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The demise of CityNightLine

A goods train derailed in southern Jutland on Friday last week and, as can be seen from the picture from the local newspaper, it was on a single track line section between Padborg and Kolding, meaning the whole connection between Hamburg and Jutland is blocked. The wagons were dragged between 5 and 6 kilometres while off the track, meaning there is a lot of mess to clean up. It is currently thought the works will take at least one week.

All of this means that the CityNightLine night train Amsterdam+Köln/Basel/Praha – Copenhagen cannot run the full route at the moment. The solution? Run the train as far as Hamburg Hbf and throw the passengers off onto a bus – at 0356 in the morning – and then onto a ferry at Puttgarden, and then to get a regional train at Rødby, arriving in Copenhagen in who knows what state of mind in the morning.

OK, yes, shit happens on the railways, and I’m ready to be flexible and to travel during the day instead. The daytime ICE takes a different route – via the Puttgarden-Rødby ferry – so there is a train I could take. Am I allowed? NO. Rebooking my CNL ticket onto a ICE is not allowed, although both ICE and CNL trains are operated by Deutsche Bahn. I’m told that because there are replacement buses available there is no need for rebooking onto trains.

This is just the latest in a long line of experiences that seem to demonstrate to me that taking DB CityNightLine trains is just not an adequately reliable option. This autumn I was turfed off in Odense on the way to Copenhagen with the train already 90 minutes delayed, and I have been delayed 60 minutes a couple of other times. I’ve also in the past been thrown out in Dortmund and told my train would simply not go as far as Köln.

Also the CNL couchette / liegewagen carriages are old and noisy, and many CNL routes no longer have a dining car allowing you to escape the bedlam in the compartments if you need to (although the dining car still thankfully exists on the Copenhagen route). All of this however is such a stark contrast with the Hamburg – Wien night train operated by ÖBB I took a few weeks ago, with neat, modern and smart couchette cars, and a morning breakfast provided even for the cheapest ticket holders.

Now while high speed rail may be the future of public transport for journeys of up to 500km, what about for trips longer than that? A 12 hour night train, if it is reliable and comfortable, and you can arrive at your destination fresh enough to work the following day, should be a viable option. If my CityNightLine experience is anything to go by then that is simply not the case just now, and indeed seems to be getting further and further away from being the case any time soon.

(and of course the Brussels night train headache has not been sorted… but that’s another story)

Photo: "City Night Line 473 "Aurora"" by Andreas Ravn Møller on March 23, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

4 Comments

  • Brian Melican |

    I’ve had a similarly mixed bag with CNL. One Prague-Amsterdam train I was on in 2008 was so late by the time it reached Hamm(Westf.) – something in the order of three hours – that they stopped it there and then; on the other hand, the services from Hamburg to Freiburg/Zürich and to Munich seem to be pretty reliable.

    I’m with you all the way on the justification for night-trains: when they work as they’re supposed to, they’re absolutely superb and actually more time-efficient than flying anyway: it’s a pity that, right at the heart of Europe, there seems to be so little concern about investing in them for the future.

  • T |

    It’s a pity, night trains are dying a slow death, or so it seams. Too expensive for cheap travel, and not good enough (reliability, comfort) for those looking for a rolling hotel room. They even lock those cheap IC-carriages that are attached to some of those night trains for part of the journey just so that people have to pay the more expensive CNL reservation (plus, special prices seem are often higher than daytime trains).

    I’ve been thinking of taking the CNL Munich to Rome for New Year – guess what: The train can only be booked until 30/12 – apparently there is some weird issue about the doors that German and Italian Railways are trying to resolve for months. Well, I’m not booking a one-way trip, possibly having to take a daytime train back and certainly unable to find any reasonable prices for a “spontaneous” booking just after New Years …

    How about the EN from Munich to Zagreb. Try booking that – yep, no price. Apparently that train isn’t profitable – not a surprise if people have to make an effort (travel to the nearest train station, call an expensive hotline …) even to get a quote. Oh, and they will tell you it has a fixed price, not combinable with any trips before or after. So unless you’re just traveling from Munich to Zagreb, you’re gonna need three tickets.

    Well, I’ll stop here. Just one more thing: How did you get breakfast on that EN to Vienna? Nobody offered us any … (however, we were using the cheapest compartment seats – which are actually quite cool, since they can be joined, turning the compartment into one big bed … ;)

  • Jon |

    @T – I was in a ‘Liegewagen’ on the Wien-Hamburg EN, but it was cheap, on a Sparpreis.

    As for Roma-München – I took it in October this year. Packed full of people. That should be a profitable route!

  • kjöjga |

    This has happened again, although this time in northern Sweden:

    http://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/godstag-ursparat-vid-alvsbyn

    In short, travellers on the night train from Stockholm to Narvik have to get off in Umeå at 1:58 AM to take a replacement bus because a derailed train has destroyed the tracks. Travellers on the night train from Stockholm to Luleå can sleep for a bit longer: the train doesn’t reach Umeå until 6:50 AM.

So, what do you think ?