Not too long ago, trains were declared a thing of the past – sleeper trains especially. Cheap airlines were making rail travel obsolete. But suddenly, in 2020, the tide is turning and people want to reclaim some of the romance of travel, and trains are helping them do just that.
Eurail, which offers reduced-fare tickets across Europe, lists at least 11 overnight train journeys across the Continent, including the Berlin Night Express from Germany to Sweden, the Euronight Ister from Romania to Hungary, the Helias Express from Serbia to Greece, Austria’s ÖBB Nightjet that runs between, among others, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Florence, Milan and Rome. The Trenhotel of Spain’s Renfe runs between Portugal, Spain and France.
Sleeper trains are clearly on the rise. “They’ve always had a romance,” train travel expert Mark Smith, founder of the popular train website The Man in Seat 61, was quoted saying about sleeper trains to CNN. “Sometimes the romance is built up – even the romance of the Orient Express has been exaggerated beyond the reality.”
For many the idea of overnight train travel remains the Venice Simplon Orient Express made famous in Agatha Christie’s thriller “Murder on the Orient Express,” which the luxury Belmond hotel group runs between London, Venice and Paris mostly. Belmond also has the very grand Grand Hibernian in Ireland.
But there are other options too, some expensive and quite a few a lot cheaper. The Trenhotel Lusitania goes from Lisbon to Madrid, taking 11 hours; Thello from Paris through to Venice and from Marseille to Milan; the Great Western Railways Night Riviera Sleepr from London to Penzance. Russian Railways runs different kinds of trains from numerous European cities to Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as the Trans-Siberian Express and into Mongolia. The 42-hour Moscow to Nice train, which first ran in 1864 in the days of the Tsars, and goes 3,315 kilometres across the European continent, was relaunched in 2010.
But it is the national carrier in Austria, ÖBB, that is becoming a prime mover in investing in new sleeper trains to crisscross the continent. With recent services the company has started, Vienna has reportedly the best connected rail city n Europe.
“To make traveling even more enjoyable overnight, we ordered new Nightjets,” the company said recently. “In addition to more privacy and comfort you can look forward to even more individuality. The first night trains in the new design should be on track from 2022 onwards.
In couchette cars, it said, “mini-suites offer even more privacy for single travelers. Traveling is even more comfortable in the sleeping car: in the future, the standard and deluxe compartments will have their own toilet and shower facilities. The hitherto familiar compartments will, of course, continue to exist in a new design. New on board is the free Wi-Fi, which was previously restricted to long-distance rail jets and will now also be available to travelers in the night trains of the new generation.”