Since last October, nearly 7,000 Europeans have signed Jordens Vänner/Friends of the Earth Sweden's online petition to "save the night trains" – and stop the cancellation of vital night train services across Europe, many of which are operated by the German railway company Deutsche Bahn.
On January 14th, Ellie Cijvat, chairperson of Jordens Vänner/Friends of the Earth Sweden, presented the petition to Ulrich Homburg, head of Deutsche Bahn's division for passenger service. Unfortunately, the meeting was short and there wasn't time to discuss the huge popular demand for night trains, and Deutsche Bahn's reasons for shutting the services down.
This debate was saved for the night trains hearing in the German parliament, which had been called after a number of protests across Germany, and the raising of the issue on the political agenda by the democratic socialist Die Linke party.
Homburg, Deutsche Bahn's representative at the hearing, was evasive and "blamed everybody except Deutsche Bahn", according to Ellie. While he maintained that passenger numbers had been static, he maintained that the costs had become unsustainably high.
The night train service in Germany is under strong competition from both low-cost airlines and night buses, with the market for the latter recently having been deregulated.
Yet economic arguments are easy to make, and often tricky to counter. One of the questioning experts at the hearing took issue with how Deutsche Bahn had calculated their figures, and suggested that in reality both their passenger numbers and their income on night trains had been higher than they have publicly claimed.
While the petition runs until the end of January – sign here! – Ellie suggests that the campaign to save the night train is only just beginning. Alongside a network of train activists across Europe, Jordens Vänner will work in coalition to support national struggles, link with existing initiatives in Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden and others, and try to influence EU policy to ensure a better, sustainable transport system for Europe.