I tested the new-generation Nightjet night train

Öbb, the Austrian railroads, have designed a new-generation night train, the Nightjet, which is a concentrate of innovations. This is a major event for the night train market in Europe.

In January 2024, I tested the new Nightjet, between Hamburg and Innsbruck, in two different classes on the outward and return journeys.

This comprehensive article aims to be a reference for describing the customer experience of this new train.

My unsponsored test of the Hamburg Innsbruck Hamburg route

In November 2023, Öbb, the Austrian railroads, presented their brand new night train during a 48-hour VIP trip across Austria.

This was a major event because, for at least 50 years, no railway company had developed any major innovations in this field.

As a “young” blogger, I wasn’t invited to this VIP event. So I bought myself a return ticket from Hamburg to Innsbruck last January to test the new Nightjet. I don’t regret it, as I was able to experience the journey as real travelers do.

On the outward journey, I tested the revolutionary concept of the mini-cabin, an alternative to the couchette.

On the way back, I tested the Comfort Plus cabin, the top-of-the-range cabin on this train.

Öbb’s ambition: to be Europe’s leading night train operator

The Öbb is the only national railway company in Europe with a strategy for developing night trains. This is largely due to Vienna’s central location and the difficulty for this small, mountainous country to create a network of high-speed lines.

In 2015, Öbb first acquired the old night train fleet of DB, the German railroads, to quickly launch their European network on a large scale. These are the trains used on the Paris-Vienna and Paris-Berlin lines.

Öbb soon realized that they would have to invest in innovative equipment to appeal to new customers who were reluctant to use the current night train service.

Together with German rail manufacturer Siemens Mobility, the Öbb have developed a new-generation Nightjet. It’s an audacious gamble, since the two railway giants, France’s SNCF and Germany’s DB, keep saying that night trains are economically unviable without substantial subsidies from their governments. The Öbb want to prove otherwise.

Siemens plant (image from Siemens)

33 new Nightjets have been ordered

The Öbb have ordered 33 new-generation trainsets, which will be phased into service between now and 2025, serving Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. Unfortunately, these new Nightjets have not yet been certified for use in France. We’ll have to wait and see.

The new Nightjets are made up of seven inseparable cars

The new Nightjet is no longer made up of independent cars that can be assembled like Lego pieces, but of an indivisible set of seven cars:

  • Two sleeping cars with cabins for one or two passengers each.
  • Three sleeper cars with individual mini cabins and four-berth compartments
  • A seating car
  • A multifunctional carriage with a barrier-free compartment to comfortably accommodate up to four PRM passengers and their companions, as well as seating, bicycles, skis, and large items of luggage.

The train can carry a maximum of 254 passengers.

These new Nightjets still need to be pulled by a locomotive. A driver’s cab is located at one end of the seven-car train. In dead-end stations, this facilitates shunting without having to move the locomotive.

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

The current standard for night trains dates back to the 1970s!

To understand what makes the new Nightjets so revolutionary, I need to remind you of the typical night train offer, with which only the over-50s are familiar.

It can be found on the few routes in Europe that have survived the mass abandonment of night trains. This offer has hardly changed since the 70s!

The sleeper car

The sleeper is arranged in three-bed compartments with a small toilet. They are the faded heirs of the Orient Express and other prestigious trains of the early 20th century, and their design hasn’t evolved much since.

Except for the most recent models, WCs are shared and showers are exceptional.

Beds are equipped as in a hotel, with sheets and blankets or comforters. The compartments can be converted into daytime seats, and one or two beds can be folded away, depending on the number of passengers.

You can rent either a bed by sharing your cabin with other travelers of the same sex, or the entire compartment.

A steward is assigned to the car to provide reception and catering services, including breakfast.

Today, the main complaints from passengers are the lack of private WCs or showers, and the fact that they have to share a compartment with one or two strangers.

Old sleeping cars

The couchettes car

The couchettes, or berths, allow you to travel lying down, but with rudimentary comfort, in return for a more affordable price.

The typical layout consists of compartments with six bunks on top of each other, with two rows of three facing each other. Bedding usually consists of a sheet and a blanket.

By folding down the middle bunk, passengers can travel seated. The sanitary facilities, limited to WCs and a washbasin, are communal and located at the end of the car.

The SNCF, the French railways, distinguishes itself from other railways by offering a first class with compartments of four berths instead of six.

Today, couchettes are little appreciated by passengers, who find the compartments too cramped and offer little privacy.

Old sleeping cars

Car seating

This offer competes with regular buses, which simply provide seats for overnight stays.

the prices offered are, of course, usually very competitive.

Old night seating cars

Discovering the new Nightjet on a Hamburg platform

Over the past few years, Öbb have been doing a lot of teasing about their new Nightjet. So, on an evening in January 2024, I’m looking forward to finding out, especially as the temperature is freezing on the platform at Hamburg station, where I’m waiting for my train to Innsbruck.

The ordeal is at its height, because it’s about ten minutes late, which seems like an eternity, and I’m completely chilled, like my fellow passengers who are pacing up and down on the platform.

Waiting at Hamburg platform

The train finally appears in its beautiful midnight-blue exterior, indistinguishable from the old Nightjets.

New Nightjet in Hamburg

I rush back to my car, firstly to warm up a bit, but more importantly to discover this famous Nightjet, because it’s inside that it’s truly revolutionary.

The new Nightjet is very elegant.

My first impression after boarding is a “wahoo” effect! The interior design is a success. I find it both sober and elegant. White, embellished with a light silver motif reminiscent of the Austrian mountains, is the dominant color. Dark gray carpeting and fabrics are accented by touches of red and light wood paneling. It’s all about modernity, not nostalgia for night trains. I like it.

Nightjet color harmony

Information and hi-tech security

At the end of the corridor, I notice television screens providing real-time information on the progress of the journey. A real plus when it comes to finding out about any delays. Unobtrusive cameras are present to enable staff to monitor and warn of suspicious activity in the Nightjet corridors. This is a welcome innovation, as night trains often have a bad reputation for passenger safety.

Travel information

Two trains in one, to Innsbruck and Vienna

On the evening of my trip, our train consists of two seven-car sets, one bound for Vienna and the other for Innsbruck. During the night, in Nuremberg, we meet the train from Amsterdam with the same destinations. The trainsets will be recomposed accordingly. This technique is widely used by Öbb for reasons of economy. This means that two trains can serve four pairs of destinations. The maneuver was discreet, because neither on the way out nor on the way back was I awakened.

Double train Amsterdam Hambourg to Austria

 

My Hamburg Innsbruck trip in a mini-cabin

On the outward journey from Hamburg to Innsbruck, I chose to travel in a mini-cabin.

Öbb was inspired by Japanese capsule hotels to create the mini-cabin. It’s a great innovation in the railway world because nobody has done it before. With the mini-cabin, I geta private compartment for the price of a berth.

My discovery of the mini cabins is a bit perplexing, as it looks nothing like what I’m familiar with, even though I’ve taken many night trains before!

The mini-cabins are grouped in blocks of four, with two on the lower level and two on the upper. Between the cabins are lockers for luggage and shoes. The cabin and cupboards are opened with a magnetic badge given to me by a steward.

I will later understand that it is the key always to keep with oneself because if the sliding door of the mini cabin closes inadvertently while you are in the corridor, it becomes inaccessible!

Block of 4 mini cabins

But where to put my luggage?

As I’m planning to ski in Innsbruck, I came with two suitcases, but I can only fit one in the cabinet. Fortunately, I have one in airplane cabin format, which is the largest possible size.

For the other suitcase, I have to cross two carriages to get to the multi-function car and place it in a luggage area secured by a cable and a padlock with a code or usable with my magnetic card. Suffice to say, this is not at all practical.

Mini-cabin luggage

I only learned after my trip, thanks to the website, created by Mark Smith, Seat 61, the Wikipedia of rail transport, that by lifting the mattress in the lower cabin I could have put an extra piece of luggage in a box under the berth. I could have used it, but my steward obviously didn’t know yet!

Luggage cabinet (Image from Seat61)

Discovering my mini-cabin

The mini-cabin, the same size on the lower and upper levels, is tiny: 188 cm long, 63 cm wide, and 98 cm high.

I slip into this little cocoon. I chose a mini-cabin on the lower level for easier access. Another advantage is that you can sit at the foot of the bed with your feet in the corridor.

Access to the upper cabin is via a very narrow ladder. If, because of your age or build, you’re no longer very agile, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel any claustrophobia, although I’m rather sensitive to that. I found the white materials and many lights reassuring. The height allows you to sit comfortably cross-legged and use a computer on a good-sized sliding table. When I lift it, I discover a mirror. At the head of the bed is a small window.

If I’d been traveling with a friend or a lover, a removable partition between the two headboards would have enabled us to communicate (in red in the photo). Pretty cool!

Inside the mini-cabin

However, if you’re over 1.85 m tall or very overweight, the mini-cabin may be uncomfortable for you.

Sleeping in a mini-cabin: a cosy little cocoon

I enjoy living at night at my own pace, being able to read or sleep without the constraint of having to negotiate with neighbors to turn the lights on or off for the whole compartment. I think it’s a huge convenience that didn’t exist for this range of services.

My night in the mini cabin wasn’t perfect, however, and I think the Öbb still need to make a few improvements.

Indeed, the mattress is really thin and I feel like I’m sleeping on a plank. What’s more, the bedding is mediocre, consisting of a large, impractical sheet, a fleece blanket that doesn’t seem to be cleaned on every trip, and a very uncomfortable mini-pillow.

In these conditions, I preferred to wear a jogging suit for the night, much as I would have done on a long-haul plane trip.

I had slippers with me, which came in handy when I needed to go to the bathroom at night, as the Öbb don’t provide any.

The air-conditioning works very well and I didn’t feel any discomfort as a result.

Everything is designed for optimum use of our technological devices: high-performance WiFi, electrical outlet (standard for continental Europe), USB socket, and even induction charging!

For travelers’ comfort, the lights can be set to different brightness levels.

Mini-cabin comfort

Four berth compartments: an alternative to the mini-cabin

In the same cars as the mini cabins, the new Nightjet offers three four-berth compartments, which I visited on my trip, and I thought they looked pretty good.

New Nightjet couchettes car diagram

This type of compartment is mainly intended for families, but it is also possible to rent just one berth and share the compartment with three unknown travel companions. If you’re a woman, you can choose a compartment reserved for your gender. If you’re a man, no.

The size of the berths is similar to that of the mini cabins. On the other hand, they’re easier to access and don’t require as much flexibility and agility.

The bunks are fixed and can no longer be converted to a daytime position as in the past. As a result, they are less comfortable to travel in when you’re not sleeping.

Finally, the fact that the compartment is limited to four berths, rather than six as in the past, makes for a more pleasant journey.

Sleeper compartment

My Nightjet is in the breaking-in period!

Once on board, I notice that the crew seems to be discovering the Nightjet as I am. My car steward is still unfamiliar with all the new product’s features.

In my car, one of the two WCs is out of order and the other one’s door don’t lock!

One small problem: the sliding door on my mini-cabin closes loudly and unexpectedly, and I can’t keep it open.

Much more annoying! As everyone on the train tries to get ready for bed, none of them manages to turn off the lights in their compartment. Panic on board! Despite the vain efforts of the stewards and the purser to solve the problem, we are forced to spend the night with all the lights on!

Fortunately, I have with me an eye mask offered by Air France to its long-haul passengers, which saved my night!

After a month’s wait, customer service responded to my complaint and offered me a 30 EUR voucher valid for 10 years as compensation. Not very generous, I find, considering the suffered prejudice!

A beautiful snowy arrival before the mountainous Innsbruck

Shortly after Munich, the steward wakes me up with a light breakfast, but included in the price of the ticket.

Arrival in Innsbruck

To end the journey, I sit down in the corridor on folding seats that allow me to dream of the beautiful snow-covered landscapes I discover all the way to Innsbruck. We arrive in Innsbruck almost on time.

Landscapes before Innsbruck

Innsbruck: gateway to the Tyrolean mountains

The main purpose of my trip was to test the new Nightjet. But traveling is all about combining business with pleasure. I took the opportunity to spend a few days in and around the pretty city of Innsbruck.

The mountain scenery around Innsbruck is majestic. You can even take a funicular and cable car up to a nearby ski slope. The view over the city is magnificent.

A little further on, 80 km away, I choose to go skiing in Sölden. I’m lucky enough to discover exceptional snow under cloudless sunshine. And in January, the slopes are almost deserted. Pure pleasure!

Maria-Theresien-Straße
Inn river Innsbruck
Innsbruck
Solden

My Innsbruck Hamburg trip in a sleeper “Comfort Plus

On the return journey from Innsbruck to Hamburg, I travelled in a sleeper.

I had a choice of two cabin categories: the “Comfort” and the “Comfort Plus”. They look very similar, but when I did my research on the Nightjets website, I realized that the second one was a little more spacious and, above all, had a real shower.

Nightjet new generation Sleeping-car diagram

If you’re traveling alone, you can rent just one bed and share your cabin with another traveler of the same sex, or make it private.

I don’t deny myself anything and I choose the “Comfort Plus” private version! There are only two such compartments in each train. I feel very privileged.

In Innsbruck, I wait for my train at the Öbb lounge

This time I can wait in the warmth of the Öbb lounge and not on a cold platform like in Hamburg. It’s small and doesn’t offer anything extraordinary, but it’s a great place to have a drink and relax.

It is accessible to all sleeper ticket holders.

Please note, however, that Öbb cannot offer this service from German stations, as Austrian railroads do not have an agreement with DB for access to their VIP lounges. Too bad.

Obb Lounge Innsbruck

Five square meters in “Comfort Plus” for me alone: that’s luxury!

As I enter the cabin, I’m struck by how spacious it is, which is quite unusual on overnight trains, where you often feel cramped even in a sleeper. I have almost five square meters for my comfort. It’s almost like being in a small hotel room!

The cabin can accommodate two passengers on two fixed bunk beds, which can no longer be folded away as on older cars.

I discover my surroundings, which offer the same cabin harmony as the rest of the train. As in the bunks, brightness and temperature settings and electrical connections for smartphones or computers are numerous and sophisticated, yet simple to use. I play with the different colors to create relaxing, dynamic, or naughty moods with red!

Moonlighting variations

A checkroom makes it easy to hang up my jacket and store my shoes. Under the bed, there’s space for two or three good-sized suitcases.

Next to the bed, an adjustable-height table can be used as a bedside table, a bench, or a table for working or eating. Quite ingenious.

I like the fact that there are two sliding curtains at the window : one translucent just to preserve my privacy when passing through stations, the other opaque to sleep in complete darkness.

Comfort Plus details

In my compartment I discover a paper pocket with a few comfort items to make the trip more pleasant: earplugs, a bottle of water, snacks, and Nightjet branded slippers.

Amenity kit Nightjet

Bed width and comfort are a little disappointing

Now to the most important aspect of an overnight train journey: the bed! I can’t wait to be in it.

As I settle in, I confess to being a little disappointed. Although the cabin is huge, the bed is narrow: 70 cm wide and 192 cm long. What’s more, the mattress isn’t much thicker than a bunk and I find it really hard.

Out of curiosity I also went to lie down on the upper bed. Access via the very narrow fixed ladder is a little acrobatic, but I’m especially surprised by the low height between the mattress and the ceiling, barely 70 cm.. It’s not much, really, and you soon feel confined. Especially as the curvature of the wall at the headboard makes it impossible to sit down.

Comfort Plus bed dimensionsIf you are traveling alone in a shared compartment, you must choose the lower bed. The height between the mattress and the top bunk is 96 cm, which is much more comfortable and allows you to sit up.

Fortunately the comforter is thick and cozy, and the pillows are much better than in the mini-cabin. The excellent soundproofing and stability of the train make for a good night’s sleep.

Comfort Plus bedding

The sanitary area is very well designed.

The sanitary area is very well designed. I can put my toiletries on a large shelf, just like at the hotel.

When I wake up, I try out the shower. Although not spacious, it has the advantage of being well separated by a glass partition. The water is immediately hot and the pressure very good. I like it!

Finally, having WCs all to yourself is a great comfort.

Comfort Plus sanitary space

Service not up to the price paid

The service on my journey from Innsbruck to Hamburg was far below that which I had experienced on my trip from Paris to Vienna in 2022, which I had found to be of a good standard.

My steward isn’t even present on the platform in Innsbruck to welcome me, and on arrival in Hamburg I don’t see him greet passengers and help them take down their luggage. But that’s the minimum service you’d expect from a sleeper.

After the train leaves, he just picks up our tickets and breakfast selection, then disappears. He forgets to serve us the traditional welcome bottle of Prosecco, Nightjet’s signature.

If I’d wanted dinner or just a drink, I’d have had to go looking for him on the train to place my order.

Finally, the steward doesn’t give me a choice of breakfast times, and he serves them with a huge pair of headphones over his ears! Given the high cost of a sleeper trip, this casual attitude is unacceptable.

It’s a shame, because the breakfast, ordered the day before with a choice of six items from a long list, is pretty good and more complete than in the mini-cabin.

Nightjet breakfast

To the steward’s credit for this poor service, he told me he had a dual role as a train purser as well as looking after our car, and he was discovering the new Nightjet which he’d never seen before. Finally, before entering service, it had been set up from Vienna, four hours away by train.

I wondered whether the Öbb had sufficiently trained their crews on the new Nightjet, as they seemed very uncomfortable with it. This could partly explain the average service.

Stewards Nightjet

Travel in a sleeper with the essentials: the sleeper in “Comfort

I took advantage of my trip to visit the “Comfort” cabin. The difference isn’t huge, and I’ve only noticed three of them:

  • The “Comfort” beds, almost the same size, are oriented in the direction of travel, rather than perpendicular as in the “Comfort Plus” and older sleeping cars. I had tested this arrangement during my train journey across the United States, and I found it more comfortable compared to the swaying of the train.
  • No separate shower. Of course, in “Comfort” you’ll find a showerhead with a hose, but if you decide to shower, the cabin will be soaked and unusable. In this category, showering is more of a possibility if you really need it. If you can, it’s best to wait until you’re at home or in a hotel to take it to your destination.
  • The space is slightly smaller than in the “Comfort plus” version, but is still very acceptable at four square meters

Bedding, cabin furnishings, and service are exactly the same. Traveling in “Comfort” for a slightly lower price than in “Comfort Plus” is therefore a very good choice.

Comfort Nightjet

Other ways to travel aboard the new Nightjet

I took advantage of my two trips to wander around the train and discover the other ways of traveling offered by the new Nightjet.

A night-time offer finally adapted to passengers with reduced mobility

Nightjets have also thought of the disabled, with an adapted compartment featuring two lower berths that can accommodate two passengers in wheelchairs.

Two upper berths are provided for any accompanying persons.

The cabin is large enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

A huge, accessible toilet is right next door.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to observe this compartment, but according to the description on the website, it seems a good fit. The photo was taken from the Nightjet website.

Barrier-free compartment

Budget travel: seating options

Night trains also attract a very budget-conscious clientele. Its expectation of comfort is secondary to its price, but I think there are limits, and the new product offered by Öbb is catastrophic! It lags behind the current offer, which I already did not recommend following my test of the Paris Vienne.

Certainly, the cabin harmony, as in the rest of the train, is well executed, and the seats are upholstered in an attractive red fabric. But they can’t recline, and only the seat can be moved forward a few centimeters, and many are arranged in a square around a table.

While it’s fine for a two- or three-hour regional trip, I think it’s inconceivable, even for penniless young people, to spend a night there.

Nightjet seating

I tried in vain to understand Öbb’s marketing positioning logic for this product. For once, SNCF, the French railways, is doing better than Öbb, as I observed on the Paris Nice train. Incredible!

If you’ve traveled this way, let me know in the comments what you think.

Room for bikes and skis

Space has been provided for six bicycles and – Austria obliges – a few skis!

Nightjet multi-purpose car

My opinion: a fine product, but still in need of improvement.

I’ve been looking forward to testing the new Nightjet, but to be quite honest, After my two trips, even though the new cars have won me over overall, I have mixed feelings, as the product and service are not yet fully perfected, and sleeper prices are often too high.

Prices soar with demand

I bought my Nightjet trip at a reasonable price: 76 EUR on the outward journey in a mini cabin and 270 EUR on the return journey in a privatized “Comfort plus”. I made my reservations well in advance and traveled in the middle of the week. The two trains I took were far from full.

But Öbb applies a revenue management policy, and prices vary considerably according to demand.

The mini-cabin is sometimes sold for as much as 169 EUR.

The single-person “Comfort plus” cabin may be available on certain days at 809.9 EUR as a cancelable fare.

Even if you’re willing to share your cabin with a stranger, rates in a “Comfort” sleeper can exceed 200 EUR.

I understand the logic of revenue management, but I believe it must remain consistent with the service offered. The Öbb forget it a little.

New Nightjet

What I liked:

  • Modern train sets bring European night trains into the 21st century
  • Sober, elegant interior design
  • The innovative mini-cabin concept, which lets you travel alone for the price of a berth
  • At last, private WCs for all sleeper passengers
  • Train soundproofing against external noise
  • Connectivity with wifi, plugs for recharging equipment, trip information screens

What I disliked:

  • A narrow, too-firm berth or bed in all classes and insufficient headroom for upper beds in sleeper cars
  • Poor bedding (sheets, blankets, pillows) in couchettes and mini cabins
  • Limited space for luggage in the minicab
  • Limited comfort for daytime sleeper travel
  • Seating not at all suited to long overnight journeys
  • Mediocre service with uncaring staff, especially when I returned by sleeper car.
  • The failure to switch off the lights on the outward journey
  • A slow, inefficient claims department

The good news is that many of the negative points I’ve observed are not prohibitive. They could even be easily improved in the future by Öbb.

For example, replacing the pillow in mini-cabins or couchettes would significantly change the travel experience, both for sleeping and for wedging your back in the seated position.

As a sleeper, a mattress topper would add a softness and a sense of voluptuousness that is lacking today.

Finally, additional customer relations training for on-board personnel would be useful.

Will I be taking over the new Nightjet?

The answer is yes! It’s a great product, and once the running-in period is over, I’m sure it will help the Öbb continue to successfully develop the night train in Europe.

I hope that this will inspire the SNCF and, why not, in partnership with a start-up like Midnight Trains, launch into this beautiful night train market?

OBB Nightjet delivered
New Nightjet inter-cars
Author in the new Nightjet
Nightjet mini cabins

Comments

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the detailed report on your own experience

    Reply
  2. nice summary, thank you, although I disagree with the statement regarding seating cars that “it’s inconceivable, even for penniless young people, to spend a night there” – I’ve spent multiple nights like this going between Graz and Zurich and yes, you can’t expect to sleep well (or much at all, if you’re unlucky). However, if you’re a poor student and if it’s your only option it’s really not that big a deal to spend a night sitting there listening to music or an audio book or similar. Given how cheap the seating car option is I think it’s a very good offer.

    Reply
    • Hi KK,
      Thanks for your feedback. My statement was a bit tough, but I was disappointed with the change. I believe the old Nightjet is better than the new one for traveling in seating cars. In the old one, if the train isn’t full, you can even extend the seat and lie down to rest or sleep. In the new Nightjet, there’s almost no recline, which I found to be a step back in terms of comfort.
      If I’m not mistaken, you still travel with the old Nightjet between Graz and Zurich, correct?

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *