Sleeper train revival in Europe

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MARC Rider

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This article came out last July, but I just noticed it:

'People don't want to fly': Covid-19 reawakens Europe's sleeper trains | World news | The Guardian

One interesting is that the article mentions the financial hurdles seem to involve the fact that a sleeper had a lower capacity than a regular coach, the sleeper car is only in revenue service for one trip per day, and track access charges as trains cross national borders can add up. Nobody seems to be harping on the cost of "overpaid" unionized sleeping car attendants. And the fares can be cheap -- they quote a Brussels to Vienna ride as starting at about 30 Euros. I wonder how this compares to Amtrak, or whether Amtrak could develop more 1-night sleeper services.
 

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I imagine staffing is alot easier for trains that depart at night after dinnertime with beds already made up an passengers expected to turn in soon after.
 

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The idea of sleeper train revival came into view recently... Europe has an extensive rail system and night trains can connect major city pairs with speedy trains. The 'sweet space' is for cities that are 6 to 9 hours apart. When you factor in travel to the airport, check in, fly, return to city center for a hotel stay... and carbon footprint... night trains re-emerge in terms of time, expense, and overall practicability.

A similar possibility for Amtrak would be the return of night service from DC to Boston; or through NYC continuing to Montreal. NYP itself is not in that 'sweet spot' due to it's close proximity to BOS and DCA... but night service to Montreal was available in the past and it may be a good time to start rethinking that. The boarder checkpoint is just before Montreal allowing a nights sleep, or passengers could pre check in a secure area before boarding. In the West night sleeper services between LAX and SFO have long been discussed. Lots of possibilities. 🌈

And... lots of news on this topic.



 

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A border preclearance facility at Gare Centrale Montreal has been in the works for years; completion is a prerequisite for a night train. No matter how conveniently scheduled a two hour border wait is too long. Toronto-NYC is other good route for a night train; assuming preclearance in Toronto. Chicago-Toronto might work too. Domestically Pittsburgh-NYC is a good candidate. So is LA-Bay Area/Sacramento, but that seems really unlikely CA would go for it with the focus on HSR.
 

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Toronto-NYC is other good route for a night train; assuming preclearance in Toronto. Chicago-Toronto might work too.
Both routes have had overnight trains in the past - the first both pre and under Amtrak; the latter pre-Amtrak only. Pre-clearance in Toronto is never going to happen as long as any train makes stops in Ontario. The Maple Leaf made five and the International fluctuated between nine and eleven.
 

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True, geography isn't on Toronto's side. I was thinking maybe an overnight train could avoid intermediate stops in Ontario and run sealed to the border?
 

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The idea of sleeper train revival came into view recently... Europe has an extensive rail system and night trains can connect major city pairs with speedy trains. The 'sweet space' is for cities that are 6 to 9 hours apart. When you factor in travel to the airport, check in, fly, return to city center for a hotel stay... and carbon footprint... night trains re-emerge in terms of time, expense, and overall practicability.
I saw one trip report that said a particular train was scheduled to spend a couple of hours standing in an enroute station, just so it's departure and arrival times would be at reasonable hours. I think the departure was somewhere around 10pm, and the arrival around 6am.
 

20th Century Rider

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I saw one trip report that said a particular train was scheduled to spend a couple of hours standing in an enroute station, just so it's departure and arrival times would be at reasonable hours. I think the departure was somewhere around 10pm, and the arrival around 6am.
It's not uncommon for night trains around the world to let passengers on early before departure, and remain on them after arrival to insure adequate time for a good nights sleep.

BTW... many complaints have been posted about folks being forced to wake up at 4am as the Texas Eagle approaches LAX; to give the attendants time to clean rooms and prep the car before its 6am arrival.

That's a no no... it's just not very nice! 😝 :mad::eek:
 

railbuck

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I saw one trip report that said a particular train was scheduled to spend a couple of hours standing in an enroute station, just so it's departure and arrival times would be at reasonable hours. I think the departure was somewhere around 10pm, and the arrival around 6am.
For example, Munich to Vienna takes just over 4 hours by Railjet, but the EuroNight stretches the schedule to 7 hours with an extended stop in Salzburg. I found it more difficult to sleep during the stop without the gentle rocking of the train in motion, and the window shades weren't quite adequate for the bright lights of the station.
 
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jiml

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True, geography isn't on Toronto's side. I was thinking maybe an overnight train could avoid intermediate stops in Ontario and run sealed to the border?
I can't ever see an overnight train between Toronto and New York being viable again. In fact when the border re-opens, service to Niagara Falls is likely to be provided by Toronto's GO Transit, connecting to Amtrak there. (This was well underway pre-Covid, with GO up to 4 frequencies including one running on a schedule remarkably similar to the Maple Leaf - which itself was suspended due to bridge repairs.) Previous sleeper services between the two cities depended on a car or cars from Toronto connecting to an existing mainline train. That train no longer exists nor does the market for a full train between the two. Remember that flying only takes an hour.

Now with Chicago you might be on to something. Most previous Toronto-Chicago trains of any variety ran through southwestern Ontario via either Windsor/Detroit or Sarnia/Port Huron. That's a long way to go without stopping, and the border was a lot less "formal" when these trains ran. (Customs delays post-911 in both directions doomed the International.) However, a single sleeper or a sleeper and a coach departing Toronto in the evening, attached to the westbound LSL at Buffalo might actually be something to look into. The reverse should work too. Departure and arrival times both ways should be good. There would certainly be logistical issues and whether VIA would want to be involved is anyone's guess. My guess is they wouldn't, so forwarding the consist between Toronto and Buffalo could be a problem. CN or GO could be contracted of course, but Amtrak would have to be the requester to get that ball rolling. As someone who frequently travelled between the two origin cities pre-pandemic I'd certainly be a customer, but would there be any others?
 

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I can't ever see an overnight train between Toronto and New York being viable again. In fact when the border re-opens, service to Niagara Falls is likely to be provided by Toronto's GO Transit, connecting to Amtrak there. (This was well underway pre-Covid, with GO up to 4 frequencies including one running on a schedule remarkably similar to the Maple Leaf - which itself was suspended due to bridge repairs.) Previous sleeper services between the two cities depended on a car or cars from Toronto connecting to an existing mainline train. That train no longer exists nor does the market for a full train between the two. Remember that flying only takes an hour.

Now with Chicago you might be on to something. Most previous Toronto-Chicago trains of any variety ran through southwestern Ontario via either Windsor/Detroit or Sarnia/Port Huron. That's a long way to go without stopping, and the border was a lot less "formal" when these trains ran. (Customs delays post-911 in both directions doomed the International.) However, a single sleeper or a sleeper and a coach departing Toronto in the evening, attached to the westbound LSL at Buffalo might actually be something to look into. The reverse should work too. Departure and arrival times both ways should be good. There would certainly be logistical issues and whether VIA would want to be involved is anyone's guess. My guess is they wouldn't, so forwarding the consist between Toronto and Buffalo could be a problem. CN or GO could be contracted of course, but Amtrak would have to be the requester to get that ball rolling. As someone who frequently travelled between the two origin cities pre-pandemic I'd certainly be a customer, but would there be any others?
As I await being able to visit Ontario again, I hope that theyll decide on a good Transportation plan for both sides of the border.

I know GO will have a good plan, can't say the same for Amtrak or the State of New York!

I look for the Maple Leaf to disappear, and all the Rail on the Niagara Falls to New York City Route will be Empire Service Trains!
 
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Willbridge

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I can't ever see an overnight train between Toronto and New York being viable again. In fact when the border re-opens, service to Niagara Falls is likely to be provided by Toronto's GO Transit, connecting to Amtrak there. (This was well underway pre-Covid, with GO up to 4 frequencies including one running on a schedule remarkably similar to the Maple Leaf - which itself was suspended due to bridge repairs.) Previous sleeper services between the two cities depended on a car or cars from Toronto connecting to an existing mainline train. That train no longer exists nor does the market for a full train between the two. Remember that flying only takes an hour.

Now with Chicago you might be on to something. Most previous Toronto-Chicago trains of any variety ran through southwestern Ontario via either Windsor/Detroit or Sarnia/Port Huron. That's a long way to go without stopping, and the border was a lot less "formal" when these trains ran. (Customs delays post-911 in both directions doomed the International.) However, a single sleeper or a sleeper and a coach departing Toronto in the evening, attached to the westbound LSL at Buffalo might actually be something to look into. The reverse should work too. Departure and arrival times both ways should be good. There would certainly be logistical issues and whether VIA would want to be involved is anyone's guess. My guess is they wouldn't, so forwarding the consist between Toronto and Buffalo could be a problem. CN or GO could be contracted of course, but Amtrak would have to be the requester to get that ball rolling. As someone who frequently travelled between the two origin cities pre-pandemic I'd certainly be a customer, but would there be any others?
MANY years ago I looked into single-night trains for NARP. Even then, the best way to run Chicago-Toronto overnight was via Buffalo rather than via Detroit or Port Huron. That puts the border at a marginal hour better than the awful hours in the middle of the night. The only train that came out of that work was the North Star overnight between MSP and CHI. One night trains radiating from Chicago have some of the best connections of any service focal point.

RynersonOct81 North Star.jpg
 

Mailliw

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I can't ever see an overnight train between Toronto and New York being viable again. In fact when the border re-opens, service to Niagara Falls is likely to be provided by Toronto's GO Transit, connecting to Amtrak there. (This was well underway pre-Covid, with GO up to 4 frequencies including one running on a schedule remarkably similar to the Maple Leaf - which itself was suspended due to bridge repairs.) Previous sleeper services between the two cities depended on a car or cars from Toronto connecting to an existing mainline train. That train no longer exists nor does the market for a full train between the two. Remember that flying only takes an hour.

Now with Chicago you might be on to something. Most previous Toronto-Chicago trains of any variety ran through southwestern Ontario via either Windsor/Detroit or Sarnia/Port Huron. That's a long way to go without stopping, and the border was a lot less "formal" when these trains ran. (Customs delays post-911 in both directions doomed the International.) However, a single sleeper or a sleeper and a coach departing Toronto in the evening, attached to the westbound LSL at Buffalo might actually be something to look into. The reverse should work too. Departure and arrival times both ways should be good. There would certainly be logistical issues and whether VIA would want to be involved is anyone's guess. My guess is they wouldn't, so forwarding the consist between Toronto and Buffalo could be a problem. CN or GO could be contracted of course, but Amtrak would have to be the requester to get that ball rolling. As someone who frequently travelled between the two origin cities pre-pandemic I'd certainly be a customer, but would there be any others?
That's an interesting idea. It never occurred to me to run Chicago-Toronto as a section of the Lake Shore Limited. It's basically 3 trains in one. Of course that appears to make way to much sense for Amtrak or VIA.
 

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European night train options were rather different to most American rail users expectations. While there were "cheap" fares on some overnight routes, these were not typically berths that Amtrak users would be familiar with. A lot of European night trains also offered a car with seating, so a low fare was available. Some trains had compartments with up to six "couchettes", so one shared the compartment with up to 5 others, sometimes of either sex. Again, this offered a low fare by comparison to the 4 berth, double or single berth compartments which were also available.
Trains would often be split and reconnected to other trains at some point in the night, so you might start off with coaches going to Poland, or Austria, Germany, France all being split off later to their respective destinations.
It is several years since I used the services, so I am not up to date with current practice. Given the way Americans seem to prefer absolute privacy when sleeping, I am not sure Amtrak night sleeper trains with bedrooms and roomettes would be able to offer low prices. Let's leave the union bashing aside... Do we really expect employees to subsidise our cheap fares by taking home a low wage?
 

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Well, Americans are OK with communal sleeping arrangements in seated coaches, bus, and airplanes. I think there are enough Americans, particularly Gens Y & Z, who'd go for sleeping in a curtained bunk or pod. At least on 1 night trips. It'd basically be the same as a hostel or capsule hotel. Just ensure the upper berths have windows, everyone has outlets galore, and the fares are cheap. Allowing for the ADA bedroom you could fit about 32 berths in an open section arrangement for an overall capacity of 34 passengers.
 

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Well, Americans are OK with communal sleeping arrangements in seated coaches, bus, and airplanes. I think there are enough Americans, particularly Gens Y & Z, who'd go for sleeping in a curtained bunk or pod. At least on 1 night trips. It'd basically be the same as a hostel or capsule hotel. Just ensure the upper berths have windows, everyone has outlets galore, and the fares are cheap. Allowing for the ADA bedroom you could fit about 32 berths in an open section arrangement for an overall capacity of 34 passengers.
But on a plane or bus, people are sleeping out in the open. There's no privacy, but there's also safety in numbers. I think many people would be uncomfortable sleeping in an enclosed space with 1 to 5 strangers, as in a couchette.

You point out hostels. Yes, hostels have their market (a small one), but most Americans will not stay in a hostel. Nor have capsule hotels achieved any acceptance in this country.

If there were a way for Amtrak to lease a couple of Pullman style open section cars for 6 months or a year, and test them on an overnight train, like a Silver or the Cardinal, that might be a worthwhile experiment. But building a fleet of cars when you don't know whether anyone will want to buy space on them would be foolhardy.
 

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MANY years ago I looked into single-night trains for NARP. Even then, the best way to run Chicago-Toronto overnight was via Buffalo rather than via Detroit or Port Huron. That puts the border at a marginal hour better than the awful hours in the middle of the night. The only train that came out of that work was the North Star overnight between MSP and CHI. One night trains radiating from Chicago have some of the best connections of any service focal point.
I've often been intrigued by the idea of a network of night trains radiating from Chicago. Definitely something I've daydreamed about from time to time.
 

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It seems like a car set up with open sections would be easy to convert to roomettes. Though honestly the best approach would probably be to just make cars with an ADA bedroom & roomettes and lower prices simply be increasing capacity.
 

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But on a plane or bus, people are sleeping out in the open. There's no privacy, but there's also safety in numbers. I think many people would be uncomfortable sleeping in an enclosed space with 1 to 5 strangers, as in a couchette.

You point out hostels. Yes, hostels have their market (a small one), but most Americans will not stay in a hostel. Nor have capsule hotels achieved any acceptance in this country.

If there were a way for Amtrak to lease a couple of Pullman style open section cars for 6 months or a year, and test them on an overnight train, like a Silver or the Cardinal, that might be a worthwhile experiment. But building a fleet of cars when you don't know whether anyone will want to buy space on them would be foolhardy.
You echo my thoughts. For actual sleeping overnight, upper and lower berths (such as those still in use on VIA) are the lower limit of North American tolerances. An open coach - whether on a train or a plane - always has the possibility of someone noticing suspicious activity. Even European couchettes are not without concerns regarding such things as petty theft and "unwanted contact".
 

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I doubt there is much of a market in America for bargain price low service sleeping car trains. Most folk on this forum dislike sitting next to "strangers" overnight in coach, and only travel in roomettes or bedrooms. I don't think the sums add up to my way of looking at it. I use hostels, I am happy to share with others in a compartment, but most Americans are not so inclined, in my experience.
 

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Given the way Americans seem to prefer absolute privacy when sleeping, I am not sure Amtrak night sleeper trains with bedrooms and roomettes would be able to offer low prices.
I doubt there is much of a market in America for bargain price low service sleeping car trains.
It's hard to predict what Americans might be willing to use in the future when the only options for decades have been coach seats and private compartments. Some Americans may have a neurotic attitude toward privacy but we also have millions of very trusting couch surfers. The typical Amtrak traveler probably falls somewhere in between these extremes.

Most folk on this forum dislike sitting next to "strangers" overnight in coach, and only travel in roomettes or bedrooms.
I've slept next to strangers in coach without issue many times, just like millions of other Americans, but what's different on Amtrak is the lack of divider between the seats and headrests. I don't want to wake up in a stranger's personal space any more than I want them randomly cuddling up to me. So long as mixed use open berths did not suffer from this inexplicable oversight they would be worth a meaningful premium over coach to me.
 
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While you're thinking about demographics in this regard, I suspect that women will be less comfortable than men sharing semi-private space. I personally stopped riding Amtrak coach overnight years ago after one annoying episode of a slightly too-friendly guy and a second involving a more overtly groping seatmate. This was enough for me to say, roomettes or bedrooms for overnighters, and coach for daytime only.

Interestingly, there was a company not long ago marketing an overnight bus between LA and SF that featured individual sleeping 'shelves,' for want of a better descriptor. They apparently did do a fair bit of business with millennials and younger customers, but the ride on the 1-5 was rough enough to discourage repeat business. They shut down temporarily and invented some kind of suspension system which they claimed made the ride as smooth as a train (!) But COVID put them into suspension as a business--possibly permanently.

Still, it does suggest a market for a lie-flat, semi-private transportation option, perhaps especially on corridor routes between cities, where you could leave in the evening and arrive the next morning, but without the sleeplessness and cramped muscles of traveling in a coach type seat.
 

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That's why I personally would favor couchettes over open sections. The compartments lock and you can offer female only compartments (just like hostels offer female dorms). Six people is pushing it though, better to stick with 4. Also families could just by a whole compartment.
 

Willbridge

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While you're thinking about demographics in this regard, I suspect that women will be less comfortable than men sharing semi-private space. I personally stopped riding Amtrak coach overnight years ago after one annoying episode of a slightly too-friendly guy and a second involving a more overtly groping seatmate. This was enough for me to say, roomettes or bedrooms for overnighters, and coach for daytime only.

Interestingly, there was a company not long ago marketing an overnight bus between LA and SF that featured individual sleeping 'shelves,' for want of a better descriptor. They apparently did do a fair bit of business with millennials and younger customers, but the ride on the 1-5 was rough enough to discourage repeat business. They shut down temporarily and invented some kind of suspension system which they claimed made the ride as smooth as a train (!) But COVID put them into suspension as a business--possibly permanently.

Still, it does suggest a market for a lie-flat, semi-private transportation option, perhaps especially on corridor routes between cities, where you could leave in the evening and arrive the next morning, but without the sleeplessness and cramped muscles of traveling in a coach type seat.
As mentioned in another thread last year, berths in buses have been tried out prior to the California service. Pickwick Sleepercoaches plied US99 between Oregon and California in the 1930's, stopping at hotels of the Pickwick chain. Their operating rights is how Continental Trailways got into the Northwest.

My 97-year old father remembers seeing them. His family took the train. Even as a kid he could imagine that it was a rough ride. The biggest advances in overnight bus travel have been automatic transmissions and seat belts (that keep sleepers from being tossed around). Leg-rest seats were the biggest advance in rail coach travel.
 
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