Over the past two decades, the number of long-distance cross-border passenger rail routes in Europe has declined significantly. As a result, the total number of direct cross-border city-to-city connections and the number of night train services fell sharply, but frequencies were increased on some city-to-city pairs with strong passenger demand. In 2020 and 2021, there have been signs that night trains are being revived, but the total volume of night train services remains significantly below what was offered two decades ago. Over the same period, travel by air has grown considerably, aided by the rapid expansion of routes offered by low-cost airlines.
The European Green Deal, launched in 2019, establishes the European Union’s aim to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050. The European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy sets out the strategy to achieve this. The key to the strategy is making sustainable modes of transport, such as rail, widely available and putting the right incentives in place to drive the transition.
Against this backdrop, the European Commission appointed consultants Steer, supported by KCW, to undertake this study on long-distance cross-border passenger rail services in Europe covering the EU27 member states plus the UK, Switzerland and Norway.
This study examines the historical demand and supply trends of long-distance cross-border passenger rail services and explores their future demand potential. Underpinned by engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, case studies and desktop analysis, this study identifies obstacles to promoting additional services and a wide range of potential high-level measures to overcome them.
The findings from this report inform the European Commission’s action plan to boost long-distance and cross border passenger rail, which was published on 14 December 2021.