European Sleepers

European Sleepers

"I am going to Prague for the week", he boldly declared, to no-one in particular. But rather than fly, I've opted to take the train.

And why?
I love flying, I do. Love the excitement of taking off, soaring through the air, seeing your homeplace get really small, and seeing your destination zoom closer as you descend.

But, I'm also conscious of the need to be a little more conscientious around the climate impact of travel. Whatever you think about the personal carbon footprint concept, it hard to dispute that flying is one of the most carbon-intensive things we as individuals can do.

So for a similar price, and with a stopover in Berlin, I took to night on the rails.

The plan is depart Amsterdam Centraal at 22:30, and arrive in Berlin at an entirely reasonable 08:30 the following morning.


The European Sleeper is a new sleeper train service running from Brussel to Berlin, with plan to expand southward to Prague in 2024. This service started only in May of this year, spearheaded by a Belgo-Dutch startup which raised its initial funds in a phenomonally successful crowdfunding effort, proving demand and consumer support.

By piecing together a train from Europe's remaining sleeper stock, they are one of many new sleeper services that are expected to emerge in the next few years in concert with the EU's push toward getting travellers out of the air and onto less carbon-intensive modes of transport.


So, the day arrives.
I get the train down to Amsterdam Centraal, stop for a beer near the station, and then head to the platform.
I mill on the platform with the other beste reizigers, some trundle suitcases, baby blue neck pillow hanging from their sporty backpack. Others are travelling slightly lighter. Families, young hip berliners, work travellers… there's a decent gamut, maybe 60 or 70 people.
In the crowd people occasionally crane their neck or turn suddenly, hoping to be the one to first spot our 30 minute wayward train.

But patience rewards us when the train it finally arrives, lumbering into the station, shorter than expected, a mismatch of carriages from different styles and ages.
Through patchwork paint and grimy panes the train are the dark silhouettes of couchette rooms and seated carriages. The train rolls past and our little entourage swarms down the platform along unordered carriages to find our individual numbers, just visible on A4 sheets taped to the inside of mud-flecked glass.

Time to board. In near darkness. Suggestive lighting evocative of the downmarket in a gilded age, Harry potter, the second class carriage. A certain vintage appeal. Definintely not nice, but nice enough. Charming I suppose.
Into the dark room, our roommates fidget slightly, glancing over the us newbies as we familarise ourselves. Ladder. Sheets. Barely room to turn around. We may not have it all, but tonight, we have all we need.

In the couchette there are six beds arranged as three bunks on each side. Bed is perhaps generous, it's more like laying on the bench seat of an old bus. Firm, springy, surprisingly comfortable. No nothing is generous here except the smiles from the enthusiastic train manager, who pops her head in later to make sure there are no serious issues.

We shuffle. Some opt for full pyjamas, others just strip off into underclothes. The temperature was comfortable in mid November. The sheets were clean, the blanket provided comfort. But the car itself had seen better days. The corpses of a reading light sat alongside each bunk. The walls were aged, mild flaked rust painted over. There were two plug sockets at head height, but because this was the fourth boarding stop, I unfortunately did not have dibs.
Not to worry, these are things for which a seasoned traveller is prepared.
It is inconvenient though.

For all that, the was was certainly cosy. It was charming. For me, it was a good nights sleep, and that's what counts.

Social opportunity was severely limited, as everyone in the cabin was already deep into their bedtime reading, lights down low. I think the boarding time was a little late to get acquinted.

The train wasn't loud, but you could hear other passengers.
The people of the cabin next door were up quite late talking (in their distinctive accents, did he actually keep saying the word Australia? He's actually talking about being Australian? Or did I imagine that?)

Other than that, there wasnt really engine noise. Just the chuck-a chuck-a chuck-a chuck-a noise of the wheels, the one we're all told trains make when we're children.

With that, the noise lulled me off to sleep, and I woke up the next morning in Berlin.