New European Sleeper Car Service Heralds a Rail Renaissance
Better for the environment, and decidedly glamorous, Europe’s sleeper trains are back on the rails as travellers sensitive to flygskam (flying shame)—or just plain sick of the drudgery of air travel—choose to pay quite a bit more to take quite a bit longer to get where they need to go.
Just a few decades ago, writes the Telegraph, the sleeper trains connecting “Calais with Nice, Plymouth with Edinburgh, and even London with Milford Haven via Cardiff and Swansea” seemed to have “reached their final destination,” thanks to a combination of cut-rate airlines, rail strikes, and “generally shoddy service”.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
A renaissance of train travel is under way, however, and the revival is now expanding to include overnight service. Austrian Railways has already launched a Brussels to Vienna sleeper, and by 2022 the service will include “en-suite showers for sleeper cabin guests, plus ‘mini-suite’ couchettes that look akin to Japanese pod hotels.”
With routes already in the works for Turkey, Italy, and Sweden, “more sleeper services are on the horizon,” the Telegraph adds.
A hint to what might be driving a return to the tracks can be found in a Telegraph survey that asked British readers which they would rather have: “an airport schlep followed by a 60-minute march through security, then a departure gate dash that will add 3,000 steps to your Fitbit”—along with the likely addition of an overpriced Marks & Spencer cheese sandwich—or “a city centre departure with a check-in time of mere minutes,” followed by “free red wine or prosecco (in France and Italy). Complimentary chocs (in Belgium and Austria). Or armchair seats and push-button waiter services, while a telegenic topography stars in the background (most other countries).”
Glamour aside, there’s the smaller carbon footprint: with a short flight from London to Vienna creating about 0.2 tons of CO2 each way, the current dependence on air travel spells bad news for cities in coastal areas, “which may be facing as much as a six-inch [sea level] rise over the next 20 years,” writes the Telegraph. “At least we’ll always have Eurostar, which tunnels 250 feet below the seabed,” the UK-based paper snarks.
A full return to overnight trains will take some doing, however, as rail service competes with a heavily subsidized and substantially unregulated airline industry. Citing the example of London-based easyJet, which a decade ago served 500 routes and today serves more than 1,000, the Telegraph notes that “airlines can introduce international routes with minimal government assistance,” while Eurostar’s new Amsterdam rail service, for example, “took years of planning and was plagued by passport faffing.”
Another issue is price, writes the Telegraph, pointing out that easyJet is currently “flogging Gatwick to Vienna flights from £21.99 this February.”Government incentives or taxes on carbon-heavy transport might speed the expansion of rail service, notes the Telegraph. But those may not be on the immediate horizon, as the Johnson government has instead “opted to flip the equation by offering airline Flybe a tax holiday instead.”