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Press release: VAT exemptions and reduced rail fares for night trains now!

A family of four making a return journey from Brussels to Vienna can save up to 139 euros on their night train ticket, or 15% of the original price. On this return journey, the train saves 1.8 tonnes of CO2e compared with air travel for the whole family, or almost a quarter of the average annual emissions of a European (6.8 tonnes).

A new modelling exercise by environmental groups Transport & Environment (T&E) and Back-on-Track has looked at possible reductions in night train fares and shows that two simple solutions involving VAT and running charges - the tolls paid by rail operators for the use of rail infrastructure - could have a significant impact on ticket prices.

The study also looks at price reductions for individual passengers. On the Brussels-Vienna or Amsterdam-Madrid routes, a single passenger could save up to €24 and €65 respectively. The study looked at seven cross-border routes in Europe and found that small changes in the way night trains are taxed can reduce ticket prices by an average of 15% for business travellers, single travellers and families.

With more and more companies looking to cut emissions from their business travel, more affordable rail travel for business travellers will also be crucial. On the Brussels-Vienna route, a business traveller would save up to €92, or 19% of the departure price, the study found.

Victor Thévenet, rail coordinator at T&E, says: "Night trains are making a comeback, but so are their high prices. The EU is promoting a golden age for night trains with the perfect Brussels-Berlin night train, but is reluctant to cut costs. Meanwhile, the airline industry continues to benefit from generous public subsidies. The EU has the means to make night trains more affordable for citizens.

Some seven new night train links have been launched in Europe since 2020, partly in response to the growing urgency to switch to low-carbon modes of transport. Travelling by train is on average 28 times less polluting than travelling by plane. But the high costs often deter consumers. A survey by Europe on Rail in 2021 found that 70% of citizens are willing to opt for night trains if the offer is "reasonable".

The cost structure of night trains compares unfavourably with that of budget planes because it depends heavily on the distance travelled. Most of the airline costs are in take-off and landing, so trains have the advantage on shorter distances. But this is not the case on longer distanTo support the development of night trains, member states could also completely exempt cross-border night trains from path charges, T&E recommends. This is the case in Belgium, where the federal government reimburses access and energy costs for international rail operators. The development of night trains also helps maximise the use of existing rail infrastructure, which is usually closed or underused at night", says T&E.

Alexander Gomme of Back on Track Belgium, the non-profit organisation that advocates for more and comfortable night trains to and from Brussels as an ideal international hub of night trains, concludes, "The EU should take the lead in making night trains the most attractive option for citizens wishing to travel across the continent. It is a win-win situation for the climate and for citizens' wallets.The (temporary) zeroing of rail access charges in Belgium and an intention to also zero the tax level for public transport tickets in Belgium are a quick-win. The problem is and remains, and it is becoming increasingly clear now that there are a few daredevils launching new services, the carriages. The handful of older carriages that are available are now rolling into different projects. ÖBB started building new ones a few years ago, but they are still not operational. That means we have to wait a few more years for better train carriages. And only a recent European tender dossier from the Italian railways has shown that. As a very vast country, Italy has many different good and iconic - such as the one to Sicily where the train even runs on the boat - night trains at democratic prices. Consequently, they are always well packed with locals, tourists, business travellers. The Italian railways therefore want to renew their fleet soon and looked for a constructor to build 370 carriages but no one signed up or could deliver a decent offer. This is very unfortunate at a time when all start-ups indicate that besides investment money, carriages are the problem. Some tweaks to taxation will certainly bring passengers, but without more and more comfortable carriages than before 2000, that is a drop in the ocean."

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