Other similar routes have sprung up as the travel industry responds to rising fuel costs and climate damage
It hasn’t been an easy time to be a rail enthusiast, but the resurgence of the sleeper train on the continent is offering British travellers a tantalising prospect for 2023.
A new pan-European service starting in May is opening up the possibility of jumping on a Eurostar at St Pancras on a Friday afternoon and waking up in Berlin the following morning, breakfast included.
Passengers on the European Sleeper service would only need to make one change in Brussels. Fortuitously, the scheduling offers just enough time for a swift Belgian beer with cheese and mustard before Berlin beckons.
“We thought that would be good timing to start the weekend”, said Chris Engelsman, the co-founder of the European Sleeper service.
The announcement of the service has been hailed as a triumph by rail aficionados, who may have been suffering something of an existential crisis during the recent strikes and service troubles in Britain.
It also follows a veritable new dawn for the sleeper train in Europe. Across the continent, new routes have been opening up in recent years, including Brussels to Prague and Graz, in Austria, and Hamburg to Stockholm, a trend that is partly a response to the increase in air fuel costs and an ever-growing understanding of the environmental damage of flying.
The first 10-carriage sleeper from Berlin to Brussels will depart on 25 May, with the Brussels to Berlin service scheduled for the following evening at 19.22.
There will be three services a week with prices from €49 for a seat, €79 for a couchette – a seat that converts into a bed – and €109 for a berth in a more comfortable sleeper compartment.
Mark Smith, who writes the popular blog, The Man in Seat 61, said: “High-speed trains are a great way to travel, but for longer distances such as Brussels or Amsterdam to Berlin a six- or seven-hour journey takes half the day. A sleeper allows you to leave after a full day’s work or sightseeing, sleep in your own bed, and be in Berlin in time for breakfast.”
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Engelsman said the biggest challenge the European Sleeper initiative had faced was the lack of sleeper carriages available on the market.
“It’s not only us that has trouble with that. It’s the same with other initiatives, even the larger railways,” he said. “They have the same problem like the Austrian railways, they run a lot of night trains, of course, around Europe, and they have the same issues.
“It’s just that because of all the new initiatives there’s just very few carriages left, and for many years nothing has been invested in the rolling stock.”
The company is renting sleeper carriages and plans to retrofit normal carriages in the near future allowing them to offer two-person options.
For now the service will offer compartments for six, four and three-person occupancy, with bookings taken from 20 February. The company expects to extend the service to Dresden and Prague in December, as originally planned before works on the tracks in Germany held the initiative up.
Given the complications of passport control and logistical technicalities, the European Sleeper is perhaps the closest British travellers will get to the vision of three decades ago for a Nightstar sleeper from London to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Cologne via a new tunnel under the Channel.
That plan was formally dumped in 1999 because of the ever-growing cost and diminishing public interest. Some of the carriages were sold to a train company in Canada where they are still in use between Montreal and Halifax.
This article was amended on 28 December 2022. The Eurostar service runs from St Pancras station, rather than “Kings Cross St Pancras”, which is the name of the adjacent underground station.

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