New night train opens between Paris and Vienna… without passengers

The first new night train between Paris and Vienna has been hailed as an encouraging development in the fight against climate change. But as the first carriage pulled out of the Austrian capital on Monday evening, there were no passengers on board.

The first Nightjet Train between Vienna and Paris is pictured before departure at the Central Station in Vienna, Austria. Covid-19 restrictions prevented passengers from boarding.
Travellers no longer need to show a 3G proof to enter Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The timing could perhaps have been better.

With a resurgence of Covid-19 gripping Europe, there were no paying passengers for the maiden voyage of the reborn night train linking Paris and Vienna.

A return of night trains to the Old Continent is seen as symbolic of the efforts to shift travel from the air back to rail as Europe seeks to meet its climate change commitments.

But as the train following the route of the legendary Orient Express pulled out of Vienna‘s train station on Monday evening, it was empty except for a delegation of officials and media.

“There should have been lots of people,” said Ibrahim Wade, an attendant in charge of a sleeping cabin car, holding a list of absent passengers.

“It’s due to the health situation.”

The night trains operated by Austria’s national rail firm OBB under the Nightjet brand offer regular seats, as well as both simple and more comfortable sleeping cabins.

Some of the more luxurious berths even have private showers, while other passengers have to wash at the ends of the train cars.

Towels are provided, as is breakfast, but there is no Wi-Fi and the heating didn’t always work.

“We’re clearly targeting business travellers with the night train,” said Kurt Bauer, chief of long-distance trains at OBB.

The service is also aimed at tourists who like to take their time. Salzburg, the city of Mozart, is along the route. As are Strasbourg and Munich.

“Our clients are more and more sensitive to  environmental aspects. Particularly the young, but not only,” said Jean-Baptiste Guenot, an executive with French rail company SNCF.

It was low-cost airlines which killed off the Orient Express more than a decade ago, and flying remains the main competitor for long-distance train travel.

The train can be price competitive for those who reserve very early, but it really sets itself apart on environmental grounds.

A trip by air emits about 10 times the amount of CO2 as one by rail.

Vienna has become the European capital of night trains since OBB began in 2016 to invest in reviving a segment other train operators were abandoning.

Paris, a top tourist destination, was a clear choice for OBB as there was no direct rail service linking the City of Love and Vienna since the Orient Express stopped serving the two cities in 2007.

Three trains weekly will make the 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) run between the two cities for the moment.

Nightjet plans to launch a Paris-Berlin service next, and at the end of 2023 it hopes to have night trains between Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Vienna link up.

Nightjet is also looking to create a Zurich-Barcelona route that would serve Geneva and Lyon along the way.

The French government would also like to see night trains linking Paris with Barcelona, Copenhagen, Madrid, Rome, and perhaps even Stockholm.

Member comments

  1. An excellent initiative, I wish them all the best and should I need to travel to these destinations I will certainly use rail as opposed to air travel.

  2. I took the Paris-Vienna return trip last night on the Nightjet . My sleeper car was about 3/4 filled. Very pleasant and I got a good night’s sleep. So glad this route has been added. I’ll be a regular on his train.

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Budget airline passengers in Europe face travel headaches as more strikes called

Passengers with Europe's low-cost airlines are facing more strikes this summer as staff announced new walkouts on Tuesday.

Budget airline passengers in Europe face travel headaches as more strikes called

Trade unions representing Ryanair cabin crew in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have called for strikes this coming weekend, while easyJet’s operations in Spain face a nine-day strike next month.

Damien Mourgues, a representative of the SNPNC trade union at Ryanair in France, said the airline doesn’t respect rest time laws and is calling for a raise for cabin crew still paid at the minimum wage.

Cabin crew will go on strike on Saturday and Sunday.

READ MORE: What’s the latest on the Ryanair strike in Spain?

A strike on the weekend of June 12th and 13th already prompted the cancellation of about 40 Ryanair flights in France, or about a quarter of the total.

Ryanair’s low-cost rival easyJet also faces nine days of strikes on different days in July at the Barcelona, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca airports.

READ MORE: EasyJet adds to Spain’s summer travel woes with 9-day strike

The union said Tuesday that Spanish easyJet cabin crew, with a base pay of 950 euros per month, have the lowest wages of the airline’s European bases.

READ ALSO: Strikes and queues: How airline passengers in Europe face summer travel chaos

The strikes come as air travel has rebounded since Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

But many airlines, which laid off staff during the pandemic, are having trouble rehiring enough workers and have been forced to cancel flights, including easyJet, which has been particularly hard hit by employee shortages.

On Monday, the European Transport Workers’ Federation called “on passengers not to blame the workers for the disasters in the airports, the cancelled flights, the long queues and longer time for check-ins, and lost luggage or delays caused by decades of corporate greed and a removal of decent jobs in the sector.”

The Federation said it expects “the chaos the aviation sector is currently facing will only grow over the summer as workers are pushed to the brink.”

Aviation sector ‘chaos’

In Spain, trade unions have urged Ryanair cabin crews to strike from June 24th to July 2nd to secure their “fundamental labour rights” and “decent workconditions for all staff”.

Ryanair staff in Portugal plan to go on strike from Friday to Sunday to protest work conditions, as are employees in Belgium.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has been dismissive of the strikes.

“We operate two and half thousand flights every day,” he said earlier this month in Belgium.

“Most of those flights will continue to operate even if there is a strike in Spain by some Mickey Mouse union or if the Belgian cabin crew unions want to go on strike over here,” he added in a media conference.

In Italy, a 24-hour strike is set to hit Ryanair operations on Saturday with pilots and cabin crew calling for the airline to respect the minimum wages set for the sector under a national agreement. 

Aircraft technician strike grounds flights from Norway 

More than 50 departures out of Norway’s airports have been cancelled so far due to an aircraft technician strike.

Widerøe has cancelled 38 flights so far, while Norwegian Air Shuttle cancelled five departures on Tuesday morning and announced a further 17 trips wouldn’t go ahead on Wednesday.

The Norwegian Air Traffic Technician Organisation (NFO) currently has 106 workers out on strike. The organisation could take out 39 more staff on Friday if an agreement on pay isn’t reached.

Travellers are advised to contact the airline they are meant to be flying with directly if their flight is delayed or cancelled. You can check scheduled departures out of Norwegian airports here

Widerøe has urged travellers not to contact them unless their flight has been cancelled, disrupted, or they are unhappy with the alternative travel arrangements that have been offered to them.

“If you have not heard anything from us, then you can be sure that your trip is still planned and carried out and behave in the usual way when you go out and travel,” a press officer for the airline told public broadcaster NRK.

Norwegian said it was working to rebook customers whose flights had been cancelled. 

“Almost everyone has been offered to rebook to an alternative route, and then there is one flight where we are still working to solve it,” Esben Tuman, communications director for the airline, told newswire NTB.

READ MORE: Flights in Norway cancelled due to technician strike