Berlin (dpa) - getting in, falling asleep - waking up, getting out: In Central Europe more and more people are traveling on night trains. Now there are considerations to expand the offer further. Deutsche Bahn is also involved; she had sold the business three years ago.
For a possible re-entry, the state corporation now receives the backing of the owner. "I'm basically open to this," said Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) of the German Press Agency, referring to ongoing discussions with the Austrian and Swiss state railways.
The form in which Deutsche Bahn could get involved is still open. It doesn't help a quick shot, warned Scheuer. “If we provide night trains again, we also need the corresponding trains.” The railroad had left its 40-year-old sleeping and couchette cars to the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) in 2016 because it regularly incurred losses. The Austrians, on the other hand, invested in the business and had new trains built.
ÖBB has its night trains run through Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, from mid-January to Brussels. In 2019, passenger numbers rose by about 10 percent, a spokesman said. The ÖBB generated a slight plus. With a good one and a half million customers, it remains a niche business, but CEO Andreas Matthä is looking for further growth opportunities.
Deutsche Bahn had clarified at the turn of the year that no own offer with classic sleeping and couchette cars was currently planned. However, different cooperation models are being discussed, as ÖBB boss Matthä recently told “Wirtschaftswoche”. "We could work more closely together on ticket sales or operate night trains together." You could also drive expansion in a joint venture.
Against the background of the climate debate, the Swiss Federal Railways also want to deepen more night trains and therefore work more closely with ÖBB, as a spokesman said. Zurich is the second largest hub for night train journeys in Europe after Vienna. New routes could also lead through Germany.
In the meantime, Deutsche Bahn lets its customers sit at night in Intercity and ICE. "In addition, DB AG supports the classic night train services of other providers, for example with locomotives, staff and in sales," answered the Federal Government's rail representative, Enak Ferlemann, when asked by the FDP parliamentary group. "DB AG will stick to this two-part strategy."
The FDP traffic politician Oliver Luksic criticized: "In Germany, the railroad sleeps, in Austria the customer sleeps - and still gets to his destination rested and on time." The railroad should take an example from ÖBB. "Comfort is crucial for travelers in the upscale segment, and the night train with a sleeping car is an attractive alternative to an airplane." A connection between Berlin and Paris would be exciting - the train had stopped in 2014.
Scheuer said: "The crucial question is: what makes rail travel more attractive?" Comfort must improve. «How can I best use the time when I drive from Passau to Berlin, for example? Can I use these five and a half hours at night to relax, or do I prefer to drive during the day and use the time to work? »
According to Ferlemann's information, Deutsche Bahn sold its remaining 81 sleeping cars after 2016. He couldn't say how expensive it would be to get back into the night train business. The workshops and cleaning systems would also have to be converted for the special vehicles. "This would require high investments."
So far, the federal government has been cautious. "Because of the poor cost-benefit ratio," one does not plan to provide money for this, added Ferlemann in his answer from the beginning of December. The government welcomes the cooperation with railways, which can operate such special traffic economically.