Tonight, Europe will experience a little resurrection—the first privately-run overnight sleeper train service will take passengers and their dreams aboard a Brussels to Berlin line.
Born from a former-train guard’s longing for a historic form of rail travel and a growing demand for low-carbon transport, European Sleeper used crowdfunding and friendly competition to revive this 19th-century form of locomotion.
The idea, according to European Sleeper’s founder Elmer van Buuren, is that people are realizing a combo of budget airline plus hotel stay involves a lot of extra planning, early mornings, and carbon emissions.
Alternatively, high-speed rail is expensive and booked weeks in advance.
By comparison, European Sleeper allows one to avoid the necessary booking of accommodations, while delivering passengers right into a historic city center in time for morning business meetings or a day of exploring, rather than 50 kilometers outside in an airport.
“Until a couple of years ago, everyone thought sleeper trains were a thing of the past and something for hopeless romantics with their heads in the 19th century. That is just not the case,” van Buuren told the Financial Times.
Van Buuren has faced a significant number of challenges in launching European Sleeper. Private rail companies are few and far between, and the stock of specialty sleeping carriages is either refurbished from the mid-20th century with a lack of modern amenities, or are being ordered too small in number for manufacturers to put any effort into them.
Furthermore, the coordination required between the EU member states to connect railway timetables is extremely difficult in the best of times, and has proven even harder still because the night trains would need a place to park during the day, and placements in arrival cities during the busiest hours.
Fortunately, the demand for sleeper trains won’t go away, and national railway companies are beginning to address the consumer demand to place orders of sleeper carriages.
Van Buuren turned to crowdfunding, raising €500,000 from 140 small investors in the first serious attempt. One of the large issues with finding the funding is that train operators need to apply every year for track capacity.
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“And that means that you cannot really prove that you can produce your product for the next 10 years,” explains Elmer, this time to Euro News. “If we had a framework agreement across the borders that would guarantee… we will get the capacity for the next 10 years, that would highly de-risk the investment and get financiers on board.”
This, says van Buuren, will require the EU member state regulators and infrastructure managers to work out better plans than those they have now.
But despite these and other challenges, European Sleeper is launching its inaugural service tonight (Thursday, May 25th,) from Brussels to Berlin, on a three-way line that will connect these two cities plus Amsterdam. The company managed to amass another €2,000,000 in seed capital, which garnered them recognition from the European Commission as one of 10 pilot projects that aim to improve train travel and slash emissions.
What can travelers expect?
Aboard a European Sleeper train, three classes exist. The sleeping cars for a single business traveler are comfortable and run at €128 which includes breakfast. Small groups and families can book couchettes (from €89 per person, including breakfast) that seat either 4 or 6 people.
In the near future, the company wants to add dining cars so that the third class (recline seating) has refreshment options as well.
The expensive tickets take into account that the passenger is avoiding the need to book a hotel or a long taxi ride from the airport.
Starting next year, the three-way line which runs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights with returns on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, will extend through Dresden down to Prague in the Czech Republic.
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In 2025, they will hopefully have lines that take passengers from Amsterdam, Brussels, and the UK, down through Lille, Provence, and Barcelona.
Several low-emissions travel options are debuting across Europe in the next few years. Along with European Sleeper, rigid airships will return to the continent’s skies for the first time in a century when Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) launch their services from Oslo to Stockholm or Liverpool to Belfast, with emissions even lower than those of rail travel.
Passengers will enjoy silent air travel with floor-to-ceiling windows and substantially more space and freedom of movement than aircraft.
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