Sweden could have trains to mainland Europe by 2022

It could soon be possible to take the train directly from Sweden all the way to Belgium, after a report recommended a Malmö-Cologne-Brussels route as an appropriate first step for government plans to increase international train travel. But there are several hurdles to overcome first.

Sweden could have trains to mainland Europe by 2022
Would you take the train from Sweden to Brussels? File photo: Petar Starčević/Pexels

If it became a reality, it would also be possible to travel onwards to London with just one change in the Belgian capital.

Sweden's government last year commissioned a report from the Transport Administration to outline how state procurement of night trains from Sweden to mainland Europe.

The report is now ready, and the agency suggests that Malmö to Brussels via Cologne would be a suitable first route, due both to favourable traffic conditions and onward connections from the Belgian capital.

That's a more extensive route than when the first report on the government assignment came in January, and a route of Malmö-Cologne was proposed.

“As we have deepened the investigation, we have seen that it is possible to extend the route to Brussels. Traffic to Brussels is more complex, based on capacity and technical aspects, than just reaching Germany, but still possible to implement,” said Anna Fällbom, Head of Unit Agreement and Financing at the Swedish Transport Administration.

But this doesn't mean the route will definitely happen.

First, Sweden would need to make agreements with the countries concerned relating to “duty of traffic”, which means that the operator agrees to provide a certain basic supply. The Transport Administration said that Germany had signaled it was not currently prepared to enter such an agreement. 

“It may be possible to put in place a solution where duty of traffic is only decided in Sweden and Denmark, and the traffic is subsequently commercial. However, there are doubts about such a solution and this needs to be studied further,” said Fällbom.

The next step would then be to find operators who can provide the vehicles, and then to go through the legal process to get the route set up.

If these obstacles can be overcome, the agency said that traffic on the route could be running as early as in two to three years' time.

Sweden's Foreign Ministry has advised against all non-essential overseas travel until June 15th, 2020, due to the uncertainty and infection risk associated with the ongoing coronavirus crisis. This deadline may be extended further, and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has told media that people in Sweden shouldn't necessarily be able to travel abroad until next year at the earliest.

When borders do start to open up again, there's likely to be high demand for international train travel due both to the climate crisis and the damage that the coronavirus emergency has done to the aviation industry, which may mean fewer departures and higher tickets for air travel.

Currently, it is possible to travel on direct trains from Sweden to Denmark and Norway, as well as to Berlin in the summer months when the Snälltåget traffics a route to the German capital.

Swedish vocabulary

Brussels – Bryssel

obstacle – (ett) hinder

investigation – (en) utredning

to advise against – att avråda från

agreement – (en) överenskommelse

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”