MADRID – The European Union is ready to support the reinforcement of the rail network in Europe. This is evident from the announcement that Brussels is supporting 10 new pilot projects for the construction of new railway lines, which serve to connect different cities.
One of these is a direct night train between Amsterdam and Barcelona with a stop in Antwerp and Brussels. This European Sleeper, a Belgian-Dutch rail initiative, has plans to start running before the end of this year. This announcement comes at a time when the Spanish railways seem to be reviving. The Spanish railway company Renfe has gained two serious competitors with Iryo and Ouigo. The country’s railways are moving towards liberalisation in other sectors, such as freight and even Cercanías services (short distance trains).
Sample to gauge interest in this type of travel
The change is substantial and Europe is ready to deepen it. The project should start on December 10, 2023. However, it is hoped that it could be sooner. Furthermore, a trial is currently underway to gauge interest in this type of travel. A train will depart from Barcelona to Amsterdam and vice versa three times a week. Also, Spain’s Renfe has started testing the route from Barcelona to Lyon to operate in France before the summer.
Obstacles to cross-border railway lines
In 2021, the European Commission identified the various obstacles to the operation of cross-border rail lines, such as capacity allocation or poor coordination between network operators. Now the pilot projects selected this Tuesday by the European executive must show how obstacles can be overcome.
Other pilot projects
It is not the only project that Europe has in mind for Spain. Among the changes planned, work will be done to connect the South of France to Catalonia via the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya service. Two independent lines linking Lisbon to A Coruña and Madrid are also supported. And then there is another Sleeper initiative – which will launch the night train service between Brussels and Berlin on May 25.
The European commitment to the train
The train plays a major role in the latest European mobility policy. The night train as a green alternative to flights is one of the priorities. For this reason, saving night trains have been discussed for some time in a large part of the continent.
In Spain, according to ElNacional.cat, it was increasingly difficult to find a night train. With the corona pandemic, the four lines that were still there finally disappeared with a lack of travellers as an excuse. However, the truth is that the number of passengers was minimal anyway.
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In France, the number of proposals to expand the night train has multiplied. Flights are cancelled here if there is an alternative train route that takes less than 2.5 hours. But in France, using the train or plane is a matter of state.
A glance at the European map shows the dense rail network of countries such as Germany, which also receive European support. Berlin and Hamburg are connected to Copenhagen, Malmö, Gothenburg, Oslo and Stockholm via various day and night trains. And Leipzig and Prague will also be connected to Berlin with their lines.
Need a better rail market that responds faster
But the “support” from Brussels will not be in money, as no specific funding from the European Union is foreseen for these pilot initiatives – with possible exceptions. The European Commissioner for Transport, Romania’s Adina Valean, has pointed out that “the demand for green mobility is constantly growing”. “That’s why we need a rail market that is much better and much more responsive, especially for long cross-border journeys,” she added.
Stops en route to Barcelona
The Belgian press agency Belga reports that after departing from Amsterdam, the night train to Spain would stop in the evening in Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels and Lille, and in the morning in the southern French cities of Avignon, Montpellier and Perpignan, and the Spanish cities of Figueres, Girona and Barcelona.