The carriages of the “ÖBB Nightjet” pulled out of Vienna’s main station punctually at 8:38 pm to the strains of a live band playing the EU anthem “Ode to Joy”, the slogan #loveyourplanet emblazoned along their sides, EurActiv reports.
Scheduled to arrive in Brussels at 10:55 am on Monday, the rail journey emits less than a tenth of the CO2 per passenger than the equivalent flight.
Austrian state railway company ÖBB has for several years been a pioneer in the revival of night trains, and ÖBB board chairman Andreas Matthae said he was “proud” of the new route.
The revival of the Vienna to Brussels route comes after authorities in Sweden – the spiritual home of the “flight-shame” movement – announced they were also considering the launch of night trains between Malmö and other European cities.
The ÖBB, which claims the title of Europe’s largest operator of night trains, said travelling between Vienna and Brussels by train emits 10 times less CO2 than the same journey by air.
Joining a clutch of Austrian MEPs was Martin Selmayr, previously the powerful chief of staff to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and now the EU’s representative in Vienna.
For British holidaymaker Daniel, 35, the train was the clear choice — not for environmental reasons but for comfort.
“No airport routine, it’s nice and easy… it’s relaxing,” he told AFP.
Liesbet Vandebroek, who lives in Austria but works for the tourism authority of Belgium’s Flanders region, said it was important for her to make the frequent journey to Brussels with “as small a footprint as possible” but also waxed lyrical about the romance of the night train.
“As a student I travelled everywhere with the night train, it’s so leisurely… and very nostalgic,” said Vandebroek.
The Vienna to Brussels service will initially run on Sundays and Wednesdays.
The return leg will run on Mondays and Thursdays with a portion splitting off to serve Munich and Innsbruck.
In October ÖBB said that bookings on its night trains were up 11% year-on-year.
With prices for non-sleeper seats as low as 19 euros, it says its services are competitive with low-cost airlines — although sleeper berths can cost considerably more.
ÖBB operates, either alone or in partnership, 27 night trains with another new service to Amsterdam scheduled to start in December.
At the end of 2016 ÖBB bought the night trains of the state rail operator in neighbouring Germany, Deutsche Bahn, which Matthae admitted was seen as risky at the time.
Austria’s new Green Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler said that that decision had been vindicated and that the new route was in line with the Austrian government’s ambition to make the country carbon neutral by 2040.
“There is no other city in the European Union that has so many night trains departing from Vienna, and the network can be expanded further,” Gewessler said.
Last week Swedish transport authorities proposed a Malmö-Cologne service, which could be up and running in 2022 or 2023. The Swedish Transport Administration also said it saw “good opportunities” for a route between Stockholm and Hamburg, although further study of competition on the route was needed. Other destinations being considered are Brussels, Basel, Berlin and Frankfurt.