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Jubilation in Paris as sleeper train from Berlin resumes service after nine-year break

Exclusive: ‘We have to demonstrate this is attractive, this is affordable, this is available,’ says French transport minister

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 12 December 2023 19:50 GMT
Simon Calder reports from Paris on the revived sleeper train from Berlin

Nine years to the day after German rail operator Deutsche Bahn scrapped the Paris-Berlin sleeper train, a revived overnight service rolled into Gare de l’Est in the French capital.

On board was the French transport minister, Clément Beaune, who told The Independent: “It was long, but it’s nice because you can sleep, you can work a bit, you can talk with friends and have a drink. So it’s a really nice experience.”

The first train was about half an hour late, due to a fire alarm along the journey – reportedly triggered by a faulty microwave.

But a large crowd was waiting on platform 8 to greet Europe’s flagship intercity sleeper train – operated by OBB (Austrian railways) as part of its expanding Nightjet network.

Proponents of rail are jubilant at the symbolic reunion – part of a growing number of new and restored sleeper trains.

Mark Smith, the international rail guru known as The Man in Seat 61, said: “The Paris-Berlin Nightjet restores a key link between east and west.”

After Deutsche Bahn axed the overnight link in December 2014, RZD (Russian Railways) took over the route for a time. Services ended abruptly in March 2020 due to the Covid crisis.

Around 10 flights per day link Berlin and Paris, typically taking one hour and 45 minutes, and costing as little as €40 (£34) on easyJet.

The overnight train offers seats starting at €35, couchettes from €55 and private compartments from €165.

Environmentalists say a level playing field is needed, with aviation properly taxed for its impact on the environment.

Mark Smith believes the benefits of sleeper travel are underestimated: “A 12-hour overnight journey while you sleep is far more time-effective than a seven-hour high-speed daytime journey – or even, perhaps, five daytime hours of airports and flight.”

The French transport minister said the restored link is essential to accelerating a switch from air to rail.

Mr Beaune said: “To persuade people, you have to get this level playing field in terms of tax and we are working on it.

“But you also have to offer opportunities and more lines – that’s why we reopen these night lines in France, in Europe.

“We have to demonstrate this is attractive, this is affordable, this is available. So this is our work, our job as government.”

The last international night train between the UK and Continental Europe was the London-Paris sleeper, which was carried on a cross-Channel ferry. It ended in 1980.

British travellers will be able to use the new Paris-Berlin service with a 10-minute walk between Gare du Nord, where Eurostar arrives from London, and Gare de l’Est, from where the overnight trip to the German capital departs.

Plans for sleeper trains from British cities to France and beyond were included in the original planning for the Channel Tunnel, but were dropped because of the rise of budget airlines.

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