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Trans Europe Express
Photograph: svic /

Is this legendary trans-European train network making a comeback?

Climate groups are campaigning for a return of the Kraftwerk-mythologised Trans Europe Express

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

While most people these days probably know ‘Trans Europe Express’ as a Kraftwerk song, it was also once an icon of lavish, speedy cross-continental travel. From Sweden in the north to Italy in the south, and western Spain to eastern Austria, TEE’s deep-red locomotives embodied all the excesses of modern Europe in the 1960s and 70s.

The TEE was discontinued in 1995 but it seems it could be making a comeback. Right now, it’s fair to say train travel across European borders is fragmented and awkward. While networks like Germany’s Intercity Express (ICE) and France’s Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV) provide fast connections between cities across the continent, none are as direct or hassle-free as the TEE was.

In an era of climate crisis, the need to provide a fast and affordable alternative to plane and car travel is greater than ever. And that’s exactly what advocates of the TEE argue it would bring. Trains are much more environmentally-friendly than planes and cars, and a revived TEE would allow for much simpler cross-continental travel.

Now an official German report found that reviving the TEE could prove central to achieving carbon neutrality within the EU by 2050. Currently, only eight percent of all passenger travel within the EU is by rail – and that number needs to be much higher if the EU is to meet its pollution targets.

During its 1970s peak, the Trans Europe Express served 31 routes and 130 cities. At the time, its diesel trains were faster and more luxurious than any other cross-continental railway service.

Plans for a new TEE 2.0 are well in motion, with transport ministers from several EU states having signed a ‘letter of intent’ to create it. Each train will connect at least three member states, at a minimum speed of 160 km/hour. The new routes will have restaurant cars and free Wi-Fi, and also include a smaller network of night trains.

Because the EU now includes former Eastern Bloc countries like Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland, TEE 2.0 should hopefully be much larger than its predecessor. No doubt there will be many obstacles along the way, but if all goes to plan, we could see the legendary service back on the rails by 2025 – bigger and more essential than ever.

Planning a big post-pandemic trip? Here are 11 of the world’s most incredible train journeys.

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