The Sleeper Train Edition
On travel, the past, and elegance
Colin here. Over the course of modern travel, we’ve largely optimized for speed. Long, overland routes that would have taken weeks have turned into short-hop commuter flights. In the US, planes are favored in lieu of trains due to the sorry state of Amtrak. The ritual of the long journey seems out of favor. But in some places, it is coming back.
In Europe, partly due to considerations of climate change, more people are taking to trains for business and leisure. This shouldn’t entirely surprise: traveling by train is a nice option and the products in many European countries are sophisticated. Plus you don’t need to pass through security or experience the same frictions seen in modern air travel.
Taking things a step further, many countries are bringing back a relic to the forefront: the sleeper train service. According to Conde Nast Traveler:
Night trains like the Caledonian Sleeper—most featuring glamorous design and spacious cabins— were once everywhere in Europe. Among these overnight rail routes were the likes of the Blue Train through the south of France, the Elipsos from Paris to Madrid, and the Night Ferry from London to Paris (a train that loaded all of its cars onto a boat to cross the English Channel). All offered travelers the chance to eat, drink, and spend the night in style, arriving in a new locale by daybreak. But with the advent of air travel and cheap flights, many iconic sleeper routes were discontinued; what few remained were indeed opulent, but out of reach for the average tourist (think the Belmond Venice Simplon Orient Express, which costs around $4,000 per night).
Why is this interesting?
Sleeper trains are amazing. You board in the evening, have a meal or a nightcap, and settle in for a proper rest before arriving in the central area of your urban location. No early morning wakeups, cabs to the airport, and undignified queues for security. It is a simplified and elegant process that demonstrates how we should mine the past for things that just worked. The catalyst for some of these developments stemmed from a ban of short-haul flights in some countries, thus allowing the rail operators to make the necessary investments. According to Traveler, “...a growing number of European countries, including Austria, France, and the Netherlands, are enacting bans on short-haul flights where a train journey can be made instead. Those bans have been an incentive for existing train companies to up their connectivity and add longer, overnight routes.”
One example, Austria’s OBB Nightjet, connects Austria with various cities throughout Europe, connected by a sleeper train with various levels of service, all the way up to a deluxe, private sleeper cabin.
Scotland’s Caledonian Sleeper (pictured above) allows for travel between London and various cities in Scotland including Edinburgh and Glasgow. Guests with a sleeper suite dine in the Club Car and then retire to a dedicated room with the option of an en suite bathroom and shower, bunk beds, or the choice of a double mattress. In a particularly clever twist, they make the train go slightly slower so people get a full night’s rest. And with the gentle sway and clicking rhythm of the rails, it is a better rest than listening to the dull ambient roar of a 777 engine. (CJN)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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