Plans unveiled for overnight sleeper train service to the Alps

Plans for a winter ski connection to the Austrian and Italian Alps are being drawn up by a private international night train operator. 

European Sleeper, which has just started third party ticket distribution via the Trainline app, is considering a service from Brussels to Venice via points such as Innsbruck.

Branded as the ‘Good Night Train’, the Belgian-Dutch private enterprise would attract ski enthusiasts from the UK via Eurostar and a dedicated coach service by road from the south of England via the Channel Tunnel to link with departures from Belgium.

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Co-founder Elmer van Buuren explained that the service would run outbound on Wednesdays with returns from Venice on Sundays to allow for long weekends on the slopes.

The company is working towards the winter service running between February and Easter 2025. 

Each train would have a capacity for 750 passengers in sleeper compartments with the journey time to Innsbruck estimated at 15 hours and 20 hours to Venice.

While the cost of tickets has yet to be confirmed, van Buuren said they would be “much more attractive” than high season air fares to Alpine ski gateway airports.

The company started running overnight trains between the Belgian capital and Berlin in May 2023 and extended its route to Dresden and Prague three months ago. Fares between Brussels and Prague start at €49 for a seat and €79 for a couchette in a shared compartment.

European Sleeper also has ambitions to further expand its network next year or in 2026 to serve the south of France and Barcelona from Brussels or Amsterdam, again with single transfers from London.  

The UK was one of the most important source markets in Europe, according to van Buuren.

He described the European Sleeper concept as a “sustainable” alternative to travel by air or car as the company seeks to capitalise on the trend towards “slow travel” which has emerged in particular since the pandemic.

People are looking to “smarter, rather than faster” travel, deriving better quality from their time spent reaching destinations, van Buuren said.

He also believed there would be strong interest in the UK for sleeper trains to be introduced from London using the Channel Tunnel to reach points in Germany, Italy and Poland.

Trains would have to run from Stratford in east London, due to capacity constraints at the St Pancras terminus used by Eurostar where there is no extra availability for security checks and passport controls.

But many other technical, cost and infrastructure challenges would have to be overcome together with a requirement for UK Border Force to carry out passport checks at stations on the Continent – meaning there is no level playing field between international train operators in Europe and the aviation sector, according to van Buuren.

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