Back on Track: WCN's Campaign to Improve Europe's Cross-border Trains
Rendezvous on Champs-Elysees... Leave Paris in the morning on T.E.E.
In Vienna we sit in a late-night café... Straight connection, T.E.E.
So sang Kraftwerk in their 1977 masterpiece Trans-Europe Express, but there are no direct trains on this route today. And bad luck if you want to travel between Paris and Munich, Berlin or Hamburg: overnight trains were axed in December 2014. Read on if you want to know why and what could be done to stop the deterioration of Europe's international passenger train network...
Europe has long benefitted from a dense rail network, including many cross-border routes that have traditionally been operated in a spirit of cooperation between neighbouring national railway companies. Today, however, the passenger rail network as a whole is slowly contracting, including the loss of both regional cross-border and direct long-distance international routes.
Cross-border trains are under particular threat for a variety of reasons, including lower demand and higher operating costs (than equivalent domestic routes), poor management and domestic and EU-level politics, compounded by the economic crisis. In recent years passengers have faced line closures, timetable cuts (including the loss of direct long-distance trains), poor connections, ticketing difficulties and insufficient information provision, prompting World Carfree Network to launch Back on Track at the end of 2012. Our aim is to raise awareness of cross-border rail problems, highlight solutions and encourage positive intervention at the national and European levels, while supporting other groups with their own regional pro-rail campaigns.
December 2017 Timetable Change
- Austria - Czech Republic: RegioJet has introduced 4 daily train pairs between Vienna and Prague, competing with the 2-hourly RailJet (yes, confusing, isn't it?) trains provided by incumbent operators OBB and CD.
- Austria - Germany: Vienna - Nuremberg (- Frankfurt/Hamburg) trains are accelerated by up to 25 mins thanks to fewer stops and the reactivation of tilting equipment on the ICE trains used on the route.
- Austria - Italy: the direct service between Vienna and Venice is doubled from one to two daily train pairs, albeit with less comfortable RailJet rolling stock replacing the fine compartment coaches of the previous EuroCity trains.
- Austria - Poland: one pair of Vienna - Bohumín EuroCity trains is extended to/from Katowice.
- Austria - Slovakia: one regional train pair between Vienna and Bratislava, and one IC train pair between Bratislava and Košice via Poprad Tatry will be combined, creating direct daytime services between Vienna and Košice for the first time in many years. The wonders of interoperable RIC rolling stock!
- Austria - Ukraine: a new direct service with newly-built UZD sleeping cars operates between Vienna, Lviv and Kiev.
- Czech Republic - Germany:
- services on the Munich-Prague route increase from 4 trains per day to 7, thus almost doubling the train service to 2-hourly. Unfortunately this appears to come at the cost of the loss of the bistro cars that used to run in two train pairs per day.
- a new direct service of two train pairs on weekends only operates between Karlovy Vary and Zwickau via Klingenthal (all other connections via this route require a change of train in Kraslice or Sokolov).
- Czech Republic - Poland:
- the seasonal direct EuroCity train pair between Prague and Kraków that was introduced at the 2016/17 timetable change now runs all year round, presumably owing to strong demand (we had long suspected this would be a success) and possibly also to preempt the introduction of a rival service by Leo Express.
- one pair of Vienna - Bohumin EuroCity trains is extended to/from Katowice.
- Czech Republic - Slovakia:
- RegioJet increases its Prague - Brno - Bratislava service from two to three train pairs per day.
- RegioJet extends its overnight Prague - Košice train pair to/from Humenné.
- France - Spain: the night train Paris – Cerbère - Port-Bou was partially reprieved in summer 2017 thanks to regional financing; in 2018 it will run at weekends all year and daily during school holidays.
- Germany - Italy: a new direct Frankfurt - Milan EuroCity Express train pair via Basel operates daily with Swiss tilting rolling stock. This also means the restoration of DB SparPreis through ticketing between Germany and Italy via Switzerland, albeit only for the direct trains.
- Germany - Netherlands: hourly regional services between Bielefeld and Bad Bentheim are extended to/from Hengelo from 14 January 2018 (postponed from the mid-December timetable change in 2017 thanks to rolling stock authorisation problems), restoring regional services to the cross-border section for the first time since December 2013.
- Germany - Switzerland: the NightJet overnight service between Hamburg and Zurich via Berlin is split into two separate portions north/east of Hillesheim in Germany,leading to much more attractive arrival and departure times in Berlin and allowing Hannover, Magdeburg and Potsdam to be served en route.
- Hungary - Slovakia: the line between Rajka and Bratislava-Petržalka is reopened to passenger traffic with the re-introduction of 5 train pairs, of which four start/end in Hegyeshalom.
- Italy - Switzerland:
- one daily pair of EuroCity services between Milan and Zürich is extended to start/end in Venice, replacing the weekend-only service introduced in June 2017.
- a new half-hourly regional route between Varesi and Mendrisio began on 7 January 2018, with extensions to/from Como (hourly route S40) and from June 2018 to/from Milan Malpensa Airport (S50 every 2 hours).
- Portugal - Spain: already running since 29 August 2017 is a reinstated passenger service on the Entroncamento - Elvas - Badajoz line, consisting of just one train pair per day but happily with reasonable connections at each end. This makes it feasible to travel by daytime trains between Lisbon and Madrid.
Back to Current News
Nice try, but...
- Austria - Italy: in 2017 it was announced that at least one MICOTRA train pair between Villach and Udine would be extended to/from Trieste; it now appears this will not happen.
- Bulgaria - Turkey: despite the completion of most upgrade work on both sides of the border, it appears the single Sofia - Plovdiv - Istanbul train pair - with passport control at 02:00 in the morning on the platform in Kapikule - will remain the only cross-border service on the line. What a waste of millions of Euros of infrastructure funding...
- Czech Republic - Poland: passenger trains via the Meziměstí - Mieroszów border crossing will be reinstated after a gap of 14 years. However, trains will only run on weekends and public holidays between 28.4.2018 and 2.9.2018: there will be four train pairs between Mezimesti and Walbrzych, of which two pairs run to/from Adrspach and one train pair to/from Wrocław.
- Latvia - Lithuania: the gap between the two countries' passenger networks might be bridged in the form of the extension only at weekends of two pairs of Lithuanian trains between Vilnius and Turmantas to/from Daugavpils, where there are connecting services to/from Riga. Update: This service commenced on 13 January 2018 - see the LG website.
- Lithuania - Poland: the new Mockava - Białystok - Warsaw - Kraków TLK train pair was announced as starting in December 2015 but has to date not run at all. When will this much-needed service finally begin...?
Back to Current News
- Austria - Germany: the Vienna - Dresden - Berlin night train no longer operates, a victim of cost-cutting by the Hungarian state operator MÁV, which formerly operated the train within Germany at its own commercial risk. This means the capitals of Austria and Germany will not be linked by direct trains for probably the first time in around 100 years - unbelievable!
- Austria - Netherlands: the daytime Krokus Express ski train between Den Haag and Schladming/Bludenz is cut back to operate just once, coinciding with Dutch school holidays. BTE Autozug has replaced Euro-Express as German partner in the operation of these trains with the Dutch Treinreiswinkel.
- Austria - Russia: through sleeping cars between Vienna and St. Petersburg are withdrawn.
- Austria - Slovakia: the direct overnight service between Vienna and Košice via Poprad Tatry will be cut back to operate seasonally.
- Bosnia - Croatia: there is no indication that the Sarajevo - Zagreb train pair will be reintroduced. Bosnia therefore remains completely cut off from its neighbours by rail. Likewise there has been no progress in restoring passenger services between Mostar and the Croatian coastal town of Ploče.
- Bulgaria - Greece: according to TrainOSE, the cross-border Kulata - Strimon section of the Sofia - Thessaloniki line remains closed and substituted by buses "until further notice". This has been going on since 25 May 2017 without an explanation from TrainOSE or BDZ.
- Bulgaria - Serbia: just like last year, direct trains between Sofia and Belgrade only run in summer. The reasons for this are as follows: ever fewer passengers owing to low speeds caused by poorly maintained infrastructure, economic pressures on ZS and the lack of diesel locomotives in Serbia with serviceable train heating equipment.
- Croatia - Hungary: daytime through carriages between Rijeka and Budapest attached to one of the Zagreb - Budapest train pairs are discontinued.
- Czech Republic - Germany: the first train of the day between Prague (departing around 04:00) and Berlin, and the last train of the day between Berlin (19:00) and Prague both cease, a consequence of the decision to withdraw the night train Metropol north of Prague. More good news for the bus operators...
- Czech Republic - Russia: through sleeping cars between Prague and St. Petersburg are withdrawn.
- Czech Republic - Slovakia: ČD night trains between Cheb, Prague, Košice and Zvolen are drastically cut back.
- Czech Republic - Ukraine: through sleeping cars between Prague and Kiev are withdrawn.
- Germany - Hungary: the Berlin - Dresden - Budapest night train no longer runs, a victim of cost-cutting by the Hungarian state operator MÁV, which formerly operated the train within Germany at its own commercial risk.
- Germany - Italy: Euro-Express has pulled out of the car-carrying overnight train market between Düsseldorf and Italy following disagreements with its Dutch partner Treinreiswinkel. While the Düsseldorf - Verona route has been taken over by BTE Autozug, the Düsseldorf - Livorno route will not operate at all in 2018.
- Greece - Macedonia - Serbia: the Greek section of the route Thessaloniki - Gevgelija - Skopje - Belgrade, on which trains replaced by buses in 2017 up until 18 October 2017, is is once again 'bustituted' until further notice. What is going on there...?
- Hungary - Romania/Serbia/Slovenia: various long-distance trains have lost their restaurant cars, including the (Vienna-) Budapest-Belgrade Avala, all services between Budapest and Romania (to/from Cluj Napoca and Bucharest) and the Budapest - Ljubljana Citadella.
- Norway - Sweden: following improvements in recent years leading to large increases in patronage, the Oslo - Stockholm service is cut back from four or five daily train pairs to three until mid-August 2018, thereafter two with signficant decelerations until 2022, owing to track modernisation work in Norway, probably resulting in modal shift back to road and air.
- Slovakia - Ukraine: through sleeping cars between Bratislava, Lviv and Kiev are withdrawn.
Why is Rail Worth Saving?
Trains can offer safe, fast and low-carbon mobility for all, reducing the environmental impact of travel significantly. On average, rail produces only 25% and 30% of the per passenger km carbon emissions of planes and cars respectively, based on average occupancy figures. These figures do not include the additional climate change impacts of emissions at altitude: aviation figures should be multiplied by a 'radiative forcing index' of between 1.9 and 2.7. Note also that GHG emissions from rail are even lower in countries with a high proportion of renewable electricity generation, including Sweden and Switzerland with their abundant hydro-electric power and almost zero-carbon rail operations.
Trains offer direct city centre to city centre travel and allow passengers to use their on-board time productively. Many people simply enjoy the experience of watching Europe passing their window seat... we often wonder why most railway companies do not follow the lead of Switzerland in actively promoting the comfort and pleasure of rail travel!
Towards Carfree Cities IX conference participants enjoy a networking opportunity en route from York to a study tour in Newcastle, courtesy of Grand Central. Although this company is a private 'open access' operator, ticketing is integrated into Britain's national system: we regard this as both passenger-friendly and a sensible long-term business model.
Without railways, there would be many more cars and trucks on Europe's roads, leading to increased congestion, air pollution, fossil fuel consumption, reliance on energy imported from politically unstable parts of the world, noise and accidents (9 people die every day on British roads, considered to be among the safest in the EU). Without Europe's dense network of passenger train routes, how would you get around? Would you buy a car, fly more and/or suffer slow long-distance bus journeys? Or hitchhike...? Would your want to live in your city if it becomes overrun with even more motor vehicles?
What Has Gone Wrong and Why?
European and national transport policy favours aviation. Flight tickets and aviation fuel remain largely untaxed, representing a huge subsidy and making it very difficult for rail to compete on price.
In the early 1990s German and Swedish Railways cooperated in the operation of three daily train pairs between Prague/Dresden/Berlin and Malmö in Sweden. Thanks to the European Commission's liberalisation of aviation, the train became unable to compete with undertaxed low-cost flights on price. A vicious circle of falling passenger numbers and service cuts followed, culminating in first DB, then SJ, pulling out of its operation. Since being taken over by the private operators Veolia and GVG in 2012, the remaining Berlin - Malmö service runs 2-3 times per week and without sleeping cars in the short Swedish high summer only. We are of course grateful to the operator for continuing to participate in the InterRail scheme, one of very few 'open access' operators to do so.
European and national transport policy favours road transport. The European Commission and national governments continue to drag their heels over the implementation of ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles for private car use, putting rail at a competitive disadvantage. The road freight industry covers only 60% of the environmental and infrastructure damage it causes, representing another perverse subsidy, while around two thirds of trucks are operated illegally in some way (exceedance of maximum permitted driving hours, overloading, etc). Maximum permitted truck weights continue to be raised across the EU, the Commission having somehow been persuaded by the road haulage lobby that 'supertrucks' will lead to fewer truck movements! Of course it does no such thing and simply undermines the economic viability of rail freight, especially the 'wagonload' market. If rail freight disappears from a particular route, passenger trains then have to bear all the infrastructure maintenance costs.
A Rijeka (Croatia) - Ljubljana (Slovenia) - Vienna (Austria) train climbs out of Rijeka in October 2012. Croatian Railways (HZ) announced that the entire Croatian section of the route would lose its passenger trains in December 2012, on the eve of the country's accession to the EU, but WCN's petition helped to persuade HZ to reverse this decision. Within Croatia this line is extremely slow, raising questions as to why speeds were not increased during recent (EU co-financed) work to change the electrification system. In contrast, the parallel road has been lavishly upgraded, undermining the economic viability of the railway. Such scenes can be seen across vast swathes of central and southern Europe.
European policy favours road infrastructure projects, and infrastructure spending in general over financial support for operations. European funding institutions have demanded cuts to public transport funding in many countries during the economic crisis. Motorways and other trunk roads continue to be built and upgraded across the continent, despite the known negative environmental and social consequences, thanks in part to co-financing from the EU's Cohesion and Structural funds, especially in central, eastern and southern Europe. In contrast, parallel rail infrastructure is frequently neglected. This damaging policy background undermines other EU-level transport policy and environmental objectives. Greece stopped running international passenger trains in March 2011 (since partially reinstated in May 2014) and has closed many domestic routes, including lines recently upgraded with EU money! White elephant motorways and airports continue to be built...
A hugely expensive and hardly used new toll road in the Greek Peloponnese, as seen from a charter train on the Korinthos - Tripolis - Kiparissia line in April 2013, a railway that was modernised with EU money in 2006 but lost all its trains in 2011. No, we are not joking! Public transport disappeared almost overnight, leaving passengers with a choice of the car or staying at home. We wonder how the EC's noble modal shift goals - including a target for rail to account for half of all medium-distance journeys by 2050 - will be achieved if this trend continues?
The nature of demand, domestic politics and institutional barriers. Transport is often low on the list of political priorities. Railways come even lower, while there are few votes to be had from improving cross-border railways, where demand is generally lower than on equivalent domestic routes owing to language and cultural barriers. At a time of economic recession, governments tend to look for easy targets for spending cuts, especially when European institutions add to this pressure. In most cases there are genuine additional operating costs associated with international rail routes, while funding/contract mechanisms each side of the border are often incompatible. It is for these reasons that WCN has called for EU funding specifically for the operation of cross-border passenger trains, possibly by means of Public Service Obligation contracts. Disputes between neighbouring countries can also lead to worse cross-border services, something that is clearly not in the broader interest of the 'single market'.
Until a few years ago there were direct trains between Szeged (Hungary) and Subotica (Serbia). Each railway then decided to ban the trains of the other country, for reasons that remain unclear. Passengers are now forced to change trains at the extremely basic border station of Horgoš (pictured). Patronage has dwindled to the extent that these elderly railcars can handle the limited traffic that remains. Update: in the wake of Europe's refugee crisis, the route between Röszke and Horgoš was physically severed in September 2015.
Direct trains were provided between České Budějovice and Vienna until the partially EU-financed electrification of this route on the Czech side was completed. Instead of celebrating this modernisation, we find ourselves wondering why the service has deteriorated.
Image courtesy of Al Pulford.
Case study: Baltic States: since the end of May 2015 there are almost no international passenger trains within the Baltic States, while the Vilnius - Warsaw train remains "suspended until further notice". An entire region of the EU cut off from central Europe - how did it come to this? It remains to be seen whether the Via Baltica project, predominantly intended as freight corridor, will bring improvements.
- Estonia - Latvia: weekday engineering works in Latvia between February and May 2015 caused broken connections in Valga on the Tallinn - Riga route, a situation repeated from 1 June 2016.
- Estonia - Russia: From 15 February 2015 the private Go Rail service of two daily train pairs between Tallinn and St. Petersburg was reduced to two per WEEK. From 12 May 2015 there were no passenger trains at all on this route, with Tallinn - Moscow also withdrawn from 19 May 2015. A daily Tallinn - St. Petersburg - Moscow service operated by Russian Railways then resumed on 10/11 July 2015. More information here.
- Lithuania - Latvia - Russia: since 31 May 2015 there are no passenger trains between Lithuania and Latvia, following the withdrawal of the Vilnius - St. Petersburg night train.
- Poland - Lithuania: a new weekends-only service of 1-2 train pairs between Białystok and Mockava was introduced on 17 June 2016. Unfortunately their average speed is just 50 km/h, much slower than competing buses.
Management, incentives and conflicts within the rail sector. Although far from perfect by any means, national long-distance rail operators have traditionally cooperated with their neighbours in the areas of timetabling and ticketing, culminating in the EuroCity network that peaked in the early 1990s. This has dwindled in recent years as railways have focussed on their core domestic markets, often in readiness for additional competition from 'open access' operators and/or a desire for profit maximisation. We suspect many railways do not understand the potential size of the market for long-distance international rail travel, which they assume to be too small to be worth developing, despite passengers' increasing desire for a more relaxed and environmentally friendlier alternative to the modern-day air travel experience.
Incumbent operators in Italy, Germany and elsewhere have reacted extremely badly to the threat of competition from their neighbours, resulting in the total loss of cooperation (marketing, through/inter-available ticketing between operators, ticket sales, optimal connections, passenger rights, etc.) in some cases. This is very bad news for passengers who - rightly or wrongly - regard 'the railway' as a single system, something that should be hailed as a great strength in comparison with the fragmented aviation and long-distance bus sectors!
Update 1: France - Belgium - Germany: since mid-2013 Thalys and DB no longer sell through tickets for journeys involving both companies. DB has stopped selling any Thalys tickets, since it regards Thalys as an 'open access' competitor. So instead of 'the railway' advertising its offer of 9 high speed train pairs per day between Brussels and Cologne, operator A promotes the five red trains and operator B the four white ones, while pretending the other trains do not exist! Believe it or not, DB still holds a 10% in Thalys until March 2015! Madness!
Update 2: The Hamburg - Berlin - Dresden - Vienna Eurocity train Vindobona was cut in December 2014. Astonishingly this means the end of direct trains between the capital cities of two German-speaking countries! Direct daytime trains between Berlin and Bratislava/Budapest will be reduced from four pairs (in 2014-15) to one pair of trains from December 2015. The route was an example of good practice.
High track and station access charges have killed off many marginal routes in recent years, despite supposedly being limited by European-level legislation to the recovery of marginal costs. A high-profile example is the excessive cost of infrastructure use in Belgium, which led to the gradual withdrawal of all overnight trains to/from/via the country, the last to survive being the (Paris -) Brussels - Berlin/Hamburg train, binned in December 2008. Until their complete withdrawal in December 2014, City Night Line trains from Paris to Germany had to take a much longer route through France, while journeys to/from London took far too long and were more expensive, a double whammy for the poor passenger and highly damaging for the economics of night train operations.
Direct trains between Berlin/Hamburg and France are history since 14 December 2014 (with the exception of the tricky-to-book RZD train between Berlin, Strasbourg and Paris), a gift for the airlines...
High-speed lines have the ability to shrink journey times significantly. But they can also introduce conflicts of interest and reduce choice, especially when the opening of new lines is accompanied by cuts to 'classic' services and international long-distance routes formerly operated under the EuroCity banner. This problem has affected routes to/from France and Belgium in particular, while the journey planner of the former is notorious in being programmed to offer TGVs via Paris when searching for cross-country journeys in southern France! Why is this? Operators want passengers to use high speed trains, in part to justify the construction of new lines and ensure high load factors on trains that are energy-greedy and expensive to operate. However, such trains can make more trips per day than slower trains over the same distance, reducing the number required. Management can be so preoccupied with the most profitable high speed services that classic routes are no longer marketed at best, or suffer 'death by a thousand cuts'. Provincial towns and cities away from the high speed network can be left with a significantly worse service. By removing choice, passengers are forced to go high speed (often at a much higher fare) or find an alternative mode.
Most high-speed trains in/to/from France, Spain and Italy are 'globally priced', jargon that means there are (i) limited or no through ticketing options, (ii) compulsory reservations and (iii) limited-quota and/or expensive supplements for rail pass holders. French TGVs are generally comfortable enough for journeys of up to 3 hours, but not for longer trips such as Paris - Italy/Spain. There is a general lack of regard for the needs of the (poorly studied) longer-distance market and passengers requiring flexibility in their travel plans, the latter being another example of rail squandering an inherent advantage over other modes...
Destination board on a classic EuroCity train from Belgium to Italy. In recent years the route was decelerated and i) cut from 3 train pairs per day to 2; ii) cut back to run north of Zurich/Chur only; iii) cut back to end in Basel eastbound in December 2011; and iv) cut back to start westbound in Basel in December 2013. Comfortable Swiss rolling stock with laptop sockets were replaced by basic Belgian carriages in December 2013. French and Belgian Railways want to force passengers to use expensive TGV trains via Paris (a much longer route subject to global pricing and with awkward cross-Paris transfer). The two remaining Brussels - Basel direct services ran for the last time on 2 April 2016. This has left the Luxembourg - Basel route without direct trains.
Operational constraints. Although high-speed lines can permit speeds as high as 320 km/h, time savings are often squandered by the need to change trains in places such as Brussels, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hendaye/Irun and Strasbourg. This is because high-speed trains tend not to be 'interoperable', and classic 200-230 km/h rolling stock is considered too slow for high-speed infrastructure (especially in France). Today there are no direct trains between Paris/Strasbourg and Hamburg, Prague and Vienna. What is the solution? We suggest the integration of timetabling and rolling stock concepts, such that international trains can be operated as extensions of core domestic fast trains and 'foreign' carriages can be used on domestic services, maximising resource efficiency. This is fundamentally incompatible with the current model of each operator specifying its own bespoke rolling stock, exacerbated by a fragmentation-driven increase in the number of players.
Cooperation and interoperability the traditional way! This Paris - Vienna day train (and its overnight counterpart) disappeared with the opening of the Ligne à Grand Vitesse (LGV) Est between Paris and Strasbourg. Such trains have fallen out of fashion in western Europe as they are generally limited to 200 km/h and cannot be used on French-style high-speed lines with special signalling, despite the otherwise 'go-anywhere', flexible and low-cost nature of the rolling stock. But many people prefer direct journeys rather than having to change several times and fight with the booking systems of multiple operators.
It's not all doom and gloom! Switzerland remains a beacon of sanity: per capita rail use is the highest in Europe despite the wealth of its citizens, near-universal car ownership, an absence of high-speed lines and little liberalisation of passenger services. Switzerland's unwaving political commitment to a sustainable transport system, long-term planning horizons, timetable and capacity optimisation and targeted infrastructure improvements are a model for the rest of the world to copy. A ticket can be purchased from any public transport stop to any other, regardless of the number of operators used. A ticket valid on all modes for one year can be purchased for around 3000 EUR. Cooperation and integration are at the heart of the Swiss public transport philosophy. While retaining some commercial freedom, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has a brief to maximise rail mode share and accessibility to, from and within the country. This is in stark contrast with the narrow aim of profit maximisation on selected corridors seen elsewhere. SBB retains good relations with its neighbours, as there are few if any competition-related conflicts. Local cross-border routes to Austria, Germany and Italy are well integrated into the national system.
Elsewhere in Europe regional cross-border routes/networks have been successfully tendered, and a handful of trans-European long-distance routes and ticketing schemes remain. Examples can be found in Appendix III of WCN's open letter to the European Commission.
Positive examples do exist! Local authorities in the Germany/Czech Republic border regions in particular have worked hard to offer attractive timetables and integrated ticketing. In this example there is cross-platform interchange and a short wait between a local train from Dresden and a regional cross-border service to Dečin. We welcome competitive tendering for the operation of publically-specified regional routes, provided that the railway still functions as an integrated system.
Another survivor and another example of traditional cooperation with interoperable rolling stock! Yes, it takes 7 minutes to change locomotives at the border, but passengers enjoy comfortable and spacious carriages and a reliable service. Why sacrifice that for the sake of 7 minutes? UPDATE: We hear that DB no longer plans to seek authorisation to use its ICx trains in the Netherlands. We hope that comfortable, reliable and flexible EuroCity trains will continue to operate on the Berlin - Amsterdam route.
One ticket and no stress when travelling between the south of England and the Netherlands via the Harwich - Hoek van Holland ferry. This is now the only properly integrated Rail & Sail route between the UK and continental Europe. We hope it will survive the threatened conversion of the Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam line into a metro...
What Should Be Done?
WCN has set out a number of solutions that require the will of the European Commission in particular, but also national governments and/or rail operators to implement:
- A body at European level (the Commission or its agency ERA) should participate pro-actively in the international timetable negotiation process, acting principally to discourage needlessly poor/broken connections. This is not a technological problem!
- High track and station access charges are stifling growth and threatening marginal routes. The European Commission should urgently review and mitigate the negative consequences of the requirement for operations and infrastructure management to be separated beyond the level of accounting transparency. Stronger regulation is likely to be necessary.
- The European Commission and partners such as UIC/CER should disseminate best practice in the financing and operation of international passenger trains, through high-level conferences and publications.
- The European Commission should support the development of online and printed ”Man in Seat 61”-type information resources in all Member States, in order to provide impartial expert advice on international surface travel in an easy-to-understand way.
Short- to medium-term goals:
- The European Commission and European financial institutions such as the EBRD should consider broad transport mode share and environmental policy goals first and foremost when assessing applications for infrastructure co-funding. Financial institutions' demands for public sector spending cuts must also consider these over-arching long-term objectives. Rules on the use of co-financed infrastructure should be enforced and/or strengthened, such that Member States cannot withdraw (e.g. Greece) or simply not provide (e.g. Danube Bridge 2, etc) passenger rail services on lines recently built/upgraded with European money.
- Train operators should rethink their strategy in order to attract more business on routes of > 4 hours travel time. Direct trains, optimised connections, through ticketing and good on-board facilities (WiFi, comfortable seating in a variety of business- and group-friendly layouts, catering) can attract and retain passengers. Consideration should be given to retrofitting classic trains with the equipment needed to use high-speed lines at 200-230 km/h. Cramped, poorly connecting and globally-priced trains simply encourage or force long-distance travellers to use alternatives.
- The European Commission should take the lead in pushing for the implementation of ‘user pays’ and 'polluter pays' principles with regard to road use and flights.
- The European Commission and both EU and non-EU countries should research, plan and - where necessary - co-finance the operation of cross-border rail routes to fill gaps in the passenger rail network. Public service obligations (PSOs) and competitive tendering are possible solutions.
- The European Parliament and Commission should prepare legislation to oblige passenger train operators to sell and accept through tickets for journeys involving more than one operator. This might well require the establishment of systems such as the Rail Settlement Plan used in the UK. If this is not possible, the Commission should take the lead in developing/procuring an independent, impartial and free-to-use trans-European booking service. In addition, legislation on passenger rights should be updated to reflect the fragmented nature of the railway in many parts of Europe, in particular journeys made using combinations of two or more tickets.
- The Commission should take the lead in the development of an integrated, regular-interval long-distance trans-European passenger train network, rather than applying the TEN-T corridor-based approach that is better suited to freight. There should be greater emphasis on planning and funding operations rather than capital expenditure on infrastructure.
The 'Mimara' offered a direct and comfortable direct link from Berlin to Zagreb until the year 2000, and was fully integrated into the German InterCity/InterRegio network that has since contracted substantially. Today there is no suitable 'carrier' train for the carriages within Germany. As a consequence you have to change once or twice and journeys are longer despite the use of a shorter, faster route in Germany.
Lower image courtesy of Peter Biewald.
Action Taken by WCN
WCN launched an online petition against Croatian Railways in November 2012 in response to its plans to cut almost all international trains. This pressure helped to save 12 out of the 44 daily trains listed for withdrawal.
This was followed up with an open letter to the European Commission's Transport Commissioner and the Director General of DG-MOVE (the EC's Transport and Mobility wing). This explains the problems, provides detailed lists of recent line closures and timetable cuts, and outlines WCN's suggestions to improve the situation in the short-, medium- and long-term. We found the Commission's reply unacceptable, since it fails to acknowlege its role in creating some of the problems and possibly mitigating them in the future. Instead, the Commission continues to pursue (i) 'vertical separation' of infrastructure and operations, and (ii) expensive, disruptive technological solutions as virtuous policy objectives rather than means to a particular end. Yet these goals are likely to exacerbate rather than solve the problems of fewer direct trains, poor connections and fragmented ticketing...
In response WCN has teamed up with Michael Cramer MEP to try to get proper answers out of the European Commission. Why have EU infrastructure funds been repeatedly mis-spent, and why is the EC's rhetoric on seamless mobility (one journey, one ticket, etc) not matched by legislation to preserve through ticketing and passenger rights when using multiple operators? Michael is assisting us by asking questions in the European Parliament.
World Carfree Network continues to monitor the situation and will bring you updates here and via the Back on Track mailing list.
Services between Wrocław (Poland) and Dresden (Germany) were withdrawn with little warning from 1 March 2015, a victim of a host of financial and organisational problems, leaving the cross-border section over the River Neisse without any passenger trains at all and creating a new gap between the German and Polish passenger networks. Services were restored with a different operator in Poland from 13 December 2015.
Questions, comments and your own examples of good and bad practice in cross-border railways are welcomed by e-mail to
, WCN's Back on Track Campaign Co-ordinator.
You can also join the Back on Track mailing list.
Written Questions in the European Parliament
Note that parliamentary questions are generally posed by elected Members of the European Parliament and directed at the European Commission (the EU's unelected executive agency). You can judge the quality of the answers for yourself!