Everyone loves the night train, says European Commissioner Adina Vălean (Transport). “That’s the new mantra.” But, responds Frans Timmermans, Vice-President for the European Green Deal, the international train must be as comfortable, fast and cheap as the plane.
To make this possible, the Commission presented in Strasbourg on Tuesday measures to improve international train travel in Europe. The train should replace short flights. Timmermans: “So by train from Amsterdam to Brussels, not by plane.” For example, emissions from European transport must fall sharply.
The Commission wants train passengers to be able to buy tickets more easily via a new central booking system. International timetables are being improved, 15 new international lines are being built and the Commission is considering abolishing VAT on international train tickets. Freight transport by rail is also encouraged.
The Commission is allocating billions to rail measures, from loans and grants to co-financing pilot projects. For new sleeping cars, the European Investment Bank a fund of 8.7 billion euros.
The plans are part of the EU strategy for sustainable and smart mobility that Timmermans and Vălean presented a year ago. The aim is for the transport sector in the EU to emit 90 percent less harmful gases by 2050.
Also read the analysis on the European proposal ‘Fit for 55’: No more combustion engine in cars, end of luxury position for aviation; these are the EU’s climate plans
According to the two, the international rail network in Europe is not being used efficiently. Only 7 percent of European travelers sometimes cross the border. Rail transport accounts for only 0.4 percent of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. The night train is an option to compete with the cheap tickets of companies such as Ryanair and esayJet. The Commission promises to work towards a fairer relationship (‘level playing field’) between plane and train. For example, they want to introduce a kerosene tax and airlines must use more CO2buy rights.
Our connection to the Ruhr area should benefit
Marjan Rintel president-director NS
Train traffic via the EU high-speed network must double by 2030 and triple by 2050. Travel shorter than 500 kilometers must be climate neutral by 2030. This is only possible by train; Aircraft manufacturer Airbus expects to have its first hydrogen-powered aircraft ready for use by 2035.
Also read the report about the NightJet to Vienna: Night rail to Vienna: away from flight shame
The NightJet from Amsterdam to Zurich, which has been running since Sunday, illustrates EU policy, but also shows how vulnerable rails can sometimes be. On Tuesday it was announced that old railway dikes in the Netherlands are in danger of subsiding. The train to Zurich is now not allowed to drive faster than 100 kilometers per hour on certain routes. That should be 130 km/h, while the Commission wants a minimum speed of 160 km/h on the European main rail network (TEN-T).
Commenting on the European plans, Marjan Rintel, CEO of NS: “It is very good that the Commission is working on investing in and improving passenger transport that has been green for years. In particular, our connection to the Ruhr area – designated as the main connection in Europe – should benefit from this. We want to connect Amsterdam, Utrecht and Arnhem more often and faster with Cologne, Düsseldorf, and from there to Berlin.”
Maarten de Zeeuw of Greenpeace Netherlands: “We are very pleased that the EU has listened to the call to make international train travel better and easier. That is really urgently needed and is a nice step towards replacing polluting short flights. For too long, governments have prioritized even more asphalt and favored polluting aviation. Time to invest in transport that benefits people while also tackling the climate crisis.” Improving the European rail network must go hand in hand with a ban on short flights, according to Greenpeace.
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