Season 4 -  Finding trains

Episode 2 -  Going on a treasure hunt – June-December 2021

Adrien Aumont — Second-hand Spanish trains no longer being a viable option, we had to pursue new avenues. At that point, two options were open to us. The first came to us via a Belgian broker, specialising in rolling stock, who we’d been put in touch with through one of the several experts we mentioned a few editions ago.

During our conversation, the broker explained that he had a dozen or so carriages built during the 1970s and 1980s that had belonged to a historic northern European operator. It seemed to us that this was a good option and so tasked Luigi Martinelli, a specialist rolling-stock engineer, to audit this rolling stock. But quickly, we encountered very similar problems to those with the Spanish trains: it would be very difficult to do up these carriages to create an experience and inventory – the different kinds of bedrooms we wanted to be available on board the train – that was in keeping with our vision for Midnight Trains.

The second option was slightly more out-there, as it took us to the former Soviet Union. Another industry expert told us that they knew someone who had relaunched a train line connecting a big Eastern European capital with Paris, and that, rather bizarrely, she was a French actress, who made it big in the 1980s and whose name we won’t reveal here. We then got in touch with her and she said she would happily act as an intermediary and help us find rolling stock in that part of the world.

So we were invited into her Paris flat for a slightly surreal lunch in which every sentence offered a good opportunity for a toast (and shot of vodka). And the actress told us her story. She explained that since she was in a relationship with a powerful figure in the former Soviet Union, she regularly took flights between Eastern Europe and the French capital. Until the day when her vehicle nearly crashed and she decided she would prefer another means of transport: a train. However, chance had it that she ended up dancing, during her own marriage, with the railway boss of the country her husband was from. She jumped at the opportunity and explained her problem to him.

A few days later, she was invited into this bigwig’s office and he handed her a letter of engagement, which would allow her to relaunch this railway link. Which she would later do, successfully, by knocking on the doors of various major players in the European rail sector. The train journey we were talking about took more than 30 hours and crossed several borders, with all the changing of locomotives and customs checks this entailed. So our interlocutor was very familiar with all the issues we were facing.

A few days after this improbable lunch, the actress got back in touch, telling us that she had put together a team to look for rolling stock and asking whether she could receive some financial compensation for the effort. But once again, the rolling stock concerned suffered from the same defects as those we had looked at previously. We couldn’t change much inside, except the odd bit of decoration, which would prevent us from creating the product we had in mind.

The redesign issue wasn’t the only defect that all the second-hand trains we looked at had in common. There was also the number of available carriages. Most of this rolling stock was sold as part of packages ranging from 12 to 25 carriages. This wouldn’t allow us to pursue the timeline we had imagined for ourselves. Our goal wasn’t to launch just one line by 2023 and pat ourselves on the back for the achievement. We wanted to create a network that covered all of Europe by 2030.

Romain Payet — However, it was the figures that really signalled the death knell for the second-hand trains. During a conversation with one of the business experts who was advising us on the issue of financing our trains, we realised that we would see a financial shortfall that was much larger than we had imagined. You only pay off second-hand trains over 15 years, compared with 30 for new trains. That means you’d pay 1.4 percent interest per month, instead of 0.7 percent, which at this scale, makes an enormous difference.

To sum up, the second-hand rolling stock we were looking for just wasn’t available. As for what was available, this didn’t correspond with what we wanted to do at all. And even regardless of that, it would cost us more than buying new stock that was perfectly suited to our needs. So we U-turned and called up Luigi Martinelli to brief him on our new direction. And this was all perfectly natural, as since the beginning, he had never abandoned this path and spoke to us about it regularly. Our next mission was now under way.

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