Sleeper train revival in Europe

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Timetable World

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Sleeper trains in Russia cover huge distances, and the roomettes are designed to convert for day use. It is still how people choose to travel for journeys up to 1,500 miles. I travelled 1st Class Murmansk - Moscow, which took two nights and one day, costing about $130 including food. The roomette was shared with one other, but was unoccupied for the first 24 hours. The trains are not fast but were always punctual. There is usually somewhere to leave your bags on arrival, or a hotel at or near the station, which will store your bags during the day. As city-to-city travel, it compared favourably with spending most of a day at airports/flying/in taxis - and having to pay for 2 more hotel nights.

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Siegmund

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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.
If Amtrak were really clever, they would design a sleeper shell with a modular interior. Easy peasy to plug in sections instead of roomettes, or to change the proportion of roomettes to bedrooms, or to swap out worn-out beds for new ones without having the car out of service for more than a day. Even using the same shell for a sleeper and a coach might be possible.

Turns out this piece of science fiction was actually built, in 1988. Something called a "Viewliner." 33 years later I am still waiting to see the much-vaunted easy-swapout-of-modules-to-reconfigure-the-car-into-anything ability used for the first time. Also still waiting to see the coach and lounge prototypes and waiting to see the 500-car order placed to reequip all the Eastern long distance trains with all-Viewliner consists.
 

v v

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On our TransSiberian Moscow to Vladivostok journey a couple of years ago there was 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. This was February and the train was used as a long distance commuter train.

3rd was populated mainly by North Korean guest workers going home, but Russians too, it was full. 2nd was all 4 berth compartments, some mixed, some one sex only, it was maybe 90% full. 1st class was 2 berth compartments, that was close to empty, the entire 6 1/2 day journey only 2 compartments were used, that car was completely soulless as against 3rd and 2nd which were full of life.

Interesting was army and airforce officers travelled 2nd class, it wasn't because 1st class wasn't available as we saw. I think it was the travel pass they were usually given which was a surprise as the officers were Majors and Colonels.

Our party was 3 people in 2nd class, the fourth bunk was used by 3 different men over the journey. Language was a bit of a barrier but travellng with strangers wasn't a problem.
Most interesting was a naval rating who had to pay his own fare, had been home on leave in mid Siberia and was joining his submarine in Vladivostok. The two women I was travelling with were most impressed with his athleticism when on entering the compartment, threw his large duffle bag onto the empty top bunk, then leapt it appeared in one spring to join it!
 

Devil's Advocate

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Turns out this piece of science fiction was actually built, in 1988. Something called a "Viewliner." 33 years later I am still waiting to see the much-vaunted easy-swapout-of-modules-to-reconfigure-the-car-into-anything ability used for the first time.
It honestly sounds like a system unlikely to be used even in the best of circumstances and with Amtrak often struggling to maintain enough rolling stock with so many grade crossing collisions it seems especially impractical here.

On our TransSiberian Moscow to Vladivostok journey a couple of years ago there was 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. This was February and the train was used as a long distance commuter train. [...] 1st class was 2 berth compartments, that was close to empty, the entire 6 1/2 day journey only 2 compartments were used, that car was completely soulless as against 3rd and 2nd which were full of life.
I'm not sure I'd want my passenger car to become a block party. Do Russian trains not have observation cars where people can mix when they want while still having the option for a break when they prefer to be left alone?

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).
So available inventory (and pricing) would be based on gender? Seems like it would better to solve the problem in a way that does not leave one group perpetually disadvantaged for the benefit of another.
 
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MARC Rider

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Leg-rest seats were the biggest advance in rail coach travel.
I don't know about the leg rests used on the older coaches, but my experience with the leg rests on the Amfleet 2 coaches and the 2X1 Amfleet club seating is that they are pretty much useless. Perhaps the leg rests could be redesigned tp be more comfortable.
 

anumberone

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Me, I'd share a compartment with whoever as long as proper hygiene etiquette wasn't abused. Asking my wife to go along, I don't think so.
 

v v

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I'm not sure I'd want my passenger car to become a block party. Do Russian trains not have observation cars where people can mix when they want while still having the option for a break when they prefer to be left alone?
Not familiar with the term 'block party' but party in almost any form wasn't how it was.
Full of life meant people stood in corridors, chatted, told jokes, shared food, were polite, discussed stuff. Russians are more reserved than most Europeans or Americans until they decide you are one of them... If there was ever a hint of rowdiness hinted at the car attendant in all the cars soon put a stop to that, usually with a quiet word and then with authority if Vodka drinking had started too early.

During the evenings most remained in their compartments or ate or sat in the dinning car, that was louder than the sleeper cars. There is no observation lounge that we were aware of, it's a commuter train.
The two alternative ultra long distance trains to Mongolia and China carry many more tourists, perhaps they have observation cars but haven't used those as yet to be able to say.

Sometimes compartments were a little louder than the corridor, but that didn't stop the petit female car attendant having a word with a group of 4 officers who were grizzly bear size and had had a drink or two during the day.
Overall more corridor life than the average Amtrak sleeper and a light buzz of sound for most of the day.

I think that if you need a qiete space it would be best to travel 1st class, the problem is you wouldn't have a lot of contact with the people of the country you were visiting.

Just a thought. As that journey is very long most people step onto the platform on the longer stops. Bearing in mind this was February and more than half of the Vladivostok route is through Siberia, so mass evacuation of the train was restricted to daylight and bright weather.
It was interesting as on the long stops the maintainance crew would make rerpairs to water pipes and such like, the car attendants would chip large blocks of ice off of the car suspension, they had specially designed shovels for that, and there was a sort of party atmosphere, genteel maybe but a sort of celebration. It was also where you could buy platform food from the babushkas and the occassional kiosk, it always tasted delicious BTW.
People excercised too in all sorts of ways, and the station buildings were like nothing we had ever seen, lots going on.
 
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Mailliw

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Well, there are hostels all over the United States and Canada that offer a mix of coed and women-only (& less commonly men-only) dorms. And it's not like that would be the only accommodation on the train.
 

Willbridge

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I don't know about the leg rests used on the older coaches, but my experience with the leg rests on the Amfleet 2 coaches and the 2X1 Amfleet club seating is that they are pretty much useless. Perhaps the leg rests could be redesigned tp be more comfortable.
Some of the earlier leg-rest seats were more comfortable than contemporary seats. But one of the reasons that open section sleeping cars lasted so long in Canada was the use of day coaches on overnight and transcontinental trains. Having traveled in CN day coaches before VIA invented Day-Niters, I'd say that even second-rate leg-rest seats are a boon.

People who rode in them liked Sleepy Hollow seats best. They had a curve that kept legs from sliding off to the side. I suspect they were hard to keep clean when crumbs or dirt got into the "hollow."
 

NS VIA Fan

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Unlike my trips in Europe (granted I was a lot younger) where a Couchette shared with others was just fine......here in North America the culture seems to be that if you can afford it you want private accommodations. Nothing between that and a coach seat will do.

One exception here I know of were the 'Dormitory Sleepers' on Marine Atlantic's overnight ferries between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. A couple of large open spaces with rows of bunks (236 in total).....and they were very popular. Cost was $15 more than coach fare. They gave you a pillow and blanket but most just used a sleeping bag. There were no curtains on the bunks, no segregation: men, women, families all slept together in one big room! People just wanted a place to put their head down for the 6 hour overnight crossing as they faced a 950 km drive across the island the next day. Private cabins as well as regular coach seating were also offered.

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During the day crossings the Dorm Sleepers pretty well went unoccupied so it was a lot of dead weight (and fuel burn) to be hauling around. Today....the new ferries offer airline-style business class seating (not quite lie-flat) that are used during the day as well as private cabins.
 

jiml

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Some of the earlier leg-rest seats were more comfortable than contemporary seats. But one of the reasons that open section sleeping cars lasted so long in Canada was the use of day coaches on overnight and transcontinental trains. Having traveled in CN day coaches before VIA invented Day-Niters, I'd say that even second-rate leg-rest seats are a boon.
Seldom would I question the historical accuracy of any of your posts, however Dayniters were a CN invention - predating VIA by several years.
 

NS VIA Fan

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Seldom would I question the historical accuracy of any of your posts, however Dayniters were a CN invention - predating VIA by several years.

Yup....my fist encounter with a DayNiter was in April 1974 when CN dropped the Sydney-Montreal Sleeper and replaced it with a DayNiter.

(You'll note in my post above with the ferry diagram that DayNiters were also offered. These were the same seats as found on CN trains. (Marine Atlantic's roots are in CN Marine)

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Mailliw

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I'm willing to overlook any other issue as long as I can lay flat to sleep, but I have to admit that looks like a huge improvement over the Amfleet II coach seating (& it blows busses out of the water). And a 2:1 arrangement could be popular solo travelers. The ideal of course would be a modern version of the Slumbercoach.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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party in almost any form wasn't how it was
people stood in corridors, chatted, told jokes, shared food
Um...

Russians are more reserved than most Europeans or Americans
In my travels anytime there are two or more Russians within shouting distance everyone in the vicinity knows about it.

Well, there are hostels all over the United States and Canada that offer a mix of coed and women-only (& less commonly men-only) dorms. And it's not like that would be the only accommodation on the train.
If you wish to forfeit your own civil rights that's your prerogative but I have no such desire. A plan such as this would likely suffer lawsuits in states that take discrimination seriously and create a major liability at the federal level.
 

Mailliw

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Um...


In my travels anytime there are two or more Russians within shouting distance everyone in the vicinity knows about it.


If you wish to forfeit your own civil rights that's your prerogative but I have no such desire. A plan such as this would likely suffer lawsuits in states that take discrimination seriously and create a major liability at the federal level.
Please explain how that is a forfeiture of civil liberties, how it's discrimination, and how it's going to create liability? Hostels offer Accommodation like this all over the US & Canada including deep blue states like CA and NYS.
 

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Please explain how that is a forfeiture of civil liberties, how it's discrimination, and how it's going to create liability? Hostels offer Accommodation like this all over the US & Canada including deep blue states like CA and NYS.
Do you really need me to explain how dividing people in a protected class based on a trait for which they have no control is considered discrimination, how "separate but equal" is no longer an accepted legal standard, or how civil rights law protects us from discriminatory treatment?
 
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Devil's Advocate

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May I ask where you usually come across Russians?
From trains and planes to oil fields and tropical resorts. They're surprisingly well traveled for having come from such a closed off country. Chain smoking seems to calm them down but liquor lights them up. I'm sure there are some quiet Russians in much the same way that there are some quiet Americans, but the stereotype holds up in my experience.
 

Mailliw

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Do you really need me to explain how dividing people in a protected class based on a trait for which they have no control is considered discrimination, how "separate but equal" is no longer an accepted legal standard, or how civil rights law protects us from discriminatory treatment?
Well for starters the "separate but equal" doctrine applied to racial discrimination (which is subject to strict scrutiny) not gender discrimination (intermediate scrutiny). The Supreme Court has ruled several times that gender specific accommodations (restrooms, lockerrooms, sleeping, etc) are permissible. For example colleges (public & private) offer mainly coed dorms and women's dorms; men's dorms ate much rarer due to lack of demand.
Back on topic it's a moot point anyhow. I just don't see the traditional couchette setup being implemented in North America (except as group or family accommodation). In Europe Nightjet is implementing capsule hotel pods for solo travelers and retaining the 4 berth rooms for families. If implemented in North America that setup up would probably shift the berths so passengers face the direction of travel, but it lacks a day mode. Best solution for US & Canada is probably just to have roomette cars with an ADA bedroom and lower prices by increasing supply.
 

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Well for starters the "separate but equal" doctrine applied to racial discrimination (which is subject to strict scrutiny) not gender discrimination (intermediate scrutiny). The Supreme Court has ruled several times that gender specific accommodations (restrooms, lockerrooms, sleeping, etc) are permissible. For example colleges (public & private) offer mainly coed dorms and women's dorms; men's dorms ate much rarer due to lack of demand.
Education facilities have their own rules that are unlikely to apply to Amtrak and bathrooms appear to be losing some of their protections based on state law. I do not see that happening with changing rooms but I didn't see it happening with bathrooms either so who knows. I personally see the greatest similarity with ride sharing and that has yet to withstand legal challenges in a way that sets a reliable precedent. My money would bet against a new national service that advertises, describes, or implies a gender specific benefit outside of special situations like medicine and education.

Back on topic it's a moot point anyhow. I just don't see the traditional couchette setup being implemented in North America (except as group or family accommodation). In Europe Nightjet is implementing capsule hotel pods for solo travelers and retaining the 4 berth rooms for families. If implemented in North America that setup up would probably shift the berths so passengers face the direction of travel, but it lacks a day mode.
A discrete multi-level capsule pod is a novel solution that I would find quite appealing and would hopefully be well received by average Americans. I'm unsure how to make it ADA compliant under current standards but if it ever does come here I'm trying it and probably making it my default standard in the future. In the past Amtrak was able to receive trial service waivers for foreign trains and I'd like to see that happen with something like this someday.
 
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MARC Rider

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Do you really need me to explain how dividing people in a protected class based on a trait for which they have no control is considered discrimination, how "separate but equal" is no longer an accepted legal standard, or how civil rights law protects us from discriminatory treatment?
Which is why unisex restrooms are the default all across the USA. :)
 

MARC Rider

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Do you really need me to explain how dividing people in a protected class based on a trait for which they have no control is considered discrimination, how "separate but equal" is no longer an accepted legal standard, or how civil rights law protects us from discriminatory treatment?
Aside from my snark about restrooms, I should point out that in Philadelphia, there were two college-prep public high schools catering to nerds who didn't want to get beat up if they were to attend their neighborhood high schools. One was Central High School, for boys (I am an alumnus), the other was the Philadelphia High School for Girls ("Girl's High"). In the 1980, a girl sued for the opportunity to attend Central, and Central is now a co-ed school. As far as I know, no boys attend Girl's High. And the courts seem to be OK with this, even though it means that there are more opportunities available for girls in Philadelphia to attend a college-prep high school than there are for boys.
 

MARC Rider

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3rd was populated mainly by North Korean guest workers going home, but Russians too, it was full. 2nd was all 4 berth compartments, some mixed, some one sex only, it was maybe 90% full. 1st class was 2 berth compartments, that was close to empty, the entire 6 1/2 day journey only 2 compartments were used, that car was completely soulless as against 3rd and 2nd which were full of life.
A similar observation about Russian trains was made over 100 years ago by the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. (Well, not the part about North Korean guest workers, but the rest of it seems similar to his short story, "Third Class."
 
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