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TRAIN TRAVEL

Is Spain on track to launch new night trains?

Imagine a sleeper train that takes you overnight from Madrid to Berlin or Barcelona to Rome. This could become a reality if a new plan to introduce a more environmentally friendly and cheap means of continental transport across Europe and Spain gets rolling. 

Is Spain on track to launch new night trains?
The Nightjet network would eventually expand and link as many as 200 European cities via 40 services. Photo: Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP, Map by Germany's Green Party

The pandemic may have put a spoke in the wheels of international travel, but its negative impact on climate change is back on the agenda for Madrid and Brussels.

Reducing emissions from aviation is one of the EU’s main long-term targets, with CO2 emissions from international flights having risen by 129 percent in the last twenty years. 

Finding an alternative to short-haul flights is one of the solutions being proposed. In fact, during the “Spain in 2050” national debate last  May, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez proposed that national flights be phased out in the next 30 years.

One solution is that proposed by the German Green party: introduce night trains across Europe.

This EU-wide rail network has been dubbed “Nightjet” , and although it still doesn’t exist, it is being pieced together thanks to its supporters France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 

The aim is to initially unite 13 cities – Barcelona among them- through a network of cheap and low-emission sleeper trains called Euro Night Sprinters. 

As the German Greens’ map below shows, this night network would eventually expand and link as many as 200 European cities via 40 services.

sleeper train network spain and europe
Imagine being able to catch an overnight train from Spain and wake up in another part of Europe. Map: Germany’s Green Party

Iñigo Errejón, leader of left-wing party Más País, is the main political proponent of night trains in Spain. 

His party is now negotiating with Spain’s Finance Ministry whether to allocate €210 million of the country’s 2022 national budget to launching five sleeper trains within, from or to Spain. 

These would be Madrid-Galicia, Barcelona-Galicia, Madrid-Barcelona-Paris, Madrid-Lisbon and Algeciras-Cerbère (on the French border with Spain).

READ ALSO: How to buy cheap train tickets in Spain

If approved, this would see Spain follow a similar trend to France’s, where Macron’s government has banned nocturnal flights if there are any nocturnal rail alternatives, and two night train services (Paris-Nice and Paris-Hendaye) have been launched. 

It’s worth pointing out that before the pandemic, Spain only had two national night time train services from Madrid to Ferrol and from Barcelona to Vigo (Galicia), neither of which is currently operational.  The sleeper train that linked Madrid and Barcelona to Paris was cancelled in 2013 and the Madrid-Lisbon sleeper service has not restarted since its suspension in 2020.

Whether Mas País’s plans come to fruition could depend on how much pressure the EU wishes to exert on Spain after having allocated €140 billion to the country as part of its Covid recovery funds.

Otherwise, Sánchez’s 2050 plans for green travel for Spain (and a meat-free diet, but that’s another story) seem distant.

Crucially, night time train services will have to be well-priced for passengers as well if Spain and its national rail provider Renfe want to be able to compete with low-cost airlines that offer European city breaks, often for much better prices than travelling by train within Spain.

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TRAIN TRAVEL

REVEALED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Planning to travel by train across Europe but not sure where to start? Here are the best websites to help make it happen.

REVEALED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Travelling across Europe by train is quickly becoming the preferred mode of transport for many people – mostly due to environmental concerns.

For others though, making the switch from cars or planes to trains is not so simple.

With planes, there are well-known websites like Skyscanner and Expedia, which makes it easy to find cheap flights. As well good connections across the continent from most major airports.

Then there is the convenience of travelling by car, which can be hard to beat – especially for those living in more rural areas. 

So what are the options for trains? Are there websites like Skyscanner but for train travel? And where can you find cheap tickets or the best routes?

Here are the websites you need to know when planning a trip across Europe by train.

Seat 61

The Seat 61 website provides tips on how to travel comfortably and affordably by train, while aiming to help visitors to rediscover the “pleasure, romance  and adventure of the journey”.

It includes an introduction to train travel in Europe, as well as an extensive search feature to find trains by starting location.

For example, The Local searched for trains from Salzburg to Italy and found routes to Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples, including on Nightjet sleeper trains.

The guide then describes the features of the Nightjet service, such as air conditioning, showers and room service all useful information for any newbies starting out with train travel.

Seat 61 is run by Mark Smith, a train enthusiast and former manager at the UK Department of Transport.

READ MORE: Discover Austria: 19 ways to make the most of autumn this year

Trainline

The Trainline is an international platform focused on train travel. The company is based in the UK but has extensive coverage of train travel in 45 countries across Europe.

The aim of the Trainline is find to the cheapest tickets for a selected route. Most of the time, this means booking in advance.

The site also highlights some great offers, such as €7 tickets between Barcelona and Madrid, and Paris to Amsterdam from €20.

As an added bonus, the search function on the Trainline is very user-friendly and allows people to search by location, as well as add extras such as railcards or return tickets.

The Trainline can be accessed via the website or app.

Rail Europe

Rail Europe is a leading distributor of European train tickets. The website covers 25,000 destinations and 11,000 routes across the continent.

The search function on Rail Europe works in a similar way to other websites and users can view tickets by destination to get the best price. It’s also possible to purchase railcards direct from Rail Europe.

Additionally, the site includes a useful overview of the latest ticket releases and sales, such as special offers on journeys between Paris and Geneva.

Users can pay for tickets in Euros, Sterling or Dollar (US, Canada and Australia) on the website or the app.

Rail Europe is headquartered in Paris but was founded in New York in 1932.

READ ALSO: Ryanair to raise flight ticket prices in Austria

Interrail

The Interrail Pass is a railcard that is available for residents in Europe. For people that live outside of Europe, they can purchase the Eurail Pass.

The passes are aimed at backpackers, or anyone spending time travelling across Europe.

The Interrail website has details about the different passes on offer under the umbrella of Interrail, like the Global Pass, One Country Pass and the German Rail Pass

For example, prices for the One Country Pass for Spain start at €182 for three days of travel within one month. Or you can pay €235 for five days of travel within one month.

Whereas the Global Pass starts at €251 for seven days of train travel in one month, but goes up to €677 for a three month unlimited travel ticket.

Interrail or Eurail Pass holders can buy tickets and make reservations via the desktop website or the Rail Planner app.

Omio

Omio is a travel platform where you can book train, bus and flight tickets. It has a free app to download or users can search and book on the website.

The Omio site has a dedicated section just for train travel. It even highlights 28 routes in Europe that are faster by train than plane – as well as the amount of carbon dioxide saved on the trip.

Examples are London to Brussels, which takes just two hours, or Frankfurt to Cologne in one hour.

There is also a handy FAQ section with information about booking train tickets in Europe, baggage conditions and travelling with pets.

At the time of writing, The Local found a ticket from Zurich to Vienna on Omio for €60 (when searching for dates two months in advance).

Do you have other suggestions for websites we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below or email [email protected]

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