Sleeper Trains Back on the Rails | God's World News

Sleeper Trains Back on the Rails

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    A Nightjet sleeper train stops at a station in Vienna, Austria. (Marek Knopp/ÖBB/AP)
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    Nightjet has 22 sleeper train routes in Europe. (Nightjet © Harald Eisenberger)
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    There are some overnight train routes in the United States. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight sleeper train connects to Seattle, Washington, from Los Angeles, California. Amtrak advertises the trip as an unplugged escape with scenic views of the Pacific Northwest. (AP/Nicole Evatt)
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    Amtrak upgraded many of its Superliner cars, including sleeper cars, in 2023. (Amtrak handout)
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After being gently rocked awake, Sarah Marks spent her morning watching the Alps from the windows of her overnight train. Marks journeyed by train from Zagreb, Croatia, to Zurich, Switzerland.

“Being able to fall asleep in one city and wake up maybe even in another country—it’s amazing to me,” says Marks, who lives in London, England.

An increasing number of Europeans are skipping airplane travel in favor of overnight trains. Trains are generally considered to cause less pollution than planes. Plus, travelers say they provide a slower, richer way of traveling.

Though still a niche and relatively pricey market, demand for sleeper trains is increasing. The online platform Trainline says overnight bookings in 2023 rose 147% compared to 2019.

Sleeper trains never completely disappeared. But advocates say they suffered years of underinvestment. Meanwhile, budget airlines sold tickets for a fraction of the cost. National railways focused resources on high-speed daytime rail. Governments promoted short-haul air travel. The supposed death knell for sleeper trains arrived when Germany’s Deutsche Bahn shuttered overnight routes in 2015.

But the turnaround began almost immediately. Austria’s railway, ÖBB, bought all of Germany’s sleeper carriages. It renovated the cars, rebranded as Nightjet. The company also borrowed cost-saving strategies from the airline industry, such as offering different levels of service and optimizing routes. Now Nightjet runs 22 international sleeper routes in Europe.

Advocates say that Nightjet’s success showed other railways that sleeper trains were worth upgrading. In 2023, for instance, Czech and Hungarian railways began refurbishing sleeper cars. Private company European Sleeper launched last year with service from Brussels, Belgium, to Berlin, Germany.

Still, it’s hard to make night trains profitable. A day-running train car has about 70 seats, compared to 20 to 40 berths on an average night train.

And budget airlines are major competitors. For example, a 14-hour overnight Nightjet ride in late April from Paris to Berlin was priced at 139 euros (about $151) for a bunk in a 4- to 6-person car. Private cabins can cost significantly more. A flight on budget carrier Transavia was just 50 euros ($54).

Marks notes, however, that a sleeper car saves travelers the price of a hotel night. And advertised flight prices rarely include fees for bags, seat assignments, and other extras.

Sleeper-car buffs say the Old World-like train experience is worth some extra effort and cost.

Train travel enthusiast Mark Smith says, “What’s better than snuggling down in crisp, clean sheets . . . while you travel, and then you’re there the next morning?”

Why? What’s old is new again—sleeper trains could have disappeared forever, but demand is again increasing. Some travelers say this mode of transport has unique advantages.

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