Sunday, September 19

The dream ticket: night trains could soon travel from London to the cities of Europe | Railway transport


It is being hailed as the latest test of a new dawn for the European sleeper train. Citing the changes in attitude caused by the two crises of the climate emergency and the Covid pandemic, a new night service was announced in 2022 between Brussels and Prague, with a stopover in Amsterdam, Berlin and Dresden, last week, and it is expected that the Tickets cost from € 60 one. road.

But an even more ambitious project could bring Britons to continental Europe via surely one of the most romantic modes of transport, said Elmer van Buuren, co-founder of the European cooperative Sleeper. Observer.

“I think there is also great potential in the eventual running of night trains through the Channel Tunnel,” Van Buuren said. “Of course, introducing new services through the tunnel is something really ambitious for which, at the moment, we are not prepared.

“But London and the UK are much further away from the rest of the continent so it would be very sensible to have a night service,” he said. “Despite Brexit, I think there are still a lot of people in the UK who want to come to Europe for holidays and business, so I think there is definitely a market there.”

Van Buuren’s plan would be the realization of a vision that was almost fulfilled some three decades ago.

A compartment of the Nightjet service from Austria.
A compartment of the Nightjet service from Austria. Photography: Harald Eisenberger

In the 1990s a fleet of sleeper trains was built for travel through the new tunnel under plans for a “Nightstar” service connecting London, Plymouth, Swansea and Glasgow with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Cologne. But it was thought that rising construction costs and the rise in popularity of low-cost airlines made the project redundant. The plan was formally abandoned in 1999. Some of the cars were later sold to a train company in Canada, where they are still used between Montreal and Halifax.

Today there are big potholes on the track. The trains would have to be custom built rather than sourced from existing rolling stock, manageable from each end, with a minimum length of 375 meters. They would require systems that can stop the spread of fire for as long as a train is in the tunnel, although experts say the existence of an evacuation tunnel that runs parallel to the two rail tunnels makes the route extremely safe.

Last summer, the High Speed ​​Rail Group of the UK rail industry released a report blaming overly strict tunnel regulations for delaying plans for sleepers. They called on the government to modernize regulations in time for the Channel Tunnel’s 30th anniversary in 2024 to take into account the fact that passengers are now banned from smoking.

But whether or not those changes occur, the costs would be significant for any such service, and Ryanair and easyJet will not go away.

Van Buuren, who founded European Sleeper with Chris Engelsman. who runs the Noord West Express website that promotes train travel, said, however, that he believed that the “Greta Thunberg effect” on public attitudes towards flights and the impact of the recent health crisis offered cause for optimism. of the new Brussels-Prague line and a subsequent expansion of services.

Picturesque buildings and a square in the old town of Prague, seen from above
A new night service will start in 2022 between Prague, above, and Brussels. Photograph: Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

The pancontinental sleeper will coordinate with Eurostar service schedules when the first new night train pulls off a platform at Brussels Midi station next spring. Rail enthusiasts, please note that the announcement follows the launch of Austria’s Nightjet Brussels service to Vienna, which began briefly before the pandemic in 2020, offering something of a renaissance for the twin and bunk beds of the past.

The initial service from Brussels to Prague will be run in partnership with the established independent Czech operator RegioJet, owner of the rolling stock. There will be seats and sleeping compartments, with free internet access and free coffee. Shares in the European cooperative Sleeper will be available to small investors starting next month, Van Buuren said, adding that the enthusiastic reaction to his announcement applauded him.

“The sleeper train is not as fast as a plane, but you can board it and you don’t need to queue anywhere,” he said. “You can sit back, relax, read a book, prepare your meeting, watch Netflix, have a drink. You go to sleep. You wake up the next morning, you open the curtain and you are in different worlds. I mean, how cool is that? And more and more people are beginning to understand that this is actually a different approach to the value of time. “


www.theguardian.com

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