The plans, outlined in the 2024 Nightjet Network for Switzerland strategy, outline the operators’ intention to significantly expand the number of services originating from Switzerland to serve 25 destinations.

Key points in the strategy include:

  • a new Zürich - Basle - Frankfurt - Cologne - Amsterdam daily overnight service from the end of 2021, initially operated using leased rolling stock from German leasing company RDC Asset until new Nightjet rolling stock is phased in
  • splitting the existing service from Zürich to Berlin and Hamburg into two separate services to increase capacity from the 2023 timetable change, as well as introduce a new Zürich - Leipzig - Dresden Prague service, and
  • new planned connections from Zürich - Rome and Zürich- Barcelona, although a launch date for these trains has not been provided yet as negotiations with authorities in France, Spain and Italy are still ongoing.

The expansion will further reinforce Zürich’s position as the second largest night train hub in Europe after Vienna. The city is currently the terminus of night train services to destinations including Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Graz, Budapest, Prague and Zagreb.

Suitable rolling stock for short-term expansion is limited, necessitating longer-term planning. ÖBB announced plans to purchase an additional 20 seven-car Nightjet trains plus locomotives last month to accommodate for the expansion of overnight services, which will be phased in gradually. This is in addition to 13 night trains ordered from Siemens in 2018.

“We have no doubts about the Nightjet’s continued success,” says Mr Andreas Matthä, CEO of ÖBB. “We are also investing in 13 latest generation Nightjet trains which will be in operation from the end of 2022.”

Demand for international overnight services rose significantly in 2019 and early 2020 until the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with passenger numbers from Switzerland growing by more than 25% year-on-year. Despite the disruption caused by the crisis, the two operators expect the trend for increasing night train demand to continue as customers seek more environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient means of travel.

According to an estimate by SBB, the existing night train services from Switzerland result in significant reductions in emissions, generating an annual savings of around 50,000 tonnes of CO2 compared with alternative means of travel.

“This is a sustainable trend and the demand for environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient mobility will continue to increase,” says SBB CEO, Mr Vincent Ducrot.

The operators say they view this trend as an opportunity to encourage a modal shift away from other higher-polluting forms of travel, such as cars, buses and short-haul flights, in line with the aims of the 2016 Paris Agreement.

ÖBB and SBB have stated that they hope that some funding for the expansion could come from the Swiss government’s new climate fund, outlined in revisions to the country’s CO2 Act, which are currently being debated in the federal parliament. The act mentions cross-border train travel as one of its priorities.

The operators says that expansion can only go ahead if state support is granted, as the funding would offset the high operating costs of night train services.

ÖBB is currently the sole operator of 19 Nightjet services, and provides eight further services in partnership with other operators, including six with its largest partner SBB.