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Brussels-Malmö night train comes one step closer

The old-style couchette service. © Belga

A direct train link between Brussels and Malmö in Sweden moved one step closer yesterday, when the government in Stockholm gave the country’s transport authority the instruction to acquire sleeper carriages and organise timetables for two routes: Brussels-Malmö and Stockholm-Hamburg.

The night train should be operating by August 2022 at the latest, according to Swedish infrastructure minister Tomas Eneroth. The Swedish government recently allocated €30 million for rail travel in its annual budget.

In addition, the country announced it was to receive SEK 600 million (€58 million) in funding from the European Union as part of the Connecting Europe Facility programme. Three of the eight projects approved relate to rail travel.

Brussels and Hamburg were selected as destinations for the new service because they offer the best connections with onward destinations, the transport authority said. In the case of Brussels, to London, Paris and southern Europe.

In Sweden as elsewhere, night trains have gradually disappeared with the growth of low-cost air travel. However the coronavirus crisis, which left most flights in Europe grounded, has led to some rethinking of other options.

Environmental concerns have also changed public opinion against air travel, especially on short-haul routes, which many budget airlines specialise in.

In a study on the possible rail links between Sweden and continental Europe, the Swedish transport authority Trafikverket found that only 1% went to rail, and most of that was daytime trains. Inside Sweden, meanwhile, there are regular night trains to the north of the country, including Luleå and Narvik in Norway.

It also found “a clear public interest” in the idea of night trains to Europe, with 21% of those surveyed finding the concept ‘very attractive,’ and 41% describing it as ‘quite attractive’.

One option had been to run a night train from Stockholm to Brussels, but with a journey time of at least 17 hours, that would have created timetable problems on arrival at the midway station Cologne and the Brussels terminus, both of which have limited free capacity in the morning and early evening.

Only one night train now operates out of Brussels – to the Austrian capital Vienna. And that service will be the only comparison the next Belgian government can make when evaluating the worth of joining Sweden in the Brussels-Malmö project.

The relaunch of the overnight Vienna connection last year came at the initiative of the Austrian rail authority ÖBB. The last night trains run by Belgium’s own authority SNCB/NMBS, from Schaerbeek station to the south of France, disappeared in 2003.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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