Europe’s Rail Revolution – Sleepy Trains and Sleepers

Train travel in Europe is experiencing a moment. Where short-haul flights and low-cost carriers once made sleeper trains unattractive and economically uncompetitive, there are now many new companies offering budget and luxury sleeper options to zip around Europe in style. The Paris-based Midnight Trains and the 1970s revival of the Trans-Europe Express linking 10 EU cities with a first-class overnight service are just two examples.

And to add to the growing number of fast train services between European cities, slow train travel is also making a comeback. The Marseille-Paris train line is celebrating 50 years of service, still drawing travelers to the French Riviera at a distinguished pace – it’s a route that takes travelers through the countryside of southern France, up and descending into beautiful postcard-perfect French towns and villages. The slow Paris-Barcelona route is also a pleasure, crossing the mountainous Pyrenees via Limoges and Toulouse. Paris to Berlin can also be done by fast or slow train.

France in particular is experiencing a slow train movement, where a new rail co-operative plans to meander through long-forgotten village stations and reopen swaths of rail lines, currently unserved by fast TGV trains. As reported by Local, one of the first connections will be from Bordeaux to Lyon, in 7h30 to pass through Libourne, Périgueux, Limoges, Guéret, Montluçon and Roanne. Later, a new route is planned from Le Croisic, in Brittany, to Basel in Switzerland, with 25 stops in just over 11 hours.

This is partly because EU governments are making conditions more attractive for rail operators. Belgium intends to position itself as the international rail hub for sustainable travel in Europe and many others are touting train travel over air travel to meet carbon emissions obligations – the French and Austrian governments both ban air travel, though train travel to the same places can be completed in less than two and a half hours.

And that might make sense on the family purse strings. With flights becoming increasingly unstable as fuel costs rise from fallout from the Ukraine crisis, the idea of ​​taking long-haul air travel with possible additional surcharges might not be appealing.

Plus, it’s an ideal way to visit places travelers might not otherwise be able to see and from the comfort of a sleeper cabin or restaurant table – see the Matterhorn on the Glacier Express or meander around the five Cinque Terre villages on the 19th century railway line along the Italian coast.

And in the case of the opening of new rail lines in France, the dining options offer another way to experience the country – in this case, there will be no buffet car. Instead, restaurants and cafes will be encouraged to sell local delicacies at stops along the route, allowing people to dine on local foods and produce while taking in the lavish views at a leisurely pace.

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