Overnight Trains? Amtrak Does It Better.
I’ve enjoyed overnight train travel ever since I was a kid and even today always look forward to those experiences.
When I was planning my most recent trip to Europe, I asked the folks at Railbookers in London to schedule me on one of the overnight sleepers en route to visit friends in Oslo. And they did, booking me on a City Night Line train that departed from Gare de l’Est in Paris at 8:00 p.m. and arrived at Hamburg the next morning at 8:35.
It was a disappointment. The compartment itself was fine – I slept well, and I had my own en suite lavatory – but there was no dining car. The Railbookers people had alerted me to that unhappy fact, so I had something to eat before I boarded the train. The next morning, the car attendant rapped on my door and presented me with breakfast in a cardboard box. I knew I had a little over an hour in Hamburg before boarding my train to Copenhagen, so I opted to have breakfast in the station there. Trust me: It was the right call.
It’s the sad fact that the European overnight trains – those with sleepers and a full-on dining car – are disappearing. It’s partly because the trains are faster now, shortening the running time between cities. But economics is also a factor, meaning the additional and very significant cost of staffing those trains with car attendants, waiters, cooks, dishwashers, etc.
And so, while there is a great deal to admire about the European passenger rail system, it’s a fact that Amtrak’s long-distance trains really do offer a very good overnight service compared to the European equivalent … and certainly far better than my Paris-to-Hamburg experience. Whether it’s the Southwest Chief or the Coast Starlight in the west, or the Crescent or one of the overnight Florida trains in the East, sleeping car passengers get comfortable if compact accommodations, a spacious lounge car, and a dining car that serves very good food.
So kudos to Amtrak. And all the more reason to keep supporting their long-distance network.