Why did the night train service from Denmark to Europe end? Explanations appears from the fog.

Status in the wake of the hearing in the German Bundestag d. 14.1. and an audience with the Minister of Transport in Denmark d. 20.1.

(Continuously updated)
These signs came in front of Transport Magnus Heunicke.

Notes from the Council for Sustainable traffic audience d. 20.1. 10:15 to 10:45, the section on night trains, etc. (only the most important things)

The minister nodded to the statesment that there should be fair competition between trains and aircraft in international traffic. But I do not think he basically understand the competitive situation. At the end of audience he said encouraged: When the Fehmarn link opens, the biggest jump will happen in traffic patterns in a very long time, and it will attract operators from far and wide to run "free traffic". When I said that it might not happen because it might be too expensive to drive free traffic on the route, so the planes would still win, so he was really puzzled.

When the minister does not understand it, I guess that this fact is not penetrated to the general public. There is a basis for an information campaign!

The Minister listened to me, when I told him the night train from Denmark had been a historic success with high passenger volume and high occupancy. The Minister also listened to the fact, that we were confused how DSB had calculated its alleged losses on the night train, when the Ministry figures from 2012 says that additional needs have been very small and was granted.

The Ministry would not close the night train. The minister had just been briefed on twitter that DB had used the Danish ministry's lack of support for the night train as an argument to close the "Danish night train". The Minister asked whether information was available from the German hearing, which I could confirm. The Minister believed as I do that it was something eerily what DB had announced, and he will make sure that it will be investigated and eventually corrected.

In relation to traffic agreement with DSB the minister says that he is in favor of maintaining the overnight train in the agreement. But it requires two things:

- That there is a political majority, also for funds, in the negotiations that have started

- The low-practice is an operator that can / will ride the train south of the border

The Minister listened to our view that night trains and day trains belong together. But here too there is a comprehension problem. For the tendency to offer more and more traffic in different contracts, and the emergence of free traffic is stimulating an isolated in small boxes approach. Where timetables and tickets eg not fit together, and where long-term considerations do not count.

The Minister felt that the Fehmarn link offers a unique chance to get more freight on rail. We pointed out that unfortunately it was also a unique chance to derive more truck traffic. But we did reach a conclusion about this with the Minister, since we ran out of time.

My modest conclusions after Heunicke and Berlin:

DB and DSB has no intention of telling the public the truth about the economy of the night trains. It is civil society that digs into the case. Bit by bit, the truth will come for a day.

It is clear that both DB and DSB submitted distorted and incomplete information on the use of night trains, specifically also the "Danish" night train.

It is also true that DB calculate their financial bottom line for night trains after considering the addition of a profit margin and depreciation. Basically it's okay when you consider that the night train and "Autozug" with DB is "free traffic". It is perhaps more doubtful when DSB probably adopts the same calcule, since the DSB actually obtained (limited) government subsidies via contract until 2014 to cover eventually losses.

From DB's end there has probably been tampered by a lot of numbers.

I wonder why? What are the real motives, DB and DSB had?

The emerging picture is somehow this:

Frame condtions (energy taxes, infrastructure prices, worker deals and so on) makes it difficult to compete with the airlines. And this fact has not reached the politicians and the public. And the operators does stangely enough not make an outcry.

DB especially in 2013 suffered losses "accordion" model by Night trains, also with the "Danish" train, where a number of sections of Night trains were split and collected, respectively in Hannover and Mannheim. It was the year where six months were serious disrupted in central, eastern Germany because of the extreme high tide in early June. It was probably "the last straw" that broke the camel's back at this complicated puzzle.

The older double-decker sleeper cars faced a major renovation, and the money for this (depreciation) had disappeared in the accounts.

The night train to Paris was because of poor cooperation with SNCF unreasonably expensive to run in France.

A number of other factors are also applicable, which is about negligence and reluctance operation of night trains and Motorail. See the statement by Joachim Holstein (in German). Overview of annexes to the German debate.

NEW: Transscript of the entire hearing (pdf)

See the statement to the Danish Transport Minister, which was prepared by the Council for Sustainable traffic for the meeting d. 20.1.

>> Short german summary of headlines from the Berlin hearing

Joachim Holstein is exclusively commenting this after the hearing to us:

the hearing has been a great success.

The transport committee had gathered in the largest hearing room due to the great amount (about 120-130) of spectators.

Seven experts have been asked about several issues concerning the night trains and car trains.

Questions came from all the parties in parliament, and many of them dealt with the legal framework and european issues.

- Taxes and tariffs: Germany puts 19 % VAT on international train tickets; sleeping car supplement is 19 % VAT (hotel: 7 %), takeaway food and drinks: normally 7 %, train 19 %. Railway has to pay energy taxes, track fees … whereas aircraft and bus transports are free of these expenses. All experts, including those invited by the government, emphasized the discrimination of railway transport. Even Mr. Gipp (who is a great friend of bus transport) wrote and said that with better conditions without discrimination, chances for night trains would be better.

- Passenger figures: Mr. Homburg of DB board of directors plainly admitted that the passenger figures are high and the trains are full; they do NOT have a problem of low demand but of high costs. He mentioned the taxes as above plus track fees in France and the cutting of subsidies in Denmark. He did not blame low passenger figures but made clear that DB’s decisions are purely driven by economic reasons.

The representative of the consumer association stated that the needs of the public do not find enough attention in DB’s politics and practice, for example: will a night train passenger be informed in case of delay? Couchette cars are not state of the art (220 V plugs, WLAN), dining cars are missed deeply, no breakfast included for couchette passengers. She pleaded DB to make a concept for better night trains.

Mr.Sauter-Servaes from Zurich and Mr. Kunze from Dresden emphasized the crucial points of their written statements: abolish the discrimination against night trains, do your homework and put neat and state-of-the-art trains on the tracks!

Mr. Kirchner of EVG trade union said that it is important to get night trains „out of the corner“ or niche and see them (and treat them) as a substantial part of the long-distance train transport. Don’t consider this just a German issue, but a European issue. The EVG trade union pleaded for a „night train summit“.

I had the opportunity of exposing the issue of measuring passenger figures (occupancy rates are much higher than stated by DB), of accountancy manipulations (not considering 5,4 million Euro fees for taking InterCity cars in night trains) and of demonstrating the problems of people if there were no night trains: missing their connections, luggage transport, including bikes (I told them what DB says about bike transport between Copenhagen and Hamburg: via Esbjerg-Bramming-Tønder); technical problems which cause loss of money for DB and disturbance for passengers.

Mr. Homburg revealed that reservations on night trains are split in contingents for different companies/countries. So it happens that Germans are unable to make a reservation for car X because the places are under the „rule“ of another train company, e. g. Italy. We have been very astonished to hear this - this is not 21st century but 19th century! Why on earth is there no single booking central with online access and realtime booking?

One expert (Mr. Kunze) blamed the lack of proactive upgrade offers on board. I mentioned that this is not possible because the mobile terminals of our staff are not online and beds/couchettes can still be booked during the trip via internet or at the counter. So we have to wait until passing the last station in the night - for example Hamburg - until we can sell free places in sleeping or couchette cars. Someone who got on board in Copenhagen had to wait for six hours until this decision could be made! Of course, nobody did that. Thus DB lost earnings.

Mr. Homburg said that within a few months we will get new mobile terminals which are online so that we can check the booking situation and, in case of a free space, we can sell the bed, and the central booking system will block this place.

All in all, a lot of large and small issues were discussed which have influence on the economy and the „feeling“ of night trains. All of this favors the motion of the left party which says „give us enough time to elaborate a concept for the night trains“.

Mr. Homburg had a talk with us after the hearing. He admitted that he has never used night trains. NEVER! We were thunderstruck, but he explained that he always has used day trains, even a a student and as a son of a „railroad family“.

Nice move of DB to send someone to a hearing about night trains who does not know them by own experience.

During this talk, he said that they would start elaborating this concept as soon as they are convinced that they can gain money with the night trains.

We said that starting a new concept would be a part of the way to earn (instead of losing) money and that there is no time to lose.

It seems that DB needs a big push.

The transport committee will discuss the hearing in two weeks and will then decide about their recommendation to parliament. We will check with the left party about options of putting influence on this process.

And we make/continue contact with Fabio de Masi and Michael Cramer (german members of European Parliament), and the french M.P.’s who are in contact with Thomas Trieu and Geraldine Gay.

Jon Worth and Ellie Civjat have been present and had talks with us after the hearing, and we check with them, too.

Things are moving in Germany, and we will keep them moving!

Note that DB’s Mr. Homburg did not repeat the former claim of „low passenger figures“ on the night trains, including the Copenhagen train. We have stopped these lies!

Simon Field is reporting this:

What was new or interesting? DB in the form of Ulrich Homburg was generally very cagey but did make the point that the economics of night trains are better when they are combined with domestic day trains, often the last/first IC of the day. The same principle applies to EuroCity day trains: 'on top' costs more than integration into domestic networks. Conclusion: you need suitable 'carrier trains' to reduce costs. Problem: there are fewer and fewer technically compatible UIC-standard carrier trains but ever more incompatible TGVs, ICEs, Pendolinos, etc. Even SBB is making life difficult here by ordering Twindexx trains to which you can't attach conventional coaches. Sorry it's a techy point, but it is a crucial one. Perhaps the Paris trains would still be with us if there were Corail carrier trains between Metz and Paris...

Alexander Kirchner from the EVG union said that a European-level approach is needed if we want to keep international trains. That was it on the subject of responsibility!

Matthias Gaestel challenged DB on the difficulties of booking night trains but Homburg pleaded ignorance of the problem! To another question on the measures needed to rebuild a sustainable night train network there no was no answer at all (at least partly down to poor chairing).

Joachim Holstein from DB ERS said that DB would lose 75% of its night train passengers to other modes, as a large number of these passengers travel with lots of luggage and/or kids and there are no direct day trains between many of the places formely served by CNL.

There was the usual discussion about framework conditions in the form of taxes and infrastructure usage charges for different modes, but no questions at all about DB's broad objectives and those of its owner. DB was sceptical that reform of the German track access charging system will make a significant difference to operating costs, but there was a claim from somewhere that lower charges in the night could reduce the deficit by 50%. Apparently the Bundennetzagentur is looking into the case for different charges by market segment.

>> Summary from a journalist from the organisers

>> News Agency TAZ' report