BERLIN — Startup railway company European Sleeper launches the first direct sleeper train between Berlin and Brussels in more than a decade on Thursday, but it’s already seeking investment to put on a second scheduled service, running to Spain.
“We’re making good progress” on the financing side for extra carriages, said European Sleeper’s co-founder Chris Engelsman. “This is one of the areas where the European Commission can help.”
Engelsman is hoping to capitalize on a surge in interest in rail as a green alternative to cheap flights with the launch of the Brussels-Berlin service on Thursday evening, which will run via Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp.
The service will run three times a week in each direction, departing Brussels on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:22 p.m. and arriving in Berlin the next morning at 6:48 a.m.
In the opposite direction, the European Sleeper service will depart from Berlin on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10:56 p.m. and roll into Brussels Midi/Zuid at 9:27 a.m. the following morning.
While everything is on track for the launch this week, Engelsman said there’s an urgent need for more renovated carriages so routes can be expanded to meet demand, including by extending the Berlin line to Dresden and Prague from next year.
European Sleeper’s next plan is to launch an Amsterdam-to-Barcelona night train, also via Brussels and potentially Paris, in either 2025 or 2026, he said.
To do that, Engelsman reckons European Sleeper can modernize around 30 carriages (enough to run three 10-carriage trains) at a cost of €40 million to €60 million, with designs already complete for refurbished sleeping cabins and couchette cars.
The plan is bankable, he said, because even if the European Sleeper project ultimately fails, other operators will surely snap up its new rolling stock to run their own routes across Europe.
The Commission has included European Sleeper’s Barcelona project on its list of night train pilot schemes, making it eligible for cash and logistical support.