Midnight Trains aims to reinvent sleeper trains as a ‘hotel on rails’

Forget about shared compartments: Europe’s new overnight train experience will be more like sleeping in a luxury hotel room.

By David Flynn, June 16 2021
Midnight Trains aims to reinvent sleeper trains as a ‘hotel on rails’

High-end private suites with their own bathrooms, a seasonal menu with cocktails available à la carte or as room service: is this a renaissance for Europe's overnight sleeper trains?

Startup Midnight Trains hopes so, with its ambitious plan for a network of luxury sleeper trains radiating from Paris to the UK, Spain, Italy,  Germany and Denmark beginning in 2024.

Passengers will find sleeper suites and dining cars which take their design cues from boutique hotels and chic restaurants, with Midnight Trains "redesigning the night train experience" to become "a hotel on rails."

"The experience imposed by commercial airlines is full of stress and discomfort," says the company, founded by two French entrepreneurs with advisors drawn from the ranks of Eurostar, Accor and European rail operators SNCF and Thalys.

"The speed they sell is an illusion, and a 1-hour flight is actually 4 hours long from door to door. Finally and more importantly, air travel produces high carbon emissions."

Midnight Trains is a counterpoint promising "a more comfortable, seamless and sustainable alternative."

A Midnight Trains private sleeper suite.
A Midnight Trains private sleeper suite.

There'll be no shared compartments: each suite can be booked as a solo or duo, or as a group for family and friends, with on-demand movies and high-quality bedding, while meals taken in the restaurant car or delivered to your room.

The Midnight Trains bar and dining car.
The Midnight Trains bar and dining car.

Midnight Trains has mapped out a proposed network embracing a dozen premium destinations between 800km and 1500km distant.

Midnight Trains plans to launch its overnight service in 2024.
Midnight Trains plans to launch its overnight service in 2024.

Mark Smith, from UK-based train travel website The Man in Seat 61, suggests there's ample demand on those routes, and the firm's plans "fit with the French government's aspiration to revive sleeper trains."

"I have high hopes for routes from Paris to Italy to Spain in particular, where there's now a big gap and high demand, but Paris-Edinburgh would be very difficult to make work commercially because of all the extra costs associated with the Tunnel."

Midnight Trains intends to tap into a new wave of night-time rail services spreading out across Europe and linking the continent’s major cities, in a bid to curb rising carbon emissions.

The Trans-Europe Express 2.0 initiative will allow travelers to journey across multiple national borders without changing trains, in a direct challenge to aviation.

The Trans-Europe Express 2.0 initiative will link capital cities with fast overnight trains.
The Trans-Europe Express 2.0 initiative will link capital cities with fast overnight trains.

The revival of Europe’s night-train network comes 25 years after the collapse of the original Trans-European Express that linked 130 cities across the continent.

The boom in short-haul flying eroded its appeal, but campaigns by environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg are making people more aware of their carbon footprint.

There is “growing demand for young people for other modes of transport other than aeroplanes,” said Marc Papinutti,” an official at France’s environment ministry.

Expansion of night-train services comes at an awkward time for Europe’s airlines as they struggle to cope with the fallout from the coronavirus, which punctured a decades-long boom in air travel.

Sleeping in style

Showcasing the possibilities for overnight travellers are new night trains being built by Siemens for Austria’s OeBB.

Costing €200 million, the 13 specialised trains feature cabins designed by London-based industrial studio PriestmanGoode and inspired by the first-and-business class compartments of airlines and minimalist hotels.

The newly designed cabin of the OeBB sleeper trains.
The newly designed cabin of the OeBB sleeper trains.

“We’ve tried to bring a more domestic feeling to the experience; thought about what environment people are experiencing at home, in hotels, bars, or restaurants,” said Kirsty Dias, a designer at the studio.

PriestmanGoode gave the OeBB sleeper trains a fresh, relaxed look.
PriestmanGoode gave the OeBB sleeper trains a fresh, relaxed look.

The new coaches, due to roll from 2022, will have more sleeper wagons, “pods” for more privacy for budget travelers, deluxe cabins with longer beds and wheelchair-accessible compartments. 

The newly designed sleeper pod configuration.
The newly designed sleeper pod configuration.

However, rail’s impact may be limited by the difference in traveling times. A direct journey from Amsterdam to Rome would take over 13 hours under the TEE 2.0 plans, compared to just over 2 hours flying.

That’s unlikely to attract time-short business travelers, although could appeal to climate-conscious holidaymakers.

Trains are a more relaxing, greener but slower alternative to flying.
Trains are a more relaxing, greener but slower alternative to flying.

German state rail operator Deutsche Bahn said it expects to see a “golden age” for train travel after the coronavirus passes, while Austria’s equivalent is adding night-train capacity in expectation of rising demand, buoying manufacturing-order books.

“European rail traffic is a game changer for a climate-friendly and economically successful future,” said Michael Peter, chief executive officer of Siemens' mobility division, one of Europe’s largest train manufacturers. “Night trains will enjoy a renaissance."

Additional reporting by Bloomberg.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 488

This is an idea I've long been fascinated about and I'm surprised it hasn't taken off in parts of the US or even AUS. 

If I was on a multi-city trip and had to do MEL-CBR in the evening I'd totally consider this if I could get there, have dinner, freshen up, sleep, and then step off the train in CBR ready to go. 

I guess the challenge in AUS is the lack of good rail infrastructure - doesn't need to be HSR - even semi-fast would be enough

Qantas

01 Jun 2016

Total posts 32

I hope this takes off. The other benefits of a night train when on a holiday is dont have to book a hotel. Furthermore, Most of the central stations are in the CBD so you can save on time and cost to/fro the airport if you like staying in and around the city. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 May 2018

Total posts 36

In my travels I have been on two European overnight trains eg Copenhagen to Amsterdam and Budapest to Munich. They were old trains but clean and comfortable, but shared facilities. The Germans have spent a considerable fortune up-grading their tracks over the years with their ICE trains +the French Thalys trains doing 300kph on many sections of tracks. 

The proposed concept looks good, but on the map there is one going Paris to Copenhagen via Hamburg. Going by train Hamburg to Copenhagen requires the train to be loaded on a ferry. The German's have specially built diesels that are 195 m long and just fit onto the ferry with a 2 m buffer.   

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 17

That is no longer the case Racala. 

The train ferry service linking Germany to Denmark has now stopped being used (It was a very enjoyable trip when I did it several years ago, despite being slow for the connection in question), but there is a longer route that goes via bridges that is currently in use by other services - including the current Snaltaget Stockholm-Berlin night trains, plus regular intercity day trains too.

They also aren't too far off commencing building the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, that will link Germany and Denmark via tunnel for the first time - due to be finished before the end of the decade.

So the infrastructure is there to already run Paris to Copenhagen, and in time do it with signficantly improved timing once the tunnel eventually opens.

08 May 2020

Total posts 18

I think the success will depend on the rolling stock.  Old tracks can be noisy and make an uncomfortable night sleep.  Modern quiet carriages on well maintained baby-smooth high-speed tracks would be a winner.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

I've departed Frankfurt on the high speed trains, great idea to put sleepers on those routes it's a good option to flying.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 May 2018

Total posts 36

@MCS_095

Thanks for that.. last time I did that trip was 2015.. obviously things have moved on since then.

I can't wait for this to come to fruition - I've become a huge rail fan in the past year, and have taken a number of cross-country trips on Amtrak this year, and have a trip booked on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for later this year. I love sleeping on trains!

02 Jun 2013

Total posts 50

And from a cost perspective, the fact that this also eliminates a hotel room night is a big plus as well. By providing a private room & facilities and decent F&B options, it's the perfect way to travel across the continent. 

You have to wonder whether a quality hotel-like product between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane could also work, as the speed of the train becomes less of an issue when travelling overnight. Perhaps the quality of the track (and therefore sleep comfort) may be a detractor here in Australia

11 Nov 2020

Total posts 4

Bring it on!

28 Mar 2018

Total posts 27

Beautiful colour palette and finish.

Hope some of it rubs off on The Ghan / Indian Pacific the next time they refurb.


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