While Europe is resurrecting the night train, Spain has decided to let it die bit by bit

The reduction of polluting emissions in European countries is not the exclusive prerogative of thermal vehicles. Aviation has long been in the spotlight and perhaps the big beneficiary is the train. At least in Europe, where we are betting on the return to the Old Continent of a network of night trains. In Spain, however, he is already in a coma and the predictions are not good.

10 lines in 2030. The last to speak of a clear commitment to the night train was Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, the French transport minister. The aim is for the neighboring country to have up to 10 night train lines in service by 2030 to ensure the backbone of southern France and five of them departing from Paris, some even taking over from old international lines. San Sebastian, Barcelona, ​​Geneva, Nice or Strasbourg are among the enclaves necessary to promote the use of the night train between France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland or Germany.

Austria, real promoters. The French project is not the only one in which we have invested in recent years. Austria has been promoting the night train for five years, which, although niche, continues to grow year after year. In fact, in 2016, the ÖBB company bought up all the sleeper trains that Deutsche Bahn had abandoned and relaunched 26 night lines that now connect cities like Zurich and Hamburg, Vienna and Rome or Venice and Munich. Almost by contagion, different countries have jumped on the bandwagon and Amsterdam or Copenhagen are also applying to unite their cities with Paris. Quite the opposite of what happened just a few years ago, when the dismantling of night train lines was the norm.

The European push. In addition to the initiatives of each country, the European Commission is also involved in the revival of the night train as a tool for reducing the continent’s polluting emissions. From France, they point out that the plane is up to 43 times more polluting than the train. In addition, this support hardly requires between 70 and 90% of the energy necessary to make the same trip by plane.

The eyes of the European Union have turned to aviation lately because of its high pollution rates. And yet, it must maintain ghost flights to continue operating on the Old Continent according to its own community rules. A paradox which obviously runs counter to the environmental objectives of the institutions.

Meanwhile, in Spain… In Spain, the situation is very different. Before the coronavirus pandemic, only four night train lines were maintained in our country. It was called Trenhotel and linked Madrid to Ferrol (passing through La Coruña) and Lisbon or Barcelona to Vigo (also passing through La Coruña).

Little by little, the activity on the Spanish railways developed but these four night lines (which were gradually losing passengers) were not reopened and the Spanish bet focuses on low-cost journeys and a high speed increase.

question of priorities. The night train cannot take off in Spain without significant support from the administration which, as we have seen, prefers to bet on other types of journeys. France, unlike Spain, is abandoning its high-speed TVG network in favor of long-distance regional and night lines, modernizing these lines.

But there is an additional problem, in Spain the train has long ceased to be a priority, as the map above shows. And low-cost flights do not allow this means of transport to revitalize. Or at least their night trains. Competitively, it is impossible for the Barcelona-La Coruña line, which lasts more than 13 hours, to attract an audience that can find flights at 33 euros. The same thing happens between Madrid and La Coruña. The prices for the shortest journey are around 70 euros. On the same day, it is easy to find flights at 80 euros that take three times less. With these data, it is difficult to ask the citizen to bet on the train and join the “fligskam” movement.

Penalize the polluter. It’s a problem similar to what happens with the electric car. Where these types of vehicles are most successful is where they have greater purchasing power, the tax advantages are attractive, the charging network is sufficient and above all the purchase of a thermal car and gasoline expenses are penalized. Transferred to the plane-train pair, as long as the first is not sanctioned by taxes which raise its cost significantly above the train, the second will remain the least attractive option as travel times increase.