New night train opens between Paris and Vienna… without passengers

The first new night train between Paris and Vienna has been hailed as an encouraging development in the fight against climate change. But as the first carriage pulled out of the Austrian capital on Monday evening, there were no passengers on board.

The first Nightjet Train between Vienna and Paris is pictured before departure at the Central Station in Vienna, Austria. Covid-19 restrictions prevented passengers from boarding.
Travellers no longer need to show a 3G proof to enter Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The timing could perhaps have been better.

With a resurgence of Covid-19 gripping Europe, there were no paying passengers for the maiden voyage of the reborn night train linking Paris and Vienna.

A return of night trains to the Old Continent is seen as symbolic of the efforts to shift travel from the air back to rail as Europe seeks to meet its climate change commitments.

But as the train following the route of the legendary Orient Express pulled out of Vienna‘s train station on Monday evening, it was empty except for a delegation of officials and media.

“There should have been lots of people,” said Ibrahim Wade, an attendant in charge of a sleeping cabin car, holding a list of absent passengers.

“It’s due to the health situation.”

The night trains operated by Austria’s national rail firm OBB under the Nightjet brand offer regular seats, as well as both simple and more comfortable sleeping cabins.

Some of the more luxurious berths even have private showers, while other passengers have to wash at the ends of the train cars.

Towels are provided, as is breakfast, but there is no Wi-Fi and the heating didn’t always work.

“We’re clearly targeting business travellers with the night train,” said Kurt Bauer, chief of long-distance trains at OBB.

The service is also aimed at tourists who like to take their time. Salzburg, the city of Mozart, is along the route. As are Strasbourg and Munich.

“Our clients are more and more sensitive to  environmental aspects. Particularly the young, but not only,” said Jean-Baptiste Guenot, an executive with French rail company SNCF.

It was low-cost airlines which killed off the Orient Express more than a decade ago, and flying remains the main competitor for long-distance train travel.

The train can be price competitive for those who reserve very early, but it really sets itself apart on environmental grounds.

A trip by air emits about 10 times the amount of CO2 as one by rail.

Vienna has become the European capital of night trains since OBB began in 2016 to invest in reviving a segment other train operators were abandoning.

Paris, a top tourist destination, was a clear choice for OBB as there was no direct rail service linking the City of Love and Vienna since the Orient Express stopped serving the two cities in 2007.

Three trains weekly will make the 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) run between the two cities for the moment.

Nightjet plans to launch a Paris-Berlin service next, and at the end of 2023 it hopes to have night trains between Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Vienna link up.

Nightjet is also looking to create a Zurich-Barcelona route that would serve Geneva and Lyon along the way.

The French government would also like to see night trains linking Paris with Barcelona, Copenhagen, Madrid, Rome, and perhaps even Stockholm.

Member comments

  1. An excellent initiative, I wish them all the best and should I need to travel to these destinations I will certainly use rail as opposed to air travel.

  2. I took the Paris-Vienna return trip last night on the Nightjet . My sleeper car was about 3/4 filled. Very pleasant and I got a good night’s sleep. So glad this route has been added. I’ll be a regular on his train.

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Train strike: What are your rights in Austria if your trip is cancelled or delayed?

Rail workers at Austria's ÖBB went on strike Monday after salary negotiations ended with no deal. Here's what you need to know about your rights if you're affected.

Train strike: What are your rights in Austria if your trip is cancelled or delayed?

The Austria-wide strikes affect ÖBB trains but also regional transport (including the S-Bahn system that goes through Vienna) and some transport operated by Westbahn.

There may also be individual train cancellations on Tuesday, November 29th, as The Local reported. Information on this can be found in the ÖBB SCOTTY.

The warning strike was called after trade unions and companies were not able to agree on salary increases amid rising inflation in Austria. Vida, the trade union representing the workers, has asked for a wage increase of €400 – an average increase of around 12 percent. In response, Austria’s Chamber of Commerce offered a rise of 8 percent.

READ ALSO: Strikes in Austria: How will transport and services be affected

What happens to tickets I’ve already bought?

Sparschiene and other ÖBB tickets booked for travel during the strike are valid until December 5th 2022, or can be cancelled, refunded or rebooked, ÖBB said. 

You can do so at all ÖBB travel centres or ticket counters and through the customer service hotline on 05-1717 9.

In the case of Westbahn tickets, the company is asking customers to cancel them – this can also be done retroactively. 

What if I am stranded due to the strike?

If you are stranded due to the strike, the costs for adequate hotel accommodation and taxi costs to the hotel must be covered by ÖBB. 

The maximum amount for local and regional transport is €80 per person for an overnight stay in a hotel and €50 per person for a taxi ride, according to the Agency for Passenger Rights (APF).

The agency also recommends people ask the railway company for confirmation of the delay or cancelled ticket.

There would be no compensation claims if you were informed about the delay or cancellation before you bought your ticket. There is also no entitlement to compensation for delays in “specific individual cases” to people who hold an annual travel pass.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

In the event of disputes, the AFP can provide assistance. The organisation currency recommends postponing non-essential travel to a later date and adjusting your ticket validity. 

ÖBB said: “We will look at and evaluate each complaint individually. However, it must be considered that the strike was announced in advance.”

The company also said that it does not offer any replacement services. However, the CAT train in Vienna, which connects the city centre to the international airport, has a replacement making Wien-Mitte – Airport journey.