‘Government subsidies for night trains are counterproductive’
If European governments want to stimulate new night trains, then they must do so in ways that are fair and transparent for all rail operators. This can be achieved by reducing infrastructure charges for all long-distance train lines that have undergone liberalisation, or by providing equal financing options for rolling stock. The individual, market-distorting subsidies that are sometimes granted at the moment are counterproductive, says Nick Brooks, Secretary-General of AllRail.
This week, the Czech private rail operator RegioJet announced that it had bought eighteen carriages for night train services. AllRail, an interest group representing newcomers to European passenger transport, says that in this case private money “has been invested to develop the night train market”.
This expansion resulted from a successful bond issue in June 2019 that raised forty million euros. “This is very different to the Austrian and Swiss state railway companies, ÖBB and SBB, who lobbied the Dutch government, among others, for individual, market-distorting subsidies to set up night trains”, according to the interest group.
AllRail states that there is a ‘potential renaissance’ for both domestic and international night trains across Europe. One reason for this, it asserts, is flight shame, whereby travelling by plane leads to guilt because of its impact on the environment. Another reason, the organisation argues, is the prospect of the market for passenger transport per line being opened, which could attract new train passengers.
AllRail cautions of the risk of Europe falling back on failed models from the past, such as train services being highly dependent on government subsidies. As an example, it names the ÖBB Nightjet from the Austrian state railway operator that has a dominant position on the European night train market. ÖBB lobbied for subsidies from the Netherlands, says the interest group.
“Such subsidies are counterproductive as they prevent new, innovative, private railway operators from entering the same market. As a result, night train services will remain expensive and limited in future.” According to AllRail, SBB is also lobbying for night trains “via market-distorting individual subsidies”.
Innovative private operators demonstrate that subsidies are not necessary, asserts the interest group. “RegioJet, Snälltåget, Leo Express and other private European railway companies already operate successful night trains that are based on a customer-focused approach and various product options, not market-distorting subsidies.”
To create a level playing field, AllRail is calling for a reduction of infrastructure charges for all long-distance train lines that have been liberalised. The organisation also underlines the importance of equal financing options for leasing or buying rolling stock. Integrated ticket sales for regional, national and private railway operators could further stimulate the number of night trains in Europe.