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Start-up 'European Sleeper' announces Brussels - Amsterdam - Berlin - Prague

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Wolfie

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Yes, it would be a lot easier if the UK accepted border controls on arrival in St. Pancras, just as they do in Heathrow. Every train through the Tunnel will likely remain reservation-only with passengers registered and a passenger manifest can be checked before the trains departure from its last stop on the continent.

You would still need security controls when boarding such trains on the continent, but this should be easier to organize and much cheaper for the train operator than having to pay towards outstationed UK border control personnel, as E* currently have to do.
Re your first para it's never, given the asylum issue, going to happen.
 
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biko

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This start-up now also features in an article by the Observer:

The dream ticket: sleeper trains could soon run from London to Europe’s cities​


It is being hailed as the latest evidence of a new dawn for the European sleeper train. Citing changes in attitude wrought by the two crises of the climate emergency and the Covid pandemic, a new night service in 2022 was announced last week between Brussels and Prague, stopping at Amsterdam, Berlin and Dresden, with tickets expected to cost from €60 one way.
They focus on the plan of the founders to extend to London in the future, but I get the impression it merely is a dream. The article even explains the technical barriers to extension, something I am not used to in general journalism.

The most interesting part of the article and most relevant to this topic, they seem to want to let the sleeper connect to and from Eurostar:
The pan-continental sleeper will coordinate with Eurostar service timetables when the first new night train pulls away from a platform at Brussels Midi station next spring.
 

Aictos

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This start-up now also features in an article by the Observer:


They focus on the plan of the founders to extend to London in the future, but I get the impression it merely is a dream. The article even explains the technical barriers to extension, something I am not used to in general journalism.

The most interesting part of the article and most relevant to this topic, they seem to want to let the sleeper connect to and from Eurostar:
IF they do managed to make it a success then I think I found my preferred routing to Germany especially if it saves the cost of a hotel stay overnight.
 

Austriantrain

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Re your first para it's never, given the asylum issue, going to happen.

I know. It’s just that I don’t understand it (actually, I do of course... politics).
The risk of asylum seekers arriving in a tightly controlled train with all passengers registered and pre-cleared is minimal (the real risk, as we know, are freight trains and lorries) and for the couple of passengers which, while pre-cleared, are not admitted to the UK on arrival at St Pancras, forcing the train operator to take them back (just like airlines have to) and to pay hefty fines should be enough.
 
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Wolfie

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I know. It’s just that I don’t understand it (actually, I do of course... politics).
The risk of asylum seekers arriving in a tightly controlled train with all passengers registered and pre-cleared is minimal (the real risk, as we know, are freight trains and lorries) and for the couple of passengers which, while pre-cleared, are not admitted to the UK on arrival at St Pancras, forcing the train operator to take them back (just like airlines have to) and to pay hefty fines should be enough.
If they claim asylum at St Pancras just sending them back is far from easy.
 

RT4038

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There are facilities for passport control at St Pancras too; and you could make sure that people were pre-registered on the train. In the days of the Night Ferry, the sleeper passengers did their checks at Victoria.
I don't think there are proper inward passport control facilities at St.Pancras, and there is not the space to hold large quantities of passengers (i.e. a fully laden E*) awaiting Control, without significant [i.e. expensive] modifications.

However, It might be possible to deal with a sleeping car train arrival, which almost by definition would have fewer passengers, if passengers pre-registered and Sleeping car staff checked immigration documents at the car door before boarding. (i.e. as happens at an airport before a flight to the UK)
However this would require:
(a) Only London passengers travelling in the train.
(b) Significant dwell time capacity in foreign station platforms to enable the Sleeping car staff to securely carry out the check, and deal with any queries.
(c) The sleeping car operator paying for sufficient UKBA staff to be present for passenger processing on arrival of the train at St P.

This doesn't get over the security requirement of electronically screening baggage, which would probably require platform(s) to be 'sterilised' and passengers bags checked before arrival of the train, which in turn would require security staff at those stations for an hour (?) only, but you'd probably have to pay for a whole shift.

Makes it all very expensive!
 

algytaylor

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I'd suggest that, until such time as the UK government has a major change-of-heart (or decides to join the Schengen area :p), there is little value in fantasising about cross-Channel sleepers.
I'd wonder are they even necessary? If there were guaranteed connection Eurostar services to connect with existing sleeper trains running from Brussels Midi, I'd have thought you'd get a wider range of potential destinations without having to deal with all the complications of running services through the Channel Tunnel.
 

Wolfie

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I'd wonder are they even necessary? If there were guaranteed connection Eurostar services to connect with existing sleeper trains running from Brussels Midi, I'd have thought you'd get a wider range of potential destinations without having to deal with all the complications of running services through the Channel Tunnel.
Fair comment. Many people would ideally prefer to avoid a change of train though.
 

RT4038

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I'd wonder are they even necessary? If there were guaranteed connection Eurostar services to connect with existing sleeper trains running from Brussels Midi, I'd have thought you'd get a wider range of potential destinations without having to deal with all the complications of running services through the Channel Tunnel.
I suppose the issue is that this will considerably reduce the potential market - these overnight trains are going to arrive in Brussels after the conclusion of the morning peak (because Brussels is the end of the journey via The Netherlands), so allowing a buffer for late running and check-in time, London will not be reached until roughly mid-day. Fine by rail enthusiast tourists, but not much else.
 

algytaylor

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Fair comment. Many people would ideally prefer to avoid a change of train though.
Yeah, I guess ... could be a short-to-medium term measure to see which routes were commercially viable, and give provision for routes which aren't from London but have a service from Brussels or Paris.

I suppose the issue is that this will considerably reduce the potential market - these overnight trains are going to arrive in Brussels after the conclusion of the morning peak (because Brussels is the end of the journey via The Netherlands), so allowing a buffer for late running and check-in time, London will not be reached until roughly mid-day. Fine by rail enthusiast tourists, but not much else.
Ah yeah, I'd thought about outbound journeys, but you're right ... that doesn't solve the inbound issue at all. Perhaps a one-way sleeper service from Frankfurt to London, with no intermediate stops? I mean, if you're travelling from Paris or Brussels then you'd probably get an early morning Eurostar anyway, so you're just dealing with folk coming in from central, southern, or eastern Europe.
 

30907

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I suppose the issue is that this will considerably reduce the potential market - these overnight trains are going to arrive in Brussels after the conclusion of the morning peak (because Brussels is the end of the journey via The Netherlands), so allowing a buffer for late running and check-in time, London will not be reached until roughly mid-day. Fine by rail enthusiast tourists, but not much else.
Leaving aside 5he practicalities, it's unlikely that European Sleeper or OeBB would rejig their timetables to allow a substantially earlier arrival in London than is possible by changing at Brussels.
European Sleeper reckon their prime Benelux market is Amsterdam and for OeBB there's (at present) Koeln, Amsterdam and Hamburg to consider.
 

Austriantrain

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If they claim asylum at St Pancras just sending them back is far from easy.

If all passengers are pre-cleared before boarding to see whether they are entitled to enter the UK, it is very unlikely that they will claim asylum on arrival.

Same thing happens in air traffic all the time. On any cheap flight from the continent, you could in theory have dozens of passengers who want to claim asylum on arrival at Stansted (ticket prices on budget airlines are not a deterrent). The reason they don’t is that a passenger manifest will be submitted before departure and anyone not eligible to enter the UK will not be allowed to board. Hefty fines (and probably the threat to revoke their flight permissions) ensure that airlines comply.
 
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BRX

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It would be great to have sleeper services starting from St Pancras but it seems very unlikely to me that it would happen any time soon, unless all these revitalised night services on the continent proved to be even more popular than hoped.

Aside from all the customs/security stuff wouldn't the biggest barrier be rolling stock? You would either need to refit an existing EMU as a one-off design that's not been done before, or use existing designs of hauled stock but then find something that could take it through the tunnel... and it doesn't seem there's a surplus of tunnel-compliant locomotives at the moment or any plan to build some new ones!
 

Wolfie

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If all passengers are pre-cleared before boarding to see whether they are entitled to enter the UK, it is very unlikely that they will claim asylum on arrival.

Same thing happens in air traffic all the time. On any cheap flight from the continent, you could in theory have dozens of passengers who want to claim asylum on arrival at Stansted (ticket prices on budget airlines are not a deterrent). The reason they don’t is that a passenger manifest will be submitted before departure and anyone not eligible to enter the UK will not be allowed to board. Hefty fines (and probably the threat to revoke their flight permissions) ensure that airlines comply.
I know. I also know that some people travel on fake documents and/or destroy their documents en route.
 

Aictos

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It would be great to have sleeper services starting from St Pancras but it seems very unlikely to me that it would happen any time soon, unless all these revitalised night services on the continent proved to be even more popular than hoped.

Aside from all the customs/security stuff wouldn't the biggest barrier be rolling stock? You would either need to refit an existing EMU as a one-off design that's not been done before, or use existing designs of hauled stock but then find something that could take it through the tunnel... and it doesn't seem there's a surplus of tunnel-compliant locomotives at the moment or any plan to build some new ones!
Exactly, it would be far easier to ensure reasonable connections at Brussels between Eurostar, Thalys, sleepers etc
 

Austriantrain

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I know. I also know that some people travel on fake documents and/or destroy their documents en route.

Of course. But again, no difference to a flight, were immigration controls (almost) always take place after arrival.
 

RT4038

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I know. I also know that some people travel on fake documents and/or destroy their documents en route.
But that is no different to arriving by aeroplane.

Clearly it would be possible to run a sleeping car train from the Continent through to London if the circumstances applicable to an aircraft can be replicated.
If all passengers are pre-cleared before boarding to see whether they are entitled to enter the UK, it is very unlikely that they will claim asylum on arrival.

Same thing happens in air traffic all the time. On any cheap flight from the continent, you could in theory have dozens of passengers who want to claim asylum on arrival at Stansted (ticket prices on budget airlines are not a deterrent). The reason they don’t is that a passenger manifest will be submitted before departure and anyone not eligible to enter the UK will not be allowed to board. Hefty fines (and probably the threat to revoke their flight permissions) ensure that airlines comply.
It is not just the submission of a passenger manifest, it is airline staff checking travel documents very carefully before allowing a passenger to travel. They have to be fully trained on acceptable documentation for entry into UK, and take no chances.

So, from a practical point of view, it would be quite possible to run a sleeping car train from, say, Frankfurt to London, which could conceivably be done in about 6-7 hours. There would need to be a secure platform available at Frankfurt and somewhere to do the check-in/passport and security checks. The train staff could conceivably do some of both these tasks, possibly coming on duty an hour or two before train departure to security sweep the platform and process the passengers, with maybe some extra security/Politzei hired in.
It would not really be practical (as in cost effective) for this train to stop at any other station, as the security costs would be too great because it would need external staff securing a platform.

On arrival at St Pancras a full complement of UK Border Force would be required, entirely paid for by the Sleeper train, as ordinary E* services do not require this.

It would be a brave move for any operator to think that a full load (or thereabouts) of passengers could be attracted for a non-(public) stop night express of say Frankfurt-London, at ticket prices which would cover the operating costs plus the extra security/immigration staff costs. This is without the capital costs of the rolling stock, the difficulty of obtaining such already mentioned.
 
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biko

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But that is no different to arriving by aeroplane.

Clearly it would be possible to run a sleeping car train from the Continent through to London if the circumstances applicable to an aircraft can be replicated.

It is not just the submission of a passenger manifest, it is airline staff checking travel documents very carefully before allowing a passenger to travel. They have to be fully trained on acceptable documentation for entry into UK, and take no chances.

So, from a practical point of view, it would be quite possible to run a sleeping car train from, say, Frankfurt to London, which could conceivably be done in about 6-7 hours. There would need to be a secure platform available at Frankfurt and somewhere to do the check-in/passport and security checks. The train staff could conceivably do some of both these tasks, possibly coming on duty an hour or two before train departure to security sweep the platform and process the passengers, with maybe some extra security/Politzei hired in.
It would not really be practical (as in cost effective) for this train to stop at any other station, as the security costs would be too great because it would need external staff securing a platform.

On arrival at St Pancras a full complement of UK Border Force would be required, entirely paid for by the Sleeper train, as ordinary E* services do not require this.

It would be a brave move for any operator to think that a full load (or thereabouts) of passengers could be attracted for a non-(public) stop night express of say Frankfurt-London, at ticket prices which would cover the operating costs plus the extra security/immigration staff costs. This is without the capital costs of the rolling stock, the difficulty of obtaining such already mentioned.
There is one more complication you forgot: German police need to do exit checks from the Schengen area with a secured area after passing that check. On airports that is easy, but on a station it's a bit more complicated.
 

Austriantrain

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There is one more complication you forgot: German police need to do exit checks from the Schengen area with a secured area after passing that check. On airports that is easy, but on a station it's a bit more complicated.

Actually, if you did that, you would probably have French border personnel in St Pancras doing these checks immediately before the British controls. And then, you would probably centralize such controls there for all Cross-Channel services instead of carrying them out in Paris, Lille, Brussels etc... the most expensive thing would probably to build space for it at St Pancras;)

And more than for night trains, such a system would be useful for Eurostar, since they could serve a wider range of destinations if a border control outstation wouldn’t have to be established everywhere.

So checks by qualified station staff at each stop (which you need anyway for the security checks) and a segregated waiting area (which you also need for after the security checks anyway) and platform would be necessary.

However, no reason not to have intermediate stops to pick up passengers, provided they have these features as well.

It’s not that I don’t completely agree with you that this is generally so onerous that nobody would take the chance.

However, in very rare cases (less so for night trains - and there, obviously rolling stock is at least as much of a problem - more so e.g. for a E* Frankfurt - London) it could just work and it really is the UK insistence to have immigration officers outstationed (which is obviously much more expensive than „normal“ station staff) that makes a difference.

As for night trains, E* to Brussels and sleeper from there will be the only possible future, probably. Unfortunately there is no really good connecting station for trains towards Italy or Spain, which might actually be more attractive for UK travelers.
 
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RT4038

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Actually, if you did that, you would probably have French border personnel in St Pancras doing these checks immediately before the British controls.
This could be possible, but would require amendments to the treaty, which may have the problem that persons have already left Schengen soil, especially with dual nationals.
And more than for night trains, such a system would be useful for Eurostar, since they could serve a wider range of destinations if a border control outstation wouldn’t have to be established everywhere.
Except that the Sleeper train would be arriving early in the morning, whereas the E* trains from longer distances would more likely be arriving in the afternoon, and could not be dealt with by the same set of officials due to shift length.
However, no reason not to have intermediate stops to pick up passengers, provided they have these features as well.
There is no technical reason, just the practical economic reason that the check-in/security staff at each intermediate stop would likely be employed to deal with one train only, and therefore an expensive overhead per passenger! Obviously intra-Schengen passengers could not be conveyed without additional security measures.
It’s not that I don’t completely agree with you that this is generally so onerous that nobody would take the chance. However, in very rare cases (less so for night trains - and there, obviously rolling stock is at least as much of a problem - more so e.g. for a E* Frankfurt - London) it could just work and it really is the UK insistence to have immigration officers outstationed (which is obviously much more expensive than „normal“ station staff) that makes a difference.
I don't think there is a blanket insistence by the UK authorities to have immigration officers outstationed. If E* wish to comply with the same rules as the airlines, i.e. stlll having check-in but by their own staff, and paying for the (expensive) extensive remodelling and expansion of the arrival facilities at St. Pancras [including ongoing paying for the inevitable retail space lost] then I am sure they could have it. However, it would be a worsening of experience for most of their passengers, who will still have to arrive early for check in at Paris and Brussels, and then queue for clearance at St. Pancras.

For the extra business they are likely to get on long distance services, which by their very journey time are less likely to be competitive with airlines, would it be worth it?
 

biko

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Actually, if you did that, you would probably have French border personnel in St Pancras doing these checks immediately before the British controls. And then, you would probably centralize such controls there for all Cross-Channel services instead of carrying them out in Paris, Lille, Brussels etc... the most expensive thing would probably to build space for it at St Pancras;)

And more than for night trains, such a system would be useful for Eurostar, since they could serve a wider range of destinations if a border control outstation wouldn’t have to be established everywhere.

So checks by qualified station staff at each stop (which you need anyway for the security checks) and a segregated waiting area (which you also need for after the security checks anyway) and platform would be necessary.

However, no reason not to have intermediate stops to pick up passengers, provided they have these features as well.

It’s not that I don’t completely agree with you that this is generally so onerous that nobody would take the chance.

However, in very rare cases (less so for night trains - and there, obviously rolling stock is at least as much of a problem - more so e.g. for a E* Frankfurt - London) it could just work and it really is the UK insistence to have immigration officers outstationed (which is obviously much more expensive than „normal“ station staff) that makes a difference.

As for night trains, E* to Brussels and sleeper from there will be the only possible future, probably. Unfortunately there is no really good connecting station for trains towards Italy or Spain, which might actually be more attractive for UK travelers.
Not sure about the first point actually. I would think that it is illogical to let people leave a country while they possibly are not allowed to. But it doesn't matter, it will never happen...

For the rest, I agree. The specific UK requirements make it impossible.

Night trains to Spain and Italy might also start and finish in Brussels, it won't be that much of a time penalty seen on the full trip. Otherwise a Lille portion might do the job.
 

Austriantrain

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Not sure about the first point actually. I would think that it is illogical to let people leave a country while they possibly are not allowed to.

Exit controls are not generally meant to stop people leaving - we are not the GDR - but about knowing who is in your country and who might be overstaying their welcome.

For everything else, I think we agree. In theory, a lot is feasible, in practice, we will most probably not even see additional E*- (or post-E*-services) apart from maybe a couple of seasonal „club med“ services modelled on the Marseille train.
 

RT4038

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Exit controls are not generally meant to stop people leaving - we are not the GDR - but about knowing who is in your country and who might be overstaying their welcome.
But they come in handy deterring and catching criminals trying to evade the Authorities.
For everything else, I think we agree. In theory, a lot is feasible, in practice, we will most probably not even see additional E*- (or post-E*-services) apart from maybe a couple of seasonal „club med“ services modelled on the Marseille train.
I travel regularly from the Midlands to Vienna by train, to visit friends. It is a long journey in a day 06h00-23h00, worrying about connections. It would be great on a through Sleeping Car from London, but that would probably be £500 each way, so I doubt I'd actually use it! In the meantime let's concentrate on getting the connections right. and the day price somewhere affordable.
 

Austriantrain

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I travel regularly from the Midlands to Vienna by train, to visit friends. It is a long journey in a day 06h00-23h00, worrying about connections. It would be great on a through Sleeping Car from London, but that would probably be £500 each way, so I doubt I'd actually use it! In the meantime let's concentrate on getting the connections right. and the day price somewhere affordable.

The only thing I wanted to point out is that it should not be a given that UK immigration have to take place at the point of departure.

Other than that, I completely agree.
 

Austriantrain

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Quite right.

If E* and the operators currently setting up night trains from Brussels get their act together and have decent connections and easy-to-buy, economic through fares, the outlook could actually be quite positive. Based on past experience, this is a big „if“, though.
 

BRX

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If E* and the operators currently setting up night trains from Brussels get their act together and have decent connections and easy-to-buy, economic through fares, the outlook could actually be quite positive. Based on past experience, this is a big „if“, though.
Yes - just sorting some through-fares would be an achievement in itself. Like used to be possible with DB!
 

jamesontheroad

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Paging @Moderating team - can we have a thread tidy-up here? Customs and immigration controls at St Pancras have nothing to do with the original discussion. Thanks!
 

Wolfie

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But they come in handy deterring and catching criminals trying to evade the Authorities.
Not to mention stopping potential terrorists outbound e.g. lots of folk were stopped from heading for Syria a couple of years ago.
 
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