Paris: Europe's night trains were all but put to sleep with the advent of budget flights and high-speed rail, but the pandemic appears to be reawakening demand for inter-city sleeper services.
Travellers are increasingly reluctant to risk air travel, departure lounges and security queues. Many would prefer an environmentally friendly alternative to short-haul flights, but Europe's high-speed rail network may not be able to cope with a surge in demand for train travel.
France is planning to revive overnight services that were popular before being overtaken by high-speed lines developed in the past four decades. The first two are due to come into service in 2022, linking Paris with Nice on the Mediterranean and Tarbes in the Pyrenees.
The Swedish government is also to fund two new night train services connecting the cities of Stockholm and Malmö with Hamburg and Brussels.
Charles-Henri Paquette, a spokesman for France's Oui au Train de Nuit (Yes to the Night Train) campaign, said: "Conventional trains need less public funding than other forms of transport, especially compared with high-speed trains that require considerable investment in infrastructure."
A high-speed train from Paris to Marseille takes only three hours, but Guillaume Gontard, a French senator, argued that "only overnight trains allow business travellers to spend the evening with their family and still arrive refreshed at their workplace in the morning".
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has promised to "massively re-develop rail freight service and night trains". Most were abandoned under the previous socialist government, in which he served as a minister, on the grounds that subsidies were costing taxpayers €100 ($164) per passenger.
The Austrian rail operator Osterreichische Bundesbahnen has resumed half of its overnight services connecting Austria, Switzerland and Italy with the German cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.
A new night train network also links the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, and is proving popular with holidaymakers.
The revival of night trains may run into difficulty, however, because of high costs and the need to modernise rolling stock.