Belgium will get two new night train connections linking Brussels with Berlin and Prague, with the Prague train also stopping in the Netherlands.
The first night train connection is arguably the most exciting of all, as it will connect Belgium and the Netherlands with the Czech Republic.
Called European Sleeper, the new start-up railway company plans to link Brussels and Amsterdam with Prague in April 2022.
Although night trains are making a big comeback in Europe in countries such as Sweden, France and especially Austria, this new train connection is quite special as it is not launched by a national railway company.
European Sleeper is a cooperative founded by two young Dutch railway enthusiasts who managed to set up an impressive framework.
For the night train service from Belgium and the Netherlands to Prague, European Sleeper is cooperating with Czech railway operator RegioJet, a well-established private railway company which already has experience running overnight trains.
Last year, RegioJet introduced a summer service linking the Czech Republic and Slovakia with Croatia, which turned out to be a massive hit among Central European holidaymakers.
Ostend to Prague
For the new railway service, RegioJet will provide the rolling stock of couchette and sleeper wagons.
European Sleeper has already applied for track access with the respective rail infrastructure operators. The overnight train will commence its route in Ostend on the Belgian coast, halting in Bruges, Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp on its way to the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands the train will stop at Roosendaal, Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam. A possible stop in the east of the Netherlands might still be added as well to the timetable.
The train would then transit through Germany at night, halting only at Hanover, before arriving in Berlin in the early morning. From Berlin the train will continue to Prague along the course of the River Elbe, stopping in such places like Dresden and Bad Schandau.
Fares for the train service have yet to be announced.
Brussels to Berlin
Another newcomer on the European night train market is Moonlight Express, which plans to run its own night train service between Brussels and Berlin.
It plans to run its sleeper train from Brussels via Liege into Germany. And while the timetable of European Sleeper is not ideal for those who need to travel to Berlin (the 5.51am Berlin arrival is too early, in my opinion) Moonlight Express plans to offer different timings.
According to Belgian media, the train will depart around 8pm from Brussels and will arrive in Berlin the next day around 9am.
German sleeper cars
Although exact timetables, fares and a commencement date of the new train are all yet unknown, the two Belgian entrepreneurs behind Moonlight Express do have firm plans where to get the rolling stock to operate the service.
They will lease the couchette and sleeper wagons from a German company called RDC.
If all goes according to plan, Moonlight Express hopes to run a thrice-weekly service between Brussels and Berlin.
Earlier this year, the Austrian National Railways (OeBB) also announced plans to run their Nightjet trains from Brussels and Paris with Berlin and Vienna starting in December 2023.
The European night train renaissance was in fact started by OeBB, which a few years ago was about the only European railway company actually investing money in new wagons and planning new routes. And that all at the same time when other companies (most notably Deutsche Bahn – the German national railways) were discontinuing their overnight services.
OeBB has been highly successful with their Nightjet brand and they are by far the single most largest, powerful player on the market.
It raises the obvious question whether there is a market for three night trains linking Belgium with Berlin.
Sure, European Sleeper sets itself apart as their train will continue to Prague and they of course serve the Netherlands as well. Looking at their timetable I don’t think that linking Belgium and the Netherlands with Berlin was ever their main priority, but always just an additional extra given that it is on the route to Prague.
Moonlight Express’ timetables are much better for travellers between Brussels and Berlin as you can leave later in the evening and will arrive in Berlin around 8 or 9am instead of the wee morning hours at 5.50am. It makes the train a lot more attractive for business travellers.
Whether Moonlight Express can take on the might of OeBB on the same Brussels to Berlin route is therefore the main question. Perhaps there is a market for both, maybe one of the two might tweak its plan/route before the final launch.
It will definitely be interesting to watch – I do hope all can eke out a profit and can make these new routes sustainable. The more connectivity, the better it is!
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