Note — Nov 24, 2019

The Return of the Night Train

I like this very embryonic return to night trains, in part because I like trains, in part for the role it can play in decarbonizing, but also in the context of "slack” as described in this interview with Vaclav Smil which I’ve linked to before. On the topic of degrowth he said this: “We could halve our energy and material consumption and this would put us back around the level of the 1960s. We could cut down without losing anything important. … Not much is going to happen to their lives. People don’t realise how much slack in the system we have.” Night trains are an excellent example of this. Just stepping back from privatisation, toning down the personal search for efficiency which encourages flying, and using more night train wouldn’t adversely affect anything, wouldn’t change your lifestyle much (maybe for the better actually!), and yet that could significantly cut carbon emissions.

In 2014, Deutsche Bahn ended its City Night Line routes that connected Paris to Berlin and the rest of Germany; in 2016, France dismantled its network of night trains inside and outside its borders; and in 2013, and Spain halted its Elipsos route between Paris and Barcelona and Madrid. And in Italy, sleeper train services were being reduced. […]

He points to Swedish services, where the government cut prices and actually bothered to advertise services, and ticket sales climbed by 65 per cent. Invest in a service and market it well, and passengers will buy tickets; run poorly maintained trains at high prices, and no-one will – meaning you can point to poor revenue when you withdraw services. “French railways decided they’re not going to work, so they don’t work,” he says. […]

”If you read the reports [that saw the services removed] you see that the CO2 emission costs were forgotten.” If the real financial and environmental costs were considered, he argues, the night trains never would have been cut in the first place.