Murder on the Orient Express: why sleeper trains are more than just a romantic notion of travel

Murder on the Orient Express: why sleeper trains are more than just a romantic notion of travel


With the nth version of Murder on the Orient Express back in the cinema, sleeper trains are slowly swimming back into the popular consciousness. There’s something inherently romantic about the idea of being gently rocked to sleep in your bed before waking up in a new landscape which means that services continue to cling on even in the age of low cost air travel. Whether it’s the idea of trying to solve a murder in a snowdrift, or make your way to a new life in the Western Isles in the peerless 1945 I Know Where I’m Going!, people still like the idea of a slower way of travel.

Actually the economics make perfect sense – I’ve been an enthusiastic user of the sleeper services to Cornwall and Scotland for years. They combine the hotel room with the transport and mean that you arrive at your destination first thing in the morning and ready to face the day.

Of course, the UK sleeper services are not quite the Orient Express, but for a modest fee you can leave the fume-filled caverns of Euston station late in the evening and wake up to the Highlands gliding past your window in the dawn light. GWR have carried out an extensive range of improvements to their Night Riviera stock, Serco are procuring new carriages for the Scottish services, and the long held criticisms over the lack of power sockets in the cabins are being addressed. Personally however, I like being cut off from the rest of the world for a bit.

The Orient Express has recently announced a refit for its own stock – one that will give en-suite bathroom facilities to its passengers for the first time – that’s still a long way off for UK travellers. Although these are going to be undoubtedly bijou in size, I’ve experienced similar standards of comfort on South Africa’s Blue Train in the past, and little things like that turn a good travel experience into a great one. I’m less keen to try the multi-occupancy cabins that are common in Eastern Europe and India, but the UK sleeper services are something to savour. In fact, with Edinburgh calling, I’m off to Euston tonight!

Matthew Wheeldon Matthew Wheeldon