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Are Europe’s night trains back in fashion?

The launch of its website, which competes with similar platforms such as the UK-based Seat61 and the German offering Omio, serves to further demonstrate the demand. In a survey published in January for the European Investment Bank, 36% of Europeans said they already fly less on vacation to tackle climate change. 75% intend to reduce air traffic in 2020 (a New Years resolution that most will have been able to keep thanks to the coronavirus).

The European governments are investing again in rail transport, encouraged by the changed mood of the public about climate change, in order to contribute to the achievement of the EU targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions. In France, where dozens of night trains ran in the 1990s, only two sleeper lines currently operate. In July, however, President Emmanuel Macron promised to redevelop the network. He had previously argued that sleep services were not profitable, but told the nation that the move “leads to savings and a reduction in carbon emissions.” In recent months, Germany and Italy have also announced that they will be spending billions of euros on the revitalization of the rail connections in order to make their networks more environmentally friendly and efficient.

Public and private companies are also clearly betting on the continuation of the train travel trend. Austria and the Federal Railways of Switzerland have joined forces to increase the number of overnight services between the countries operated as part of their partnership. In the long term, cities as far as Zurich and Barcelona are to be linked. And Eurostar passengers can travel direct from Amsterdam to London from the end of October.

How safe is the train journey during Covid-19?

An important question, however, is what role the coronavirus will play in how and whether people want to travel in the next few years.

The air quality in trains is actually worse than in airplanes, which normally mix in fresh air from outside with highly efficient filters. However, many people believe the risk of coronavirus transmission on trains is still lower, said Charlene Rohr, a senior research director who forecasts travel trends post-Covid-19 for Covand-19, an independent research institute. She says some travelers will prioritize train travel based on perceived risks from recirculation, “because seats are closer together on airplanes than on trains” or because they have “concerns about airport overcrowding”.

This is what Jeni Fulton, 38, editor-in-chief for European art fairs, experienced, who opted for night trains during the pandemic for night travel between Germany and Switzerland. Although her main motivation for using trains instead of airplanes is to limit their carbon footprint, she believes that trains are “likely safer” than planes when it comes to Covid-19, as they travel with fewer people is in contact. “I will definitely consider taking a night train [more in future]especially if I stay longer than a couple of nights, ”she says.

But other travelers are not convinced. “Sleeping on a night train would not give us the same level of security as before,” says Diana Oliveira, a 28-year-old doctoral student from Portugal who runs social media accounts for The Nerdy Globetrotters with her friend Karn Vohra from India. “If you want to be as protected as possible, flying seems like a good option as it would reduce your exposure to others over time,” she argues. “Second, it’s a matter of convenience – wearing a face cover for two hours on a flight or ten hours on a train ride.”

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