According to a new study by environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E) and Back on Track Europe, solo travelers could save up to 20% on the cost of night train tickets in Europe. The study found that VAT exemptions and reduced Track Access Charges for night trains could help Europeans save on travel costs while also cutting back on emissions. Not only could this initiative bring financial relief to travelers, but it also aligns with the EU emissions reduction objectives.
The study focused on the taxation and cost structure of night train travel across seven cross-border lines in Europe. It revealed the opportunity for significant savings by modifying the tax framework and reducing Track Access Charges – the charges payable by Toll Rail for access to the Rail Network. These changes could translate into an average 15% price drop for solo travelers, families, and business travelers opting for night trains.
For example, a solo traveler journeying on a night train from Amsterdam to Madrid, with the proposed adjustments, could pocket up to €65 in savings, amounting to a noteworthy 20% reduction from the original ticket price.
The study also delved into the potential cost reductions for families of four. On routes such as Berlin to Naples and Brussels to Vienna, a family could witness savings of up to €167 and €139, respectively. Beyond the economic advantage, the shift to train travel over airplanes could lead to substantial emissions reductions, of 3 tonnes and 1.8 tonnes less CO2e for a group of four, on the mentioned routes.
For business travels, the study leaned into the example of the Brussels to Stockholm route, where a business traveler could benefit from potential savings of up to €160, constituting 19% of the initial ticket fare. With the increasing focus of companies on minimizing corporate travel emissions, the importance of economical train journeys for business travelers becomes even more pronounced, T&E argues.
Amid the global call for climate action, the aviation industry’s carbon footprint remains a contentious concern. Planes emit nearly five times more greenhouse gases on average than train, as reported by the European Environment Agency. On average, rail travel’s climate impact is 28 times smaller compared to air travel, making night trains a more environmentally friendly choice. The recent surge in new night train connections since 2020 reflects an industry push toward low-carbon transportation modes.
However, the allure of train travel is dampened by high costs. “Night trains are making a comeback, but so are their hefty price tags”, said rail coordinator at T&E, Victor Thévenet,.
The EU is promoting a golden age of night trains with supporting a postcard-perfect Amsterdam-Brussels-Barcelona sleeper, but is inactive to budge on reducing the cost.Victor Thévenet, rail coordinator at T&E
While a recent report by Greenpeace revealed that exorbitant prices are one of the primary reasons people prefer air travel over trains, with flights being considerably cheaper than train tickets in the majority of cases (79 out of the 112 analyzed routes); a poll conducted by Europe on Rail in 2021 showed that 70% of citizens are willing to choose a night train if the offer was “reasonable”.
The cost arrangement of night trains is less favorable when compared to budget airlines, primarily due to its significant reliance on the distance covered. For longer routes, trains incur substantial expenses related to the use of rail infrastructure. In contrast, aviation’s major costs are associated with takeoff and landing, granting trains a competitive edge for shorter distances.
The study doesn’t only focus on financial implications but also addresses the structural and regulatory discrepancies between night trains and airplanes, which imposes as a setback to the greener transportation transition.
(…) The aviation sector continues to receive generous government subsidies. The EU has the tools at hand to make night train tickets more affordable to citizens.Victor Thévenet, rail coordinator at T&E
To address these disparities and reverse this trend, the study recommends fairer taxation and reduced track access charges for night trains. The EU is preparing to release rail travel cost guidelines, implementing a 0% VAT rate and reducing track access charges, which could result in a decrease from 3% to 48% (based on different passenger profiles) on ticket prices. Already in practice in France, this strategy aims to improve night train affordability.
Additionally, the study proposes that Member States consider completely exempting cross-border night trains from track access charges, as seen in Belgium. This approach not only encourages night train development but also maximizes the utilization of existing rail infrastructure during off-peak hours.
Yet, the study emphasizes that a significant portion of aviation emissions in Europe, roughly two-thirds, stem from flights beyond the EU’s borders. These flights, for the most part, cannot be substituted by train travel, as in the case of long-haul routes like Paris to New York. Nonetheless, the advancement of night trains also aims to persuade individuals to opt for rail-based holiday getaways over air travel. Achieving this requires ensuring that night trains are not only comfortable and abundant but also highly affordable for a diverse range of passengers.