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Brussels to Barcelona in eight hours: Proposal to relaunch Trans-Europe Express

15:26 22/09/2020

German federal transport minister Andreas Scheuer has proposed at a European transport council meeting in Brussels to relaunch the Trans-Europe Express (TEE) 2.0 network of high-speed and night trains between major western European cities.

If the plan to reinstate the rail link, andoned in 1987, is agreed by his European counterparts, Brussels, Liège and Antwerp stations could be connected to Barcelona in around eight hours.

The minister is keen to cut travel time and make journeys more appealing between several European cities by reviving the TEE trains – a luxury service from the glory days of European rail travel from the late 1950s to the 1970s, when overnight rail travel was common.

His project would start by using existing train lines to link Brussels to Berlin in around six hours and Berlin to Barcelona in 13 hours. There would also be connections between Amsterdam and Rome or Paris and Warsaw.

After infrastructure work in a second phase of the plan, Brussels train travellers could reach Stockholm in less than 13 hours, he said.

These routes should be possible as soon as major infrastructure projects, such as Stuttgart 21, the Fehmarnbelt crossing between Germany and Denmark or the Brenner Base Tunnel are completed, Scheuer says. However, train lovers eager to reinstate old travel routes will have to wait until at least 2028 for the possible TEE relaunch, when Brenner tunnel is completed.

Moreover, the technical challenges to overcome if TEE 2.0 goes ahead are enormous. There are a huge number of power and train protection systems. In addition, there is a dizzying array of national railway companies’ sales and tariff structures to contend with.

The jury is out on night trains too. Austrian Federal Railroad has expanded its night train service, but Deutsche Bahn has restricted its offer, saying there is not enough demand.

Founded in 1957, the Trans Europ Express, or Trans-Europe Express (TEE), is an international first-class railway service in western and central Europe. In its 1974 heyday, the TEE network comprised 45 trains connecting 130 different cities, from Spain in the west to Austria in the east, and from Denmark to Southern Italy. In 1993, the trains, primarily aimed at business travellers, also offered a second-class service from Paris to Brussels.

In the 1980s, however, the TEE’s popularity waned as firms increasingly turned  to first class air travel for their staff. And in 1995, the TEE network was abandoned altogether, with competition also from low-cost airlines and high-speed national services like France’s TGV and the UK’s Eurostar. The latter company saw its first train leave London Waterloo station for Paris in November 1994, just months before TEE’s demise.

Photo: Roger Wollstadt/Wikipedia