EUROPEAN night train start-up Midnight Trains announced on May 31 that it has shelved plans for its proposed operations.

The Paris-based company, conceived in 2020 by Mr Adrien Aumont and Mr Romain Payet, had hoped to launch premium hotel-like services between Paris and Nice, Milan and Venice. A Paris - Edinburgh service was also promoted.

But the company found it impossible to raise enough capital for the necessary rolling stock for the first planned service between Paris and Venice via Milan. An initial funding round of €5m netted just over €1m and the founders eventually concluded that without additional capital the business was unsustainable.

Writing on the company’s blog, Aumont explains that Midnight Trains was caught between two funding hurdles: the unwillingness of venture capitalists to support long-term asset-rich businesses and the reluctance of institutional investors to take on the perceived risks associated with start-ups.

Aumont is critical of incumbent national operators, who he suggests are resisting attempts by open-access players to enter the market. “The channels are open, but in reality, the rail market has mainly opened up to itself,” he says. “This market was organised by the public authorities for their own historical operators, not to really create new players.”

The announcement was greeted with disappointment by the Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants (AllRail). “The fact that Midnight Trains’ project was among the cross-border pilots that the European Commission selected should serve as a wake-up call for the new EU Parliament and Commission,” says policy officer Mr Salim Benkirane.

“How many promising passenger rail start-ups must be sacrificed before action is taken to achieve a genuine Single European Railway Area?”

Midnight Trains’ demise will be carefully analysed by other new entrants, including European Sleeper and Kevin Speed, which are also currently in the process of attempting to secure funding for new rolling stock.

The latent demand for night services across Europe is clearly articulated in a new report from rail market analysts, SCI Verkehr. In Intercity and Night Trains - European Market Trends 2024 SCI points out that passenger demand for night trains is on an upward curve, with popular trains booked out months in advance. The consultancy forecasts that orders for new night train coaches are therefore likely to rise dramatically, with the market for new coaching stock reaching €365m by 2028.