Link the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe with Night Trains

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In March 2020, the last night trains ran the Lisbon-Madrid-Hendaye route, connecting the portuguese capital to the spanish one, and the french border. In May, Renfe announced the end of those connections. This policy goes against the current trend in Europe, where night trains are actually experiencing a revival, scoring new planned connections such as Zurich - Amsterdam, Vienna - Munich - Paris, Berlin - Brussels, Berlin - Paris being set up as shown in the figure below. In fact, the German government proposed the TEE 2.0, a wider night train network in central Europe.

The cancelation of those connections is problematic for a couple of reasons:

  • It will further displace potencial passengers into flying, which is an important contributor to climate change, stimulating the growth of greenhouse emissions.
  • It reduces the range of choices of the consumer, preventing any green and comfortable alternative for long journeys.

Why is this so important?

The main reason for the revival of night trains is the Climate Emergency which needs to be urgently tackled. We are destabilizing the planet’s balance at an alarming rate, and action needs to be taken in order to reduce greenhouse emissions, before harmful feedback loops kick in/get worse.


Flying, one of the currently most popular means of transport, is also one of the main offenders. In fact, estimates are that it contributes around 5% to climate change, and rising rapidly, due to the growth of the aviation industry. The pollutants emitted by this industry come in the form of CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter and contrail/cirrus cloud formation. Not only are they damaging to the environment, they are also damaging to our health in the vicinity of airports. 


Advantages and importance of night trains:

  • Climate and environment friendly - Trains are one of the most ecological modes of transport, with small greenhouse emissions. This will become an even stronger argument, as countries shift their energy generation to green sources. In Spain, railways are 100% supplied by certified renewable energy, resulting in virtually zero emissions. Additionally it also presents other environmental benefits, such as reduced noise pollution/artificial ground for airports.
  • Comfort - Although not the fastest, it is the most comfortable means of transport, with considerably more space being allocated per passenger than flying, the primary competing long-haul mode of transport.
  • Flexibility - Suitable for different types of travel (leisure, family, business), and meets a wide array of needs. From young people travelling as cheaply as possible to businesspeople demanding comfort with private cabins connected, to families who can book a whole berth compartment for them.
  • May simplify travel - It avoids some of the time and inconveniences when travelling by plane: the need to travel to the airport, often outside the city (adding time and costs); the need to check-in luggage in advance; luggage waiting times at the destination airport.
    Additionally, it may save one night in a hotel for tight budgets, and can prevent poorly slept nights/sleeping in an airport when low-cost flights leave very early in the morning (which is very often the case). 
  • Range - It allows for longer travel distances than high-speed trains.
  • Experience - It is a unique and convivial way of travelling: encounters happen easily and talking with your sleeper berth neighbour becomes very natural. This makes it possible to meet new people, something that no longer happens so often on planes, buses or even day trains. It is also a good way to reconcile busy schedules with work, school, and longer trips that should be made by day train.
  • Infrastructure investment - Unlike high-speed trains, night trains typically do not require high infrastructure investment since the network already exists. Instead, it is only necessary to invest in rolling stock, when it is required (resulting in cost reductions). 
  • Economically viable - It has a large capacity and a good filling rate. It is economically viable, as shown by the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB, the main austrian rail operator), which has been one of the main entities increasing it’s night train offer.

A document containing additional arguments and explanations is available here.

We ask the Spanish, French, and Portuguese governments (the latter of which is now taking presidency of the Council of the EU, in the first half of 2021 - The European Year of the Rail) to consider not only resuming the recently stopped Portugal-France night train connection, but also extending it to a major train hub in europe, such as Paris (or potentially Brussels), instead of reaching just Hendaye in the French-Spanish border.

We urge the Spanish and Portuguese governments to order their national rail companies to join the declaration of December 8th made by SNCF, DB, ÖBB and SBB in favor of building a new European night train network. 

Additionally, we urge the Spanish government to study new night train links between the Iberian Peninsula and centre/east Europe, such as Barcelona-Frankfurt-Berlin and Barcelona-Milan-Rome.