Sleeper trains from St Pancras?Back to Forum
Anonymous17 Jun 2010
I would like to start a new thread on overnight sleeper trains from St Pancras International. I live and work in London, with frequent meetings on the Continent, and I am very weary of either a very late flight after work followed by a rip-off expensive hotel room I only use to crash out in, or a very early flight the morning of the meeting often requiring a 4.45 am start from home.
Why are there no sleeper trains from St Pancras using the Channel Tunnel? Frankfurt, Vienna, Zurich, Milan, Berlin – all should be within range of an 8-10 hour high speed train from London. Anyone who has tried the sleeper train (“tren-hotel”) between Paris and Madrid for example knows it gives you a nice dinner, a comfortable bed, an acceptable breakfast and arrival in Madrid in time for a 9.00 meeting refreshed and ready. And at a lower price, both in money and stress, than the flight-plus-hotel option.
St Pancras is largely empty after 10.00 pm and has enough platforms to send a fleet of sleeper services to the Continent each night. What are the train operators waiting for?17 Jun 2010
It is interesting, but I believe the limitations are:
– Current Eurostar monopoly on Channel passenger services (which ends shortly);
– Overnight usage of the Tunnel for freight and maintenance, but it does not appear to be severely capacity constrained;
– Sleepers have a utilisation problem in that they can’t be used during daylight hours, sleeper catering is worse in that there is next to no demand for most of the trip but the train still has to carry the weight of the facilities (and the staff). Daylight trains tend to have regular patronage of shops;
– Sleepers are a poor use of carriage space and invariably lose money unless a high premium can be charged for that space and the servicing of it (compared to seats).
Having said that, if a positive business case can be made then bring it on. Note that all UK sleeper trains are heavily subsidised.17 Jun 2010
That is an interesting idea.
Perhaps the door is open for an enterprising operator to launch a sleeper service using open carriages and lie-flat seats like those found in business class aircraft cabins, thus making the carriages usable for daytime services such as VSOE style excursions as well. There is any number of practical problems but I think the idea might appeal to travellers making journeys of 6 – 10 hours.17 Jun 2010
It is a good idea Cedric and whilst the infrastructure is expensive, the suggestion by MichelAngelo is very sound. A two plus one facing and back would have some attraction or indeed a herringbone where everyone gets a window.
Having travelled EDI-Euston on overnight sleeper the service is not bad but lacks the appeal through poor check-in facilities17 Jun 2010
I’m quite intrigued by the thought of using airline seats which fold into a bed on trains. For airline travellers the general expectation for overnight travel is merely a flat bed in a common space, while for train travellers travelling overnight the general expectation is a separate compartment. I am sure this is a result of the fact that one is in an aeroplane for a maximum of 18 hours, while one can be in a train for several days.
I am not sure how the two cultures would mix and whether train travellers would accept the hugely reduced amenity of airline overnight accommodation if it were just for one short night. If it works it might solve many of the concerns, but it is a big if.18 Jun 2010
I don’t think the Club World concept would work for journeys of a number of days Cedric. It would perhaps to places like Frankfurt, Luxembourg and other sightly further northern European cities.
If you think about it an evening meal could be taken in a lounge (al la BA Sleeper service) with an at seat breakfast service. A lounge at the other end for a shower.
Somehow I don’t think that anyone will take the plunge, certainly not at present. But this idea does give the full use of the rolling stock day and night.18 Jun 2010
It would be interesting if sleeper trains adopted open airline-style seating just as airlines were putting first class passengers into individual cabins.
Two requirements are decent lounges at both ends (think 19th century railway hotel across the road, not a Virgin Trains coffee lounge) and security and service onboard (on bo.ard staff in every locked carriage and no intermediate stops in the middle of the night). The space and weight restrictions are an opportunity for innovations.
The 22.00 Yotel service to Frankfurt, anyone?18 Jun 2010
I, for one, would certainly give such a service serious consideration. For me to get to my companies head office (Solothurn, Switzerland) takes about 7 hours door to door, meaning a very early start to get there for lunchtime and an overnight stay in order to make it worthwhile. Of course the early morning does no one any favours.
The opportunity set off late in the evening and wake up early morning in Zurich in time to catch a connecting train would be very welcome. It would also mean I could then fly home that evening on the last plane and pack in a full day in the office with minimal impact on the working week.
Is half a day of my time worth a couple of hundred pounds? Absolutely.19 Jun 2010
Interestingly, I had meetings in Edinburgh and wanted to catch up with a friend in the evening. If I flew back to LHR I would have had to say hello and good bye in about half an hour. I had a meeting in LON at 1000 next day.
The opportunity to have a meal and a drink and set off at 2340 was great. Combinations like that save time and money. Sadly no shower facilities in Edinburgh which takes the shine off doing it the otherway around.19 Jun 2010
With apologies to John, to whom this was an emailed reply:
I spent 4 years (and a good deal of my own money) running a research project on exactly the same thing (the London Direct Sleeper Group). The project was wound up last year after we completed a business plan. I spent a good deal of time talking to everyone: UK and French government officials, EU bureaucrats, train manufacturers, security consultants, government security customs and immigration agencies etc. It was a tortuous process with no one wanting to give anything away. However we were able to come up with a business model that suited almost everyone.
First, the trains will need to be capable of 300km/h; this is because they need to run fast enough to only need one Eurostar path. As sleepers can only accommodate 20-30% of the numbers of passengers per unit length of train, compared with a day train, the units would have to be double-deck to be more cost-effective. The Nightstar service model was doomed before it turned a wheel because of the weight of the rolling stock, slowness and the requirement for external traction (sometimes double-headed). As they were also built to a minimum UK loading gauge they were very confined inside, in addition to all the extra equipment they needed inside. For that reason any night trains running from St Pancras will need to be high-speed multiple units, not loco-hauled stock. As multiple units running to a variety of destinations in Europe the trains would have to be fitted for at least 12 signalling systems and for running under 4 overhead voltages. This is a lot easier than it used to be. The also need to be certificated for long high-speed tunnels, which requires the fitment of all kinds of specialised safety equipment. Needless to say they would be very expensive trains. In short, you cannot use loco-hauled ex-Wagons Lits stock through the Channel Tunnel. But even with all that there is the fundamental issue of security.
Every man, woman and child travelling on a passenger train through the Channel Tunnel must past through airport style security (luggage irradiation & metal detector arch). So that if your sleeper was able to leave St Pancras it wouldn’t be able to return with any passengers unless the station they leave from has an equivalent security check to that at St Pancras, Paris Nord or Bruxelles Midi. This is a not inconsiderable infrastructure expense. We suggested running security checks from the train, but unless you were at a terminus station the platform dwells would have been far too long, we also looked into near-future scanning technology but that was not backed as ‘not being the same as’ the current Eurostar agreement. It became an impasse. Technologically nearly everything was possible today, but for the security arrangement. It is interesting that it is possible to ride trains from Stockholm to Sevilla without having to show your passport or having your baggage irradiated due to the Schengen Zone agreement, but as the UK is outside that anyone wanting to run a train through to the continent has to deal with Fortress Britain, which is very difficult to unpick. Paris and Bruxelles are too close to run night trains to, so our business plan is with DB, who might have the resources to build security infrastructure at Koln of Frankfurt, or Berlin. They are really the only active players looking at new services; however with the current economic crisis it is unlikely to happen very soon. But I live in hope.
As to your own research, I’m afraid that although there is ready market for such a service (however, you would have to run 70-80% full every night on 3% interest on around a 1bn Euro investment on 8 routes) you will probably come to the same conclusions. The security issue is the real difficulty, and I certainly spent too much time on that with absolutely no movement.21 Jun 2010
Many thanks for that information myxguerra, I assume that your reserach was carried out on the basis of sleepers in the sense of individual compartments.
What we have discussed here is the Club World style lie flat bed as used by BA, this gives the versitility of a luxury day seat (with the option to lie flat an have a sleep) and a bed during the night. There would be no reason why such a seat could not be fitted to a standard Eurostar carriage. In fact by using such stock would also allow for seated overnight accomodation as well. Therefore the issues regarding what stock to use or not is negated as you use the same stock as now except it is configured internall different to standard LON-PAR/BRU stock.
Clearly in our discussions above we have not considered the security implications. Frankly I would not want to see Fortress Britian unpicked at all and it is unlikley it would be anyway. But if there is a way to maintain the security and offer the service it would be appealing to many.21 Jun 2010
I read in one of the Rail Trades back when the Eurostar was first developed some sleeper rolling stock was built. There were plans for both sleeper services and also through trains from other UK destinations. Both of these were killed of before launchf. Not sure which country bought the sleepers. Perhaps other members can help?18 Jul 2011