Season 4 - Finding trains

Episode 3 - On the hunt for new stock

Adrien Aumont — When we decided to move away from second-hand trains, we started to explore the possibility of buying new rolling stock. Before even meeting and working with Luigi Martinelli, our expert on the subject, we had contacted the four big Western European manufacturers. At the first one, we chatted with three managers, but all of them looked down on us. And we discovered that, contrary to our expectations, they didn’t have products ‘on the shelf’. Most manufacturers don’t come up with trains to sell them as they are. They respond to invitations to tender, starting with generic products that they adapt to the specific needs of their clients.

At the three others, the response wasn’t any more satisfying. The second actually offered us a completely finished product, which had been created for a big European sleeper-train company. If we went for it, this would mean two things: we’d have the same trains as one of our main competitors and we’d only receive them in 2028, which was unthinkable. The third could do what we wanted but the prices were twice as high as elsewhere. Finally, the fourth was hard to get in touch with, as all its teams were working on a new tender. It was still early days for our project at that point and we’d learn a new lesson. Despite their size, these businesses worked to a just-in-time production model. They rarely took on two projects at once.

But let’s get back to the situation at hand. Armed with all this information, Luigi put together a list of manufacturers that he thought would be able to produce the trains necessary for a company like ours – a small private business that was new to the sector – along with a list of assemblers. In the construction of a train, it was in fact possible to buy bogies from one business, railway car bodies from another and to have the interiors made by another.

Romain Payet — You’ve got to understand two things. On the one hand, the rolling stock we were looking for had become pretty rare. We wanted carriages that could be pulled by a locomotive, rather than self-propelling carriages, with motorisation spread throughout the train. The latter are more common these days, both on TGV and TER services. So what we were looking for was a little out of date, and most manufacturers don’t have the platforms to build them. So Luigi’s list only had three names: one in Western Europe and two in Eastern Europe, including one that we could have bought second-hand stock from thanks to the French actress we mentioned in our previous newsletter.

Once those manufacturers were identified, Luigi put together a bill of specifications and sent it to them, but rather cleverly, didn’t issue a real invitation to tender. He contented himself with telling them that we were looking for trains with those technical specifications and asking them how we could work together on the project. This led to a series of meetings during which we tried to explain our vision to those manufacturers. To do that, we drew on some interior design sketches Yellow Window had done for the second-hand Spanish trains. But thanks to the way in which Luigi worked, we were able to shop around, visit workshops in Eastern Europe (not those of the actress’s manufacturer, the other one) and refine our bids.

Adrien Aumont — And this was the one we ended up going for, for several reasons. First, its teams were familiar with the entire production line, from the manufacture of bogies to painting the exterior. On top of this, the manufacturer had English-speaking commercial agents who would help facilitate conversations, organise visits and so on, which would make everything that little bit smoother. Finally, our objectives really coincided with theirs. For our part, we were looking for suitable, high-performing trains at reasonable prices. They, meanwhile, after nearly a century of producing trains for their home country, were looking for a project that would allow them to establish themselves and shine in Western Europe. And they saw that in Midnight Trains. The result was a competitive offer that ended up convincing us.

This time, we’d done it: we had our trains. No mean feat.

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