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‘Hotels on rails’: Plans for new network of European sleeper trains unveiled

Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN

Just a few years ago, it looked as though European sleeper trains were on their way to becoming a thing of the past as services were continually cut back.

But Europe’s night train network has experienced something of a revival over the past 12 months, with a number of national rail providers announcing new routes between various different cities.

Now a French start-up founded by Adrien Aumont and Romain Payet, the duo behind French crowdfunding website KissKissBankBank, has revealed plans for a new network of overnight services from Paris to 12 European destinations, including Edinburgh and Porto.

Midnight Trains hopes to reinvent the overnight train experience completely by launching a “hotel on rails” that offers a greener alternative to flying as well as a more comfortable alternative to the basic night train services long associated with Europe.

While passengers should not expect Orient Express levels of luxury, the trains, expected to cover distances of 800 to 1,500 kilometers to and from Paris, will feature “hotel-style” rooms, an onboard restaurant, a bar and an app-operated concierge service.

Night train revival

Those on board are guaranteed “privacy, security and serenity” in each of the bookable private rooms, which come in a range of sizes that cater for couples along with larger groups, according to a company.

“Travelers are more and more conscious about the ecological impact of air travel and they need an alternative,” co-founder Payet tells CNN Travel.

“When traveling from Paris to most major European cities, they don’t have this alternative. Furthermore, transport operators (air or rail) have been focused on reducing prices for the last two decades, totally forgetting the customer experience and associated services.

“We think that travelers are now looking for a more comfortable and convenient way to travel.”

He also notes that the “speed” of catching a flight is an “illusion,” as “a flight of one hour is actually four hours from door to door.”

Meanwhile, fellow co-founder Aumont stresses that the company hopes to be at “the forefront” of redesigning sleeper trains, stressing that there are currently limited options for those who want to avoid flying within Europe, but hate the idea of spending a night crammed next to strangers.

Both envision that the network will prove an attractive option for those concerned about the environmental impact of flying.

“Air travel produces high carbon emissions. With Midnight Trains we want to create a more comfortable, convenient, seamless and sustainable alternative,” adds Payet.

Sustainable option

Its first route is expected to launch in 2024, while the network plans to become fully operational by 2030, with routes from Paris to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Scotland.

“We have been working hard for almost one year to define the offer, the project roadmap and to gather the best specialists around the project,” says Payet.

“Now we need to execute the plan within the roadmap in order to launch our first trains in 2024.”

While it’s not clear how much a journey on board one of the Midnight Trains will set you back, the company says its prices will be competitive with airline fares, pointing out that passengers will “save at least one night of accommodation” costs.

The new concept comes after a number of new developments in the European sleeper train network.

In December, Austria’s OBB announced a collaboration with Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, France’s SNCF and Swiss Federal Railways that will see a number of new “Nightjet” routes, along with a sleeper train between Zurich and Barcelona, launch over the next four years.

The recent resurgence has been partially linked to “flight shaming,” which has spread across Europe in the past few years as passengers become more aware of their carbon footprint.

Domestic flights were down by 9% in Sweden in 2018, while Dutch airline KLM took out adverts urging people to fly less in 2019.

CNN’s Julia Buckley also contributed to this report.

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