From 28 July there will be 4 trains a day each way on the Figueres – Perpignan cross border high speed line! A doubling of the services! Renfe’s entry into the French market!

Eh, hang on.

4 trains a day each way on a dual track electrified line capable of 350km/h running? And 4 trains a day was what we had before the Renfe-SNCF cooperation fell apart.

By contrast there are 13 high speeds trains a day Figueres-Barcelona, and 7 direct Perpignan-Paris TGVs a day. And just 4 on the cross border section.

Renfe – once its Series 106 trains are approved in France – might add some more services. But SNCF sure as hell won’t – it’s stripped the French signalling from half of its 10 Euroduplex TGVs sets that are OKed to run in Spain.

Used to be able to run cross border, now can only run in Spain – OUIGO Euroduplex

Big effing deal then.

Or the hope night trains make a comeback.

So far only ÖBB has ordered any new night trains – 30 7-carriage sets from Siemens due to start operation from December this year.

But as Sebastian Wilken pointed out, the capacity of night trains in central Europe remains really lousy – if you compare them to – for example – Finland.

Operators like European Sleeper might be doing the best with the knackered old stock they can get, but this is nowhere near adequate. But to make night trains more than a niche product, you are going to need a bunch of companies other than ÖBB stepping up, investing in new trains – and where are they?

European Sleeper – doing their best with knackered couchette carriages

I sure as hell cannot see any.

Big effing deal there too.

Or what about services between those supposed motors of European integration, France and Germany?

Yeah, the same ones who currently deploy diesel trains on all cross border regional routes and have delayed the operation of new hybrid trains by a further two years – to 2026 (originally foreseen 2024) – because they cannot work out who should be responsible for running them and maintaining the new fleet.

Diesel trains like this on France-Germany routes for 2 extra years because of a dispute

Or the plan to run a single high speed train a day each way between Berlin and Paris? Yeah, I mean that, one single train (probably an ICE). That plan is running into a bitter fight because Saarbrücken is rivalling Karlsruhe and Strasbourg as to where it ought to stop. How about more than one single train?

There might be a night train run by ÖBB on the Paris-Berlin route from December this year, but that’s dependent on the new trains being available… but sure, we are going to be invited to party for the launch of that one too – when we probably actually need 3 night trains a night on that route as well.

Big effing massive deal.

No doubt cue gushing comment from the Man in Seat Sixty One and a slew of YouTube influencers. And a dozen CEOs posing for selfies and posting them on LinkedIn.

Sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but all of this is not enough. Not nearly enough.

Before we even get to the trains themselves we do not have a proper European digital railway timetable to people even know what trains even run. Why not? Because the Union internationale des chemins de fer (UIC) in Paris cannot get its act together to even get its own members to put their data into their Merits system. Why, after all, do passengers on cross border routes even need to know what runs? Because if they did know then maybe they’d fill up the trains more!

Or ticket sales? Sure, maintain your national ticket sales monopolies by not being willing to give your ticket data to third parties for a decent price – because that’s more important than actually selling more tickets. Because why would you want to sell more tickets? Because the trains are full because there are too few of them and they’re too small – and were there extra demand you might have to get off your arses and run more of them or – shock! – increase capacity, rather than creaming the profits from your monopoly (looking at you, Eurostar-Thalys, majority owned by SNCF).

And if the state owned ones are so bad at this then what about the private ones? Westbahn, Flix, Italo and Regiojet are not exactly making massive inroads either, as the financial investment to massively expand is so damned difficult to do, and the technical barriers to entry into other markets so massive that scaling up – especially on cross border routes – is next to impossible.

You’ve got a Europe full of consumers baking in sweltering summers who would be keen to make trips by train in greater numbers if the railway industry could step up and provide for them. But as it stands the railway industry is absolutely not doing that – at least not for cross border routes.

There’s no urgency. No response to consumer demand. Scant little entrepreneurial spirit. The EU has lofty goals but neither the will nor the means to make them a reality.

Feeling so completely let down by all of this at the moment…


  1. Hard-hitting polemic, but IMO 100% on point. How do we get it in front of a relevant wider audience?

    • It doesn’t fit the standard frames of reference for railway coverage, sadly. So I don’t really know how. I have sort of said similar in some media work I have been doing, so I suppose that’s something. But there is little political will here currently.

  2. I completely agree* to your analysis, Jon.

    And I wonder why this cannot be scandalised:
    We have the Paris Agreement with ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, we know Fit for 55 until 2030 in the European Union, and see for the subsector „passenger transport for distances longer than 400 km in the EU“ no actions to reduce emissions.
    Aviation emissions are rising (this is hidden via the ETS [Emissions Trading System]), and no one cares to systematically improve supply of climate friendly long distance cross border trains in quantity.

    * see
    (sorry for the German)

  3. Lutz KELLEr

    Dear Jon,
    your analysis , even strongly worded, can only be confirmed. I try to take the train whenever I can. First class is always complete from Paris to Barcelona, to Marseille or Montpellier or to Brussels and Amsterdam. Prices are usually 30% above flights. Something does not work in European train politics. VAT for trains? Trains have to pay fr their tracks and buses not?
    Timetables ? Paris – Hamburg with a stopover in Cologne of not under 55 (!) minutes. The direct Paris – Munich has been abandoned long time ago and the return ticket is a cheap 400 € -! I just hope that competition will bring down prices and shake up sleepy rail managers.
    The European commision seems to sleep, too. The TEE 2.0 seems to be forgotten. The rail corridors advance not really at high speed. But as you say: a lot of communication and selfies and the common traveller feels in a different world .
    Perhaps the entrance of new players will speed up with ERA and it’s pan-european certification of trains. Lets be hopeful.

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