Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) has presented a concept to revive the so-called "Trans-Europ-Express" (TEE).
With a combination of high-speed and night trains, the minister wants to reopen the rail link between major Western European cities that was closed in 1987.
The Greens previously made a similar proposal.
Initially, trans-European routes are to be offered for which no major infrastructure measures are necessary.
These include, for example, continuous connections between Amsterdam and Rome, Paris and Warsaw or Berlin and Barcelona.
These cities would then be accessible by train with a journey time of up to 13 hours.
New company is to operate trans-European trains
In a second phase, southern Germany is to be linked more closely with destinations in Eastern and Southern Europe and Scandinavia.
These routes should become possible as soon as major infrastructure projects such as Stuttgart 21, the Fehmarnbelt crossing between Germany and Denmark or the Brenner Base Tunnel are completed.
According to current planning, this would not be the case until 2028, when the Brenner base tunnel is to be completed.
For the operation of the TEE 2.0, as Scheuer called the project, the minister proposed a new company that should be supported by the national railway companies (EVU).
"This company is approved as an independent power company, but purchases services for production from the parent companies," says Scheuer's draft.
"Our concept will be the basis on which companies can operate attractive connections with high-speed trains and night trains," said Scheuer.
"Such a TEE network for high-speed and night-time access offers can be in place by 2025, we have to get started now."
The minister also reiterated the call for EU funding programs to make investments more attractive for railway companies.
In mid-June he had already brought up new offers for rail connections between major European cities and announced that he would make a corresponding proposal during the German EU Council Presidency.
Technical difficulties stand in the way of the project
Several associations welcomed the proposal.
"For the first time it is a necessity in the direction of climate change," said Karl-Peter Naumann, honorary chairman of the Pro Bahn passenger association.
"And it would undoubtedly also be a supplement to the Germany clock."
With the so-called Germany cycle, trains between the major cities in Germany are to run every half hour.
The Ecological Transport Club Germany hopes that the new TEE will be the project "that makes it clear again what a European Union needs to do: to overcome borders and bring people together."
The association demands that the EU take over the project.
However, the technical challenges for a TEE 2.0 are enormous.
There are different power and train protection systems across the EU.
In addition, there are various sales and tariff structures of the national railway companies.
The topics of night trains and the obligation to make reservations are also controversial: While the Austrian Federal Railroad, for example, has expanded its range of night trains in recent years, the Deutsche Bahn has restricted its offer with reference to a lack of demand.
Nevertheless, Scheuer is striving for a joint declaration of intent from all EU states for passenger transport this year.
For freight transport, the EU transport ministers have already committed to more commitment to faster cross-border rail transport.