The new generation of night trains snaking their way across Europe
Carbon emissions per passenger-mile on the train are about one fifth of those on a plane. That is one of the driving forces for Chris Engelsman, the founder of this crowd funded company: The European Sleeper.
“It’s sustainable and pleasant travelling, and we really believe it will be profitable,” he said. “The night train is very important because you can cover a longer distance – going all the way to Barcelona, Milan, Prague, Copenhagen, and it’s still time efficient.
“So it’s very good competition for aeroplanes. We don’t need to persuade everybody to come by train: just 5% of current air travellers would make us fully booked every day.”
This inaugural service is a strange mix between the luxurious and the spartan.
Night trains inevitably evoke images of retro-glamour, especially if, like me, you’ve watched too many James Bond films or read too many Agatha Christie novels.
The bunk beds are comfortable, the sheets are crisp and there is a revelatory vanity unit, hidden in a corner cabinet, complete with mirrors on three sides. But the rolling stock is decades old, rented from across the continent and, sadly for those hoping for decadent dining room encounters, doesn’t include a restaurant car.
It costs £70 for a bed in a shared compartment, and double that for a room of your own.
The European Sleeper company is tendering for the construction of new carriages, but Mr Engelsman says they’ll aim for affordability rather than top end.
“We decided not to go luxurious as we want this to be for average people, accessible for everybody. We want to have a dining car in the future as we call this the ‘Good Night Train’ and we need to develop a good ‘night club’ alongside.”
Once in a state of seemingly terminal decline after the explosion of budget flights – Europe’s night trains are having a moment.
Fuelled by a demand for greener travel options – new routes are now once again snaking across the continent – including my train from Brussels to Berlin.
The expansion of night trains has support from the EU as part of its mission to cut the continent’s carbon footprint.
France has just banned short haul flights on journeys that take less than two-and-a-half hours by rail. And the Belgian government is promising to subsidise night trains like this. Their deputy PM and transport minister, Georges Gilkinet, was aboard.
“We have just voted in the parliament to help night trains to develop, by paying for the track pass and the energy cost,” he said. “It’s the greenest way to cross Europe and there is a great demand with the trains booked up for months.