Optimal night train routes from Copenhagen / Odense / Kolding southbound

Based on the latest proposal for a new night train (Malmö) – Copenhagen – Cologne – Brussels in cooperation between Denmark and Sweden and with the Austrian railways, several different “dogmas” are mentioned for what are ideal night trains from Denmark. We would like to problematize these dogmas.

Let’s start with what the DSB memo from 5.5. 2020 to the Ministry of Transportation that writes:

The European destination for the night train should ideally be determined according to where the customer potential is greatest, ie. where passengers want to travel. In addition, travel time should be taken into account, which should ideally be around 10 hours in order to achieve a good night’s sleep as well as attractive departure and arrival times.” (p. 8)

Our comment: Yes, 10 hours may seem like a good frame, but 8 hours from Kolding is also fine. The customer potential must be at the top.

Again to the DSB memo: “The night trains must first and foremost be adapted to the customer’s needs. To get a good night’s sleep, the train should preferably not depart after 23 o’clock in the evening, and it is best not to arrive before 6 in the morning. Similarly, it is most attractive if the train departs after 20.00, and it should not arrive later than around 9 in the morning, otherwise too much time is lost respectively on the day of departure and arrival. Ideally, these time windows on departures 20-23 and arrivals 6-9 should be observed at all stations, which greatly limits the possibilities when the same train must pick up customers all the way from Malmö to Kolding and similarly arrive in the opposite direction.” (p. 9)

The DSB memo believes that the “window” should be between 20 and 9, ie. up to 13 hours driving time.

Our comment: The journey must be seen as a whole. If travelers are going further away than Brussels; then a earlier departure from Copenhagen is for example at 18.45 also excellent. Naturally, most passengers arrive at around 7-9 in the morning, but some passengers can easily stay on the train until 11, if they will go far. A direct night train makes it more attractive to travel further than if you had to change along the way.

The Swedish Transport Administration brought an overview with a 12 hour drive from Copenhagen.

The Swedish Transport Administration’s overview of travel times from Copenhagen before the Fehmarn connection. Shaded area is 12 hours driving time.

The Swedish Transport Administration’s overview has probably also inspired DSB. In its memo, DSB has drawn a summary of driving times when the Fehmarn connection opens (two hours reduced driving time to / from Hamburg).

DSB’s driving times from Copenhagen. Note that driving times at the longer distances are slightly slower (when two hours are saved between Copenhagen and Hamburg) than in the Swedish Transport Administration’s figure above. These differences are not explained.

It is true that the train (Malmö) Copenhagen – Cologne – Brussels fits into the above model (12 hours), but many passengers also travel to Amsterdam (+ 2 hours), Paris (+ 2½ hours) and London (+ 2½ hours). In addition, correspondences in Denmark (eg from Aalborg, Aarhus, Holbæk and Næstved). So driving times of both 10 and 12 hours are, of course, quite ‘random’ compared to where passengers actually travel. The customer journey is to be considered from start to finish.

DSB’s bid for a time table Malmö to Brussels. Note that on the journey south, the train will make it to Copenhagen H. for locomotive change, on the way north, the locomotive change will be made at Høje Taastrup.

The EU talks about distances of 1,000 km by (night) train (see here) and the Danish Council for Sustainable Traffic talks about replacing all flights at distances in Europe up to 1,200 km by 2030 (see here). This, too, is merely directional.

Which new night trains could bring passengers to southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria from 2023 in the cooperation between DSB and ÖBB (NightJet) and further provide connections to northern Italy?

In the strategic partnership between DSB and ÖBB on the development of night trains, the routes will be selected according to

  • Market situation (where are airline- and train passengers traveling today?)
  • Connected routes network (focus on Central Europe)
  • Operational conditions (ensured that rolling stock and staff can “come home” in depot for service/families?)

We have an suggestion for routes that can start in the spring of 2023 from Copenhagen, when NightJet has more rolling stock. Our suggestion is based on which routes NightJet has good experiences with today, and which many Danes already use today by change of train in Hamburg. And similar to routes that CityNightLine managed successfully from Copenhagen until 2014.

Copenhagen – Basel – Zurich

Today many people drive from Copenhagen to Basel (by night train from Hamburg). The driving time today is 15 h. 54 m. The distance is 1,250 km. If you drive all the way with NightJet to Zurich, driving time today is 17 h. 39 m. The distance is 1,350 km.

Such a new night train would depart from Copenhagen approx. 18.45 and pick up the last passengers in Hamburg at. 23:00. It is to be expected that driving time can be shortened by 1 hour with a direct night train (which is incl. in these estimated times). With arrival first time in Frankfurt, then stop in Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Offenburg, Freiburg, Basel before the end station Zurich. So travellers will be in Basel 9.45 and in Zurich 11.15. Many will be getting off in southern Germany between 6 and 9.

This night train will relieve the very popular NightJet 401, which today runs from Hamburg 20.50. It will run on the same route. In Basel there will be connections to, for example, Bern and Geneva and from Zurich to Milan. The Swiss government is prepared to support such a night train connection. Zurich is an important hub for NightJet.

Copenhagen – Munich – Innsbruck

A night train from Copenhagen 18.45 should be in two sections. The second section will then supplement NightJet 40491 (currently operating from Hamburg 20.29) and drive to Munich and on to Innsbruck. Many Danes are driving today with shifts in Hamburg to Munich. The driving time is today 15 h. 42 m. and the distance is 1,250 km. If you drive all the way to Innsbruck the driving time today is 17 h. 48 m. And the distance is 1,400 km.

With direct night trains, a driving time improvement of ½ hour can be achieved. Passengers will also be able to disembark in Nuremberg and Ingolstadt in the morning. The train will be in Munich around 9 and give train change to Vienna (+ 2½ hours) and in Innsbruck at. 11.15 and give train change to, for example, Verona, Florence and Rome. The Austrian government is probably prepared to support such a night train connection. Innsbruck is an important hub for NightJet.

>> See DSB’s note from 5.5. 2020 (In Danish. DSB has made black lines together with the Ministry to preserve business secrets)