Berlin - Corona won't last forever, says Chris Engelsmann. The Dutchman is sure that "people want to travel again," And to ensure more of those trips are climate-friendly, he and his partners launched a company dedicated to night trains: European Sleeper.
"We're planning to start at the beginning of the 2022 season," Engelsman said on Tuesday. "The new night train will connect Brussels and Amsterdam with Berlin and Prague."
European Sleeper is partnering with the private Czech rail operation RegioJet, which will be providing the actual sleeper cars.
Meanwhile, another company, Moon Light Express of Belgium, is also planning an overnight connection from Brussels to Berlin. It, too, is scheduled to kick off in spring 2022.
A childhood dream
As a kid, European Sleeper's Engelsman lived in the Dutch city of Utrecht, next to a railway line where the North-West Express passed every evening on its way to Copenhagen. Passing carriages also headed for Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow. At the time, 10 different night trains departed from the Netherlands, he recalls. The passing trains awakened his wanderlust - and fuelled an urge to become active in the field after one night train after another was discontinued in the last decade.
He co-founded a private initiative of night train fans that finally put the Jazz Night Express on the rails in 2019. With live music on board, the train chartered by Euro Express rolled from Rotterdam via Amsterdam to Berlin. It's scheduled to run again in 2022. But Engelsman was only just getting started. Supported by a network of associations, rail enthusiasts, politicians and companies, he launched European Sleeper in February 2021. Co-founder is Elmar van Buuren of Train2EU - also a massive train fan. "He reads timetables before going to bed as if they were exciting stories. He wanted nothing less than to become his own train boss," he says.
The plan is for the new night train serving Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague to initially run three times a week in 2022. Other stops will include Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hanover, Dresden and Bad Schandau. Berlin will get a direct overnight connection to the Netherlands for the first time since the last one was discontinued by Deutsche Bahn in 2014. The aim is to have trains running daily.
Free coffee and wifi
Passengers will be able to choose between seating cars and sleeping compartments. "We'd like to have a dining car," says the Dutchman, though it probably won't be economically feasible. Nevertheless, food and drinks will be on offer as in other RegioJet trains. Free coffee and internet will be part of the package - as on other RegioJet trains.
European Sleeper and RegioJet will share the economic risk, Engelsman said. Running a night train is a high-cost undertaking as state-owned operators charge high track and station fees.
RegioJet already operates night trains from Prague to Slovakia and Croatia and has plans for overnight service from Prague to Lviv, Ukraine. With around 15 million passengers a year, it is one of the largest long-distance train operators in Central Europe.
Snälltåget from Sweden wants to launch a direct night train this summer that connects Stockholm, Malmö, Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen and Berlin.
Berlin to Brussels for €49
Louis Lammertyn and Louis De Jaeger, two young Belgians, also want to put a night train on the rails. Their Moonlight Express will link Brussels and Liège with Berlin from April 2022, they announced on Tuesday. Tickets for a bed in a shared compartment will be available from €49.
"A project of this magnitude requires some preparation, but we're happy that after a year of talks with various German and Belgian partners, we can finally get this project off the ground," Lammertyn said. They also have plans to connect Belgium with southern France and Barcelona.
The two Belgians who founded Moonlight Express a year ago previously worked as sustainability consultants - De Jaeger in agriculture and horticulture and Lammertyn in transport and renewable energy. "I spent several years on restructuring projects in the airline industry," says Louis Lammertyn. "I saw the speed at which we are destroying the earth by the way we travel."
Rail offers a great alternative for people who want to travel with a clear conscience, De Jaeger says, "but above all it must not be boring. Instead of just competing on speed or price when it comes to transport from A to B, we advocate for affordable and quality travel time."
Chris Engelsman of European Sleeper is convinced that the climate-friendly night trains will play a big role in a post-corona tourism boom once restrictions are relaxed. But even under pandemic conditions, he says, they're a sensible mode of transport. "In the sleeping car, you can book your own compartment. You can close the door, lock it - and you keep to yourself."