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European Sleeper clashes with SNCF Réseau over a night train project between Amsterdam and Barcelona

“There’s a huge amount of work planned and it’s planned in a mind-blowing way!” The European Sleeper company, which wants to run night trains across Europe, is not angry at the gas plant on the construction sites of SNCF Réseau, the manager of the rail network.

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European Sleeper clashes with SNCF Réseau over a night train project between Amsterdam and Barcelona

“There’s a huge amount of work planned and it’s planned in a mind-blowing way!” The European Sleeper company, which wants to run night trains across Europe, is not angry at the gas plant on the construction sites of SNCF Réseau, the manager of the rail network. The newcomer, which already operates a night line from Brussels to Prague via Amsterdam and Berlin, would like to launch between Amsterdam and Barcelona. But the project is at a standstill because of the difficulties encountered in obtaining a train path (a traffic slot) in France, a necessary passage to reach Spain.

Too much work planned at night and too many lines closed: it is currently impossible to plan a sustainable night train service, annoys Elmer van Buuren, co-founder of European Sleeper. “They close almost everything and, at the last minute, they decide what work is ultimately carried out,” he accuses, suspecting SNCF Réseau of “planning much more work than it can carry out”. The blockage is such that the company approached the Transport Regulatory Authority (ART), as its boss indicated in La Vanguardia at the end of March. “It is not yet an official procedure, but we are considering a formal seizure,” explains Elmer van Buuren to Le Figaro.

“SNCF Réseau has been supporting European Sleeper since the end of 2020 on all phases and components of its night traffic project between Amsterdam and Barcelona to ensure that the latter can be carried out by taking into account the characteristics of its offer and the conditions of traffic on the network,” defends the rail network manager. He considers that the company's initial request “was based on a journey time which was not compatible with the traffic conditions of the network” but having made “proposals for alternative routes”.

“We were told that we had to allow 5.5 hours more! Elmer van Buuren chokes. Economically, it is not viable.” Rather than going through Lille, European Sleeper says it has offered another route through the east of France. “There, we were offered 3 more hours, and even then it’s not guaranteed.”

SNCF Réseau ensures that it organizes “each year a dialogue with all its customers on the methods of organizing the work planned two years later [...] which makes it possible to publish one year before the start of circulation the capacities available for train circulation ". This work would be planned in such a way as to limit “the impact on rail traffic as much as possible”, in particular by running trains on a single track when possible or by grouping together major projects.

Nearly 1,600 operations are planned on the French rail network in 2024, including 3.2 billion euros of investment for the (more than necessary) regeneration of the tracks, on which France has fallen far behind. But a large part of these projects is carried out at night when rail traffic, limited to freight and a few night trains, is less important. A disadvantage for night-time journeys, especially as these connections cover significant distances, which increases the chances of seeing a portion of the route closed.

“European Sleeper is therefore informed of these traffic conditions, and route proposals were made to it in the fall, which it must now confirm in its order for 2025 by April 8,” indicates SNCF Réseau. What the company intends to do, which will try to submit its train path requests for next year. If the response, expected at the beginning of July, is not favorable, Elmer van Buuren assures that he will contact the ART.

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