My earlier post about new night train company Midnight Trains has drawn quite some critique – that having ambitious goals is all very well (people even cited Elon Musk), and that even including a Paris-Edinburgh train in the plans is hence fine. All that is needed is a bit of political heft behind a project, and everything is achievable.
Trains for Europe, I would argue, is a project that has some political heft behind it already. National transport ministers, the Council of the European Union, and some MEPs back the idea. 2 MEPs (Jakop Dalunde and Katalin Cseh) publicly back this campaign, and there are more MEP supporters to come. By proposing detailed plans about operations and rolling stock, we have a plan that is workable and implementable.
How I’ve come this far has been motivated in part by The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Ries proposes the concept of the minimum viable product, and to start with that. What I propose here is essentially a minimum viable night train, and the way I want to build the campaign is a minimum viable campaign – there is more detail about that in our Project Proposal, but I do not even want to found my own not-for-profit to make the campaign work. I’d ideally need a budget of between €220000 and €300000 to do all I want to do.
Yet even that is too ambitious for some of the people I have talked to – you’ll never raise that sort of sum a journalist friend told me, while a former MEP told me that the EU would never want to solve the night trains problem (I politely told him that was probably not the case). Other people have told me that the rolling stock issue is not even the main problem (sure, go and run your own campaigns on those – be my guest!) and others have told me the technical complexity of railways will mean this rolling stock pool will never be practical (my research so far does not lead to the same conclusion).
I think that what rankles is when there are unrealistic expectations, and when the wish to ride the wave of night trains hype outweighs the amount of practical thinking that has been done about a project – at least in terms of how it is communicated.
Here there is a world of difference between Midnight Trains and European Sleeper, another startup that proposes a Brussels – Amsterdam – Berlin – Prague night train service. By starting with one route, and through a partnership with RegioJet for rolling stock, they immediately build credibility. Even getting one night train running is a herculean task, while proposing 6 from the start (including 1 that is operationally impossible) looks to me like over inflated expectations. Had Midnight Trains stated they will start in 2024 with Paris-Venice or Paris-Berlin, and with a viable plan as to how to do that, with the aim to scale up, it would have been better for everyone.
With Trains for Europe I am aiming for something that is aspirational but achievable that doesn’t cross over into unsubstantiated PR. I’d very much hope any other new players in the night train sector took that approach too!