A train ride from Paris to Rome can take 13 hours, while a direct flight is just a little over two hours. But if you could make the journey overnight in a private sleeper car with a private bathroom—and easy access to a cozy bar if you don’t feel like sleeping—you might choose the experience over flying.
At least that’s the bet made by Midnight Trains, a French startup that is one of a growing number of night train services in Europe. The company argues that since trains have a much smaller carbon footprint than planes, it’s important to improve them so that a train ride can better compete with air travel. “We want to have a real impact and to convince others to stop flying,” says Romain Payet, cofounder of Midnight Trains. “In order to do so we have to reinvent night train experience and services.”
The basic concept of a night train is far from new: Comfortable sleeping cars on trains first became popular in the 1860s in the United States, eventually leading to the launch of the Orient Express in Europe in the late 1800s. But even in Europe, where it’s easier to travel between cities on trains than it is in the U.S., night trains have been dropping in popularity until recently. In 2015, the German rail company Deutsche Bahn ditched “City Night Line,” a service that was losing money as discount airlines offered ultracheap tickets. (The national railway in Austria has since taken it over and is modernizing the trains.)