Night Trains: Victims of Progress.
They say the definition of a conservative is someone who’s 100-percent in favor of progress… but not yet. Well, when it comes to the night trains in Europe, which have criss-crossed the continent for something like 150 years, progress has been just about fatal for them. Cheap air fares and high-speed trains have done it. The budget airlines can get you there for a lot less money and the high-speed trains can cover most of those distances in a few hours. This past June, for example, I rode from Venice to Zurich in a little more than half a day.
That said, there are still a few night trains remaining, but they’re pale imitations of the ones that ran overnight 80 or 90 years ago when the equipment was luxurious and the service was impeccable. (Think “Murder on the Orient Express”). Of course there are more than a few of the private luxury trains operating, but they’re really not for ordinary folks, so somehow they don’t count.
I can remember–it was probably 30-plus years ago–riding an overnight train from Paris to Vienna. My wife and daughter and I had cut it a bit close and we hurried out onto the platform and all the way up to the locomotive looking for our assigned car. It wasn’t there! Finally, a conductor, shouting in French to a group of us, explained that there were two sections to the train that night and our car was in the “extra section” three platforms over. But just think: here was an overnight train, not that long ago, running two sections with a total of some 30 sleeping cars. It wasn’t fancy, but it was a special experience. I couldn’t sleep, and sat up most of the night in our compartment looking out the window as the train raced across France.
There are still a few companies operating those trains: City Night Line and Deutsche Bahn are probably the most prominent. There are still some wonderful overnight trains available: Berlin to Prague, Warsaw-to Cologne, Amsterdam to Munich and from there on to Rome. It’s a good idea to check out any of these trains in advance, however. I wanted to take a Thello overnight train from Venice to Paris last June, but was counseled against it by an expert at Railbookers in London. They had had complaints about rail cars not being maintained very well and even some occasional on board thievery taking place.
I passed on that one, but there’s nothing like crawling into a comfortable berth and dropping off to sleep as the train cuts through the night en route to a city you’ve only read about. In fact, I’ve already told my contact at Railbookers that I want to take the overnight train from London to Scotland next year for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I may not be able to sleep . . . but who cares?