Fast train at night long exposure

Midnight Trains drops plans for Edinburgh to Paris sleeper

Train running at night

Plans have been put to sleep for a sleeper train to run all the way from Edinburgh to Paris. The French start-up company behind the ambitious plan says the hurdles of getting across The Channel have been giving them sleepless nights. In a radical rethink of their ambitions, the company has pulled out of proposals to connect Scotland with the Continent, in a way that has not been dreamt of since the still-born proposals for “Nightstar” – an overnight version of the Eurostar which would have made overnight connections between Edinburgh and Europe a reality by rail.

Paris-based start-up Midnight Trains claims they are putting a snooze on their ambitions to connect the extremities of Europe with a fleet of fast, overnight trains. The company has undertaken a thorough assessment of its plans to establish a European network. The founders have opted to adjust its initial route plans. It seems as though they have admitted defeat on the pipe dream of adding the UK to their plans. Although the official line is not a final decision, Edinburgh and London have been notably excluded from their revised plans.

Fire regulations and gauge concerns

Facing a series of challenges, Midnight Trains has been reviewing its strategy. The company, which aspires to establish a large European network of night trains, has been positioning itself as a sustainable alternative to short and medium-haul flights in Europe. However, a number of age-old problems have proved too difficult – or too expensive – to overcome. “We’re not abandoning this market by any means”, said Nicolas Bargelès, the company’s chief operating officer. “It’s not the best one to kick off with. Consider it postponed indefinitely.”

Portrait of Nicholas Bargeles, Chief Operating Officer of Midnight Trains
Midnight blue. Nicholas Bargeles, Chief Operating Officer of Midnight Trains, has called it a day on night trains in the UK

In a technical explanation, Bargelès draws on his previous experience with Eurostar. “In the process of determining initial lines based on major air travel markets, London faced elimination due to stringent fire resistance rules for materials”, he said. “The necessary redesign of carriages proved impractical at this stage. Extending the route to Edinburgh would require a complete overhaul of rolling stock to align with British train track formats.”

Rethinking routes to focus on a Mediterranean axis

The Channel Tunnel is not the only constraint on the prospect of the Midnight Train from Paris to Edinburgh, Amsterdam to Aberdeen, or Gdansk to Glasgow. There was scepticism that prospects for such services may have been remote in the first place. In a newsletter to stakeholders, Midnight Trains says it has now focused its initial launch on routes departing from Paris towards the Mediterranean. The company’s adjusted plan includes destinations such as Venice via Milan, Rome via Florence, Barcelona and Madrid, and a domestic service between Paris and Nice. “The first three are the routes we’d always planned our trains would take”, said Bargelès. “They have been at the heart of the Midnight Trains mission since the start.”

Twilight cityscape of Edinburgh
The sun sets on plans to run continental sleeper trains from Edinburgh. Midnight Trains hope for a new dawn in the future, but have put plans to bed for now.

It’s not just Britain that has been left with no place to lay its head. Scandinavian and German destinations have been put on hold as well. “The obvious top choice of Paris-Berlin, which would also have served Copenhagen with a split train. Midnight Trains identified that long haul as a medium-sized market, but they also note that SNCF and Deutsche Bahn have collaborated to restart this route from 11 December. “One to park for later”, says Bargelès. “Probably when the 20 kilometres of the Fehmarn Belt Tunnel is finished.” He refers to the fixed-link road-rail submerged tunnel, currently being constructed between Germany and Denmark.

“In fact, the Hamburg-Copenhagen straight line is quite short. Historically, trains did the crossing on ferries, because it was faster than going over land. We think the market is maturing and soon enough, we hope to address it with our trains.” Sadly, hopes for Edinburgh trains have also become submerged, but in a somewhat less positive way.

The abandonment of the Midnight Train leaves two domestic sleeper services in Great Britain. The Night Riviera, operated by GWR, connects London with South West England serving destinations in Devon and Cornwall. The Caledonian Sleeper connects London with many locations in Scotland. Caledonian Sleeper operates as a separate company, owned as a subsidiary of the Scottish Government. The Caledonian Sleeper was revamped recently with a completely new set of rolling stock but has suffered reliability issues. Both services cover relatively short distances compared to European routes but reach outlying communities which have relatively time-consuming daytime services.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

2 comments op “Midnight Trains drops plans for Edinburgh to Paris sleeper”

The Man in Seat 61|01.12.23|16:36

The Edinburgh-Paris train was never going to be a runner, we all KNEW that as soon as it appeared on Midnight Train’s map.

It showed they had gone public before even doing a proper business plan – because had they done so, they would have realised it wasn’t commercially viable wth the higher access fees and UK/Channel Tunnel security/border costs added (as the stillborn London Sleeper Company did, years before) and would not have shown it.

Andreas Trawöger|03.12.23|01:07

I’m a bit puzzled by the comment that the Berlin to Paris route is a cooperation between SNCF and Deutsche Bahn.

Because it’s of course operated by ÖBB and other operations just resell the ÖBB tickets.

Which is a weird oversight by someone who should know what’s going on in the night train business.

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