From train guard to CEO: Meet the Dutchman who crowdfunded night train start-up European Sleeper

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We spoke with European Sleeper co-founder Elmer van Buuren astir the challenges and triumphs successful mounting up his caller nighttime bid company.

“I've been dreaming of having my ain bid institution for implicit 20 years,” says Elmer van Buuren.

The Dutch entrepreneur’s imagination is yet astir to travel true. Next week, the nighttime bid institution helium co-founded successful 2021 - European Sleeper - volition deed the tracks.

Capitalising connected Europe’s budding bid renaissance, Elmer and his concern spouse Chris Engelsman saw an accidental and grasped it: “I decided if I privation to marque it happen, it should beryllium present due to the fact that nighttime trains are successful everyone’s focus.”

Euronews Travel caught up with Elmer up of the sleeper bid company’s Berlin-Amsterdam-Brussels launch connected 25 May.

What challenges has European Sleeper had to overcome?

Even with 16 years’ acquisition moving successful the obstruction industry, mounting up a night train institution from scratch has been nary casual feat.

“It is precise hard and challenging to acceptable up an planetary bid service,” says Elmer, who erstwhile worked arsenic a bid defender connected the Dutch railways. He has since held roles successful railway task management, postulation power and consulting.

Cross borderline timetables

In particular, “coordination betwixt the countries is really, truly challenging.” In each country, determination are antithetic organisations liable for the timetable, helium explains.

Track works aren’t coordinated either - and since they are typically scheduled astatine night they often propulsion schedules into disarray.

“We effort to beryllium truly transparent and support everyone updated [when determination are changes],” says Elmer.

Trains instrumentality up a batch of abstraction successful a parking lot

Alongside scheduling issues, operators indispensable grapple with wherever to park, work and cleanable the trains erstwhile they are not successful usage during the day.

“There needs to beryllium a wide strategy if we privation to pull much radical to instrumentality the bid alternatively of a plane oregon car,” says Elmer. “It means that we request to enactment importantly much trains connected the tracks, but it besides means that we request importantly much abstraction to work them.”

He says much concern is needed successful servicing infrastructure. “And it is simply a work of the subordinate states successful Europe to marque that happen.”

Carriages are astatine a premium

Another contented has been obtaining capable carriages to motorboat caller services. The institution is presently refurbishing rolling banal to guarantee it maintains its momentum.

Where does the wealth travel from?

Financing this has not ever been easy.

“We are a startup… truthful don't person a large way grounds of operating trains for galore years,” says Elmer. “So it is precise risky from the position of financiers.”

Gaining semipermanent investment is adjacent harder. Train operators request to use annually for way capacity. “And that means that you cannot truly beryllium that you tin nutrient your merchandise for the adjacent 10 years,” explains Elmer, who turned to crowdfunding to concern his venture.

In May 2021, European Sleeper raised €500,000 successful effect superior by selling shares to much than 350 tiny investors. In a caller circular conscionable earlier summertime 2022, it sold shares worthy €2,000,000 to 1,400 caller investors.

Now, Elmer is banking connected assistance from the EU to code roadblocks betwixt subordinate states.

“If we had a model statement crossed the borders that would guarantee… we volition get the capableness for the adjacent 10 years, that would highly de-risk the concern and get financiers connected board.”

An EU regulatory model is already successful spot to enactment this, Elmer adds, “but we request the subordinate states and infrastructure managers… to marque it happen.”

How is European Sleeper doing things differently?

European Sleeper joins conscionable a fistful of different operators providing nighttime trains crossed Europe.

Leading the battalion is Austria’s Nightjet, followed by Sweden’s Snälltåget. France’s Midnight Trains is besides coming down the enactment successful 2025.

“Of people we are competitors by definition,” says Elmer, “but we are besides moving unneurotic due to the fact that we're facing the aforesaid challenges.

“We besides cognize that nary of america tin service the full continent by themselves. So basically, I would accidental we are affable competitors.”

Where European Sleeper plans to acceptable itself isolated is successful the lawsuit acquisition and the booking process.

The institution hopes to marque summons income disposable done arsenic galore income channels arsenic imaginable - the trouble of booking trains compared to flights is 1 of the biggest barriers for travellers.

“We're moving connected Interrail astatine the moment,” says Elmer. “We deliberation that it volition beryllium disposable precise soon.”

They are besides moving hard connected making their ain booking level intuitive and lawsuit focused.

“I deliberation that we person a spot of an vantage of mounting up everything from scratch, meaning that we tin person a spot much accidental of doing it close from the beginning,” says Elmer.

What tin you expect erstwhile travelling connected European Sleeper?

European Sleeper offers 3 classes. The sleeping cars are the astir comfy and outgo from €129 per idiosyncratic for a instrumentality from Berlin to Brussels. This includes meal conscionable earlier you scope your destination. They diagnostic compartment beds for a maximum of 3 people, positive a washbasin and seating area.

Small groups and families tin publication couchettes (from €89 per person, including breakfast), with compartments for 4 oregon six people. Budget travellers tin opt for a spot (from €59), with six per compartment.

Although catering volition initially beryllium limited, meal volition beryllium provided for couchette and sleeper passengers. Some drinks and snacks volition besides beryllium disposable connected board.

“We're reasoning of implementing a eating car besides successful the comparatively abbreviated word but it volition not beryllium determination close from the start,” says Elmer.

Trains volition initially tally from Brussels to Berlin 3 times a week connected Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, with the instrumentality travel connected Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Who should question connected European Sleeper?

Although nighttime trains thin to beryllium much costly than fund flights, they are dilatory but surely becoming more affordable.

Combining your travel with an overnight enactment is not lone a savvy mode to prevention time, it besides saves connected accommodation costs.

“I deliberation that radical who instrumentality the nighttime train are astute travellers who recognize that you tin usage the nighttime to travel,” says Elmer. “Because you're sleeping you don't truly announcement the region that you're covering astatine the aforesaid time.”

For this reason, helium sees its imaginable for some concern and leisure travellers of each ages.

“Obviously the much privateness and the much comfortableness you want, the higher the summons terms volition be.”

Budget travellers tin opt for the seated people to prevention money.

“If you comparison it to a edifice positive a bid ticket, I deliberation the nighttime bid has a precise competitory price,” says Elmer. “If you're sitting connected a autobus of people it's cheaper, but you don't get rather the aforesaid experience.”

What’s adjacent for European Sleeper?

European Sleeper plans to widen its Brussels-Berlin way to Prague successful outpouring 2024.

The institution is already moving connected different task linking Amsterdam, Brussels and Barcelona. It is slated to motorboat successful outpouring 2025 and volition besides service the northbound and southbound of France, including Lille.

“So it volition beryllium a transportation that tin beryllium utilized from the Netherlands and from Belgium and from the United Kingdom to question to Provence, to Côte d'Azur and to Barcelona,” says Elmer.

This work has been selected by the European Commission arsenic 1 of 10 aviator projects that purpose to amended train travel and slash emissions crossed Europe - thing that has been adjuvant successful giving the institution “a benignant of authoritative stamp,” says Elmer.

European Sleeper launches its archetypal ever service, from Berlin to Brussels via Amsterdam, connected Thursday 25 May 2023. The company’s ambition is to present a caller bid transportation each year.

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