People who travel by train leave a carbon footprint 50 times smaller than those who fly. Recognizing how dramatic the difference is, many Europeans now prefer to take the train rather than fly the friendly skies. Nightjet, a service of ÖBB (Austrian Railways), is increasing the allure of train travel by adding 33 new custom designed trains, each with 7 coaches, to whisk travelers to several destinations in Europe in privacy and with improved levels of comfort.
Each Nightjet is capable of carrying 254 passengers at speeds of up to 230 km/h (143 mph) to destinations such as Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, Milan, Rome, and Zurich. The service will begin with trains to Italy next summer with the full rollout expected to be complete by 2025.
“A journey with a NightJet is 50 times more climate friendly than making the same journey by plane,” Austria’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler, told the press last week. ÖBB has invested $700 million in the venture.
The Nightjet trains will have two coaches with open seating, two sleeping cars with two person compartments, and three sleeper cars with a mix of four person suites, as well as mini cabins for individual travelers. All the sleeping compartments are fitted with their own toilets and shower facilities.
Storage for bicycles, skis, and snowboards will be available as well. Every new Nightjet will also feature a modern private compartment with special access features for people with disabilities. For a virtual tour of the new Nightjet trains, follow this link.
Nightjet says passengers can look forward to a variety of technical innovations. Free onboard wifi will allow travelers to access the ÖBB Railnet onboard portal to stream movies, play video games, or read a range of digital newspapers and magazines such as CleanTechnica.
A modern passenger information system keeps passengers up to date with the latest travel information. Alongside conventional electrical outlets, the new Nightjet also provides USB charging options and an inductive charging station for a wide range of electronic devices. New windowpanes that enable better reception improve network function and provide a more stable connection for mobile phones.
Each compartment features a control panel with various comfort features, such as control over interior lighting and a call button for service from the staff. In addition, the compartments are fitted with an electronic access system using NFC cards and all train cars have video surveillance to further improve safety.
According to The Guardian, the Nightjet concept is finding support from Germany’s Green party, which has been in power since the end of last year. The Greens have proposed an expanded night train network that would serve 40 European destinations including Warsaw, Amsterdam, Vienna, Bordeaux, Munich, Barcelona, and London.
Thorns Among The Roses
Nightjet is promising fares of between €50 and £100, which would be competitive with European airfares, but some observers tell The Guardian the poor infrastructure of many European railroads may take some of the bloom off the rose. The remnants of the Covid pandemic and issues finding workers have led to massive delays this summer, which could turn Nightjet into Next Day Jet. Obviously that would make customers unhappy.
Even the war in Ukraine is having an impact on train travel in Europe as coal trains bringing fuel to thermal generating stations have priority on train routes, forcing passenger trains to wait on sidings.
“Compared with daytime trains, night trains remain a niche product,” Philipp Kosok, an expert for public transport at the German thinktank Agora, told the Austrian daily Der Standard. “If the will is there, there is quite a potential to expand them.” But he said night trains were at a disadvantage, “facing higher taxes than air travel and often hampered by ageing infrastructure and not enough capacity.”
The prospect of traveling in luxurious comfort, free to roam around at will instead of squished into a narrow aluminum tube, and to do it in a way that slashes carbon emissions is certainly appealing. But is it realistic? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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