The rebirth of Europe’s sleeper trains

Published 2023-02-06 18:23:53
Sleeper train in the evening - Image by Luda Kot from Pixabay

The sleeper train is being revived in Europe thanks to new investments and the news is welcomed with enthusiasm. Rail travel is getting ‘back on track’ because of rising climate concerns, decarbonisation policies across Europe and changes in opinion after the recent pandemic.

Years ago, sleeper trains connected major cities in Europe and it was a popular way to travel within the continent. Train routes were well established and trains were a convenient, yet easy way to travel. You could fall asleep in one country and get up in another. However, the various policy changes favouring air travel, the offer of low-cost flights, and the high-speed trains that allowed long distances to be linked in a few hours sidelined the sleeper train trips.

Modern and comfortable sleeper trains

Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic changed travel habits, but growing environmental concerns about the impact of flying (the ‘flight shame’ movement or flygskam in Swedish) have sparked a growing interest in rail travel, sometimes slower, but always more environmentally friendly than airplane or car.

Recent policy changes concerning decarbonisation and energy security have seen considerable investment in rail all over the EU. Rail was identified as an important part of the fight against climate change due to high carbon emissions. The railway network forms the foundation of low-carbon travel all over Europe because rail travel was identified as an important backbone of the EU’s Green Deal programme.

Currently, train operators all over Europe are investing in the revival of sleeper train routes that were previously discarded in favour of cheaper air travel and fast trains, such as the TGV in France, the ICE in Germany and the Frecciarossa in Italy.

Most of these new sleeper trains offer comfortable and compact compartments. Some have proper beds which have a mattress, sheets and blankets or duvets. There's a washbasin, towels & toiletries provided. The compartments can usually convert into a private sitting room. On some ultra-luxurious routes, you can buy tickets to a deluxe compartment which boasts its own shower and toilet.

If a private compartment is not in your budget then you can opt for a couchette which is a basic padded bunk. There are usually 6 bunks per compartment, but you can pay a little extra to travel in a 4-bunk compartment. During the day a couchette compartment has ordinary seating with bench seats facing each other. At night, the bunks are folded out and ready to sleep on. There are communal bathrooms at the end of the corridor. There a few other seating options depending on the train you choose.

Although people of different sexes can share couchettes, it is possible for women to book a ladies-only compartment.

You may buy a limited range of drinks or snacks on request on the train. A light breakfast may be included in the fare which can be delivered to your compartment or taken in the nearby restaurant car.

Advantages of train travel

Sleeper trains are now more affordable and becoming a trendy way to travel because they are environmentally friendly. Trains release less amount of greenhouse gases and are therefore least damaging to the environment. This is a good way to travel and reduce your carbon footprint. This is especially true of the newer trains.

It saves time as there is no unnecessary waiting: the stations are in the city centre, easily accessible, access to trains is fast and there is no check-in for lugguage and waiting before boarding. There is also a lower probability of delays compared with air travel. This makes it a fast and efficient way to travel.

You can also save money on overnight hotel rooms because you fall asleep in one country and can wake up to views of another- you are travelling in your hotel room. You can sleep comfortably on a sleeper train and wake up refreshed. You are able to stretch your legs at any time compared to uncomfortable, crowded aeroplane seats.

And all these without forgetting that there is something satisfying about watching the landscape gradually change from bustling cities to sprawling suburbs then to vast farmland and later into mountains or the seaside.

Newly revived routes

Austria’s company Nightjet recently introduced the route joining Germany to Austria, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. Trains depart from the southwest German city of Stuttgart and journey towards European cities like Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Ljubljana and Zagreb.

They also introduced a line last year from Zurich to Rome and Milan. You can get from the Swiss capital to Rome in just eight and a half hours.

Nightjet will be introducing a line through the northern Italian coastline. The train line will link Germany and Austria across the Italian coastline area of Liguria. One route will start in Vienna whilst the other from Munich but both will pass through Verona, Milan and Genoa en route to Liguria. The coastline is famous for picturesque little villages, beautiful sea and breathtaking mountains making it an ideal train ride. This particular journey will last longer than a single night but you will awake to sunrise along the spectacular Italian coast. Ticket prices will range from €30 for a seat, €50 for a couchette and €70 for a sleeper car.

The company also plans to add direct trains from Stuttgart to the Croatian city of Rijeka on the coast at certain peak times like Christmas, Easter and the summer. This train journey should take approximately 15 hours. 

The Czech Republic’s national rail operator Czech Railways will cover the route from Prague to Germany and Switzerland. The night train will travel from Prague to Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt and Basel with the final destination in Zurich. The route will be a revitalisation of the older service that was shut down in 2017. Prices for sleeping cars will range from €89 (£78 or $89). The modern cars will be equipped with Wi-fi and the route is planned to commence in December 2023.

The ‘Good Night Train’ expected to resume in May 2023 will join Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Berlin. This service will also link up with Eurostar in Brussels so that travellers from the UK can travel to Berlin from Brussels. Services on board the train will include Wi-fi and breakfast. The cost will cost €49 for a seat or €79 for a couchette.

Euronight is a Swedish operator that links Hamburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm. The train runs on renewable energy so this is a good option if travelling green is essential to you. The train features a mix of private compartments, couchettes and regular seats.

The famously glamorous Orient Express will make its opulent comeback later this year. The luxurious hotel-on-wheels will offer passengers scenic travel between certain European countries. The train route will link Paris, Rome, Split (the second-largest city in Croatia) and Istanbul. The brand-new luxury trains will boast multiple itineraries which are yet to be finalised.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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