Do you love travelling overnight by train? Then you’ll be delighted to hear that France’s President Macron has announced the return from 2022 of two of the country’s most famous night trains – the Train Bleu from Paris to Nice and the Palombe Bleue from Paris to the Pyrenees. This is part of a French campaign to reduce emissions.
As train fans know, the growth of high-speed trains and the cost of a flight on budget airlines meant that the era of couchettes seemed to be over. But now passengers and governments are increasingly aware of the carbon footprint from air travel which means that European night trains look set for a comeback. As well as France, Austria and Sweden are also pressing for a return to night train travel.
“I think there is a real demand,” says Christophe Fanichet, the chief executive of French rail operator SNCF’s passenger arm SNCF Voyageurs. “We know that young people are paying more attention to carbon emissions and are prepared to travel more slowly because of this.”
Meanwhile in Austria the state railway operator OBB has been looking at adding more of its nightjet overnight trains and Sweden, home to flygskam (flight shame) is looking at investing €39 million to relaunch daily connections between Stockholm and Hamburg and Malmo and Brussels by summer 2022.
Michael Portillo, who presents BBC’s Great Continental Railway Journeys recently told the Sunday Times, “My first sleeper trip carried me into France more than a decade before Macron was born. I had booked a compartment to myself with a broad bench but when I entered there was no sign of a bed. As the sun set on Madrid, I was invited to dinner in a restaurant car of dark-coloured wood and starched tablecloths. Waiters with silvering hair stood ready to serve in their white jackets and bow ties.
“There may be something unexpected on a night train for even the experienced train traveller,” he adds. ‘There will be strange sounds in the night; you will wake up in a new place and possibly climate. Food and drink taste unaccountably good on trains and rail dining cars somehow acquire the glamour of a prestige restaurant.”
If it’s good enough for Michael, it’s good enough for us.