Meeting with Kurt Bauer, ÖBB

Notes by Gunnar (Vedvarende Energi) and Poul (Rådet for bæredygtig trafik) via phone from Copenhagen.

Gunnar presented the Danish situation after which Poul told about the European cooperation “Back on track”, and confirmed a meeting with Kurt in Brussels in January 2018.

Then Kurt told about the ÖBB experience with the extension of NightJets. They have met their expectations. But they have had more start-up problems than expected and are still having some problems, for instance with the automobile loading in Hamburg that gives too many delays and they also have technical problems with some wagons. ÖBB now has three hubs in Germany: Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Munich. They run trains in a way so that all major maintenance is in Austria, even for the wagons running Hamburg – Zürich as they are also used on the Zürich  – Vienna train and will in this way be in Vienna on a weekly basis.

They are working on maximising yield, which in practice means to variate prices according to demand with higher prices in summer and at other high seasons.

In Germany the night trains are operated by DB with German drivers while the conductors are Austrian (contractor).

ÖBB will now use the two first years 2017 and 2018 to stabilise operations, eventually plan a minor extension of the network in 2019, and acquire 100 new wagons, which will be in operation in 2020/21. New cars are for the Italian market, but will release cars to other lines. There are no final plans of which extensions could come, if any at all. It depends on the economy of the current routes and business prospects of new routes. While 100 wagons in principle would allow the opening of 7 new lines, some of the existing wagons will be phased out as they are very old.

ÖBB will only open new lines if they have a strong partner in the other end that can carry the wagons to the destinations, for instance as part of other trains. Of the European train companies only Dutch NS have been interested, and they have actually asked several times for a possible train to Amsterdam. ÖBB will not operate a train in Denmark. ÖBB will ask DSB to operate it within a partnership with ÖBB. DSB shall provide the traction, switching and guarantee the operation on Danish tracks.

We discussed the idea of having lines to Copenhagen from 2021. For Kurt and ÖBB Copenhagen is far away, but also Amsterdam is far away. It has to be a whole new system of night trains, not only an extension of the existing Hamburg-routes. The next concern is the high track-use fees in Germany, which is a problem for the North – South routes, Denmark – Basel and Denmark – Munich. We discussed if we could fill a train with Danish passengers in direction Basel or Munich. We also discussed the Cologne – Amsterdam line, which is interesting for the Dutch and has less of the expensive track-use in Germany, but that need some other connections to Amsterdam, as it cannot be justified with only Danish passengers. Since we have now got started to talk, we should come back to discuss all this at the end of 2018.

If the promise from June 2017 in the German Bundestag of lower track-use fees for night trains in Germany will be carried out the business case to Denmark will be easier to believe.

ÖBB are not currently discussing a night train to Copenhagen with DSB. But ÖBB are talking with DSB about the DSB efforts to buy new locomotives and new IC-wagons.

We discussed the ticketing and the problem to buy tickets from Denmark to Wien, Basel etc. This discussion had three parts:

  • Could ÖBB sell combinations of ÖBB and DB/DSB discounts? Kurt has not staff to develop this further, so we cannot expect much more (ÖBB actually sells online combinations of ÖBB economy tickets for night trains with standard price tickets from Hamburg to Denmark). It is a tradition to make bi-lateral agreements about tickets across the border with full acceptance of rebate systems. Companies do even not agree upon the definition of a “child”. Kurt could inform that the German BahnCard 25 as well as other rebate systems will remain on the NightJet trains. NightJet tickets to Christmas are now for sale with ÖBB.
  • Could DSB sell ÖBB tickets online together with Danish tickets? ÖBB offer a 10% sales fee for all sellers of ÖBB tickets, so DSB could develop such a system, if they want; but of course DSB would have to pay the software development costs. Currently DSB sells such tickets via the telephone.
  • Other options. Kurt told that “trainline” sell ÖBB tickets and he believe that such operator-independent ticket sellers will be more important in the future (as they are for airlines). In a few years systems will be ready to combine and sell the most favourable tickets across Europe – but the process should be speeded up. Kurt does not believe it is necessary that train companies like DSB sell ÖBB tickets. National companies will in the future stick to national tickets.

We discussed the short connections between Danish and ÖBB trains in Hamburg. Kurt told us that he had not been aware of the problem, and we could discuss it for 2019, as 2018 timetables are already fixed. We would then have to discuss it in the first three months of 2018 as timetables are basically fixed in early April for the following year.

Other matters:

Gunnar asked about the Metropol night train system and Kurt told that it is being discontinued because of political order by the Hungarian government that does not want to pay for the deficit. He was told (probably by the Hungarians) that Metropol was running with a heavy loss. The system was discontinued with a short notice, so ÖBB had not chance to save it.