On the one hand, who wouldn’t like to shower on a train? On the other hand, if the shower enclosure is so small that it cannot stand up again after dropping the soap, this may not be a great idea.
This year is witnessing the glorious resurgence of the night train around Europe, with new routes including Brussels to Prague and Graz, Austria to Warsaw. This month, a particularly significant night train goes into operation, from Hamburg to Stockholm. He will be a “gamechanger,” according to rail travel expert Mark Smith.
But with a summer date in Stockholm, I couldn’t afford to wait until September. So I replicated the trip as best I could, to see what the overnight train ride feels like now that it seems to be back. I traveled on an Interrail pass from London to Hamburg, then headed to Malmö, from where I boarded the slightly older night train that rattled north on the same route that will use the new EuroNight service.
The service, operated by Swedish national rail operator SJ, “will get you from London to Stockholm in nearly 24 hours,” according to Smith, who created the much-consulted website Seat61.com. It will be the “missing link” for travelers from the UK to Sweden, perhaps convincing many to take the train rather than fly. It starts with the Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels and then moves to a high-speed line to Hamburg, after which the speed will decrease but the comfort will increase.
EuroNight covers the 670 miles from Hamburg to Stockholm in 13 hours, starting at 21:00 and, stopping in Copenhagen, and arriving in Stockholm at 10:00.
SJ’s night service from Malmö ended quickly – I only managed four hours of sleep on the six-hour journey. However, the creaking bunk bed was comfortable and the soft mouse rocking was comforting.
Indeed, such a trip is too short for a sleeper service, but the sleeper from Malmö to Stockholm is the best facsimile for the new service. Despite Denmark’s best efforts to derail me (trains were stopped across Zealand for three hours after an electrical fire in a critical junction box), I managed to cross the Øresund rail and road bridge from Copenhagen just in time to join the night train and its vintage Swedish-built sleeping cars.
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The new service will use carriages that were taken out of service by the Austrian railways several years ago. With the resurrection of bunk services across Europe, driven by demand, SJ pulled them out of retirement and they were adapted. Train host Jeanette Andreasson, supervising my journey, told me: “The new couchette cars are not new. [but they are] not as old as these. However, he feared they were a little tighter than the existing ones.
The refurb may be superficial, but it will certainly be better than the carriages from Malmö to Stockholm. The narrowness does not bode well, however. I am small, yet I too have found pressure to shower in Swedish-built carriages, bend down to retrieve the fallen soap and struggle to get up. “You have to lather all over and then you are slippery enough not to get stuck,” laughed Andreasson.
A private bathroom, albeit a tiny one, is a luxury on any train, but on the new service it will only be available as a first-class option. Travelers on a budget can choose a place to snooze, with the next step being space in a six-berth berth (for the first few weeks the entire service will be berth only).
It is still unclear whether you will be woken up at night by border guards – the staff I spoke to on the train thought they could handle passports during the journey, but the train company has suggested other arrangements may be needed – and the journey will end with a packed breakfast.
Meanwhile, mine ended up in the hotel across from Stockholm Central Station, where sleeping passengers can request a breakfast buffet of meats and croissants. There I met, through Zoom, Maja Rosén, co-founder of the organization We Stay on the Ground which coordinates the “flight free” movement, now with chapters around the world.
Rosén lives on an island three hours north of Stockholm and hasn’t flown since 2008. The trip, if it has to be done, would have to be by train, ferry, on foot or by bicycle, he says. The flight must be reduced, she thinks, or there won’t be much world to see.
“We need to cut emissions now, but it’s also about making a statement. Committing to flying free is a very effective way to make the people around you understand that we need to change the way we live. We can’t continue to work as usual, ”says Rosen. “There are so many ways to explore the world without flying.”
One of the most significant hurdles is the financial cost, but my trip wasn’t that expensive for the planet. According to ecopassenger.org, traveling by train to Stockholm emitted 49 kg of carbon dioxide, while a plane emitted up to 380 kg per person. Not only is fuel used more efficiently, but the EuroNight train will run on renewable energy.
Until recently, the Swedes were among the most profligate fliers on the planet. This love affair with flying is fading quickly as the climate crisis is particularly evident in Sweden.
Traveling by train instead of flying certainly seems more virtuous. There is also a Swedish neologism for this feeling: tagskryt – “train advantage” – or how some people, myself included, sing about their long-distance train journeys when others fly.
Some may take this virtue as a sign. Leave. I’ll be the one lying on my back under the Egyptian cotton sheets in a sleeper carriage that swings gently through Schleswig-Holstein and into the night.
The EuroNight service from Hamburg to Stockholm starts on 1 September.