Adrien Aumont — A new season, new roles and above all, a new member of the Midnight Trains team: Nicolas Bargelès, an outstanding railway technician who joined us on January 10th 2022. Now director of rail operations at our start-up, this veteran, who has worked at two international operators during his career, spent his first few days at the company taking stock of the various projects in progress.
And for good reason; before his arrival, we had flirted with all the major subjects, but hadn’t yet attacked them in depth. Nicolas had helped us consult different manufacturers, created an open dialogue with SNCF Réseau (which manages French railway infrastructure), and we’d begun to examine the feasibility of the lines we wanted to work on. We had also begun to work on obtaining our railway company licence, and were tossing around the option of pulling our own trains (or having someone else do it). However, we still had no contact with the other European infrastructure managing companies which will be essential in this new part of our adventure.
Nicolas Bargelès — My start at Midnight Trains was special and it started with a real bang. In fact, I spent my first evening at the company heading to Eastern Europe to meet a manufacturer, who would later become our official manufacturer.
This trip was an opportunity for me. Once I’d shed a little nostalgia tear for the job I’d loved and left behind, I leaped into the excitement for what lay ahead. Midnight Trains was a completely different company to my previous one, with exciting goals, and lots to do, but with a team of people who had already narrowed the window of possibilities. Above all, we’d already determined the conditions for success and failure. My next task was to take stock of all the work that had already been done by Romain and Adrien. They were driven by the very specific idea of running reinvented night trains and had carried out a large study of the market which enabled them to select a certain number of markets, and draw the map of their possible train lines. This also allowed them to establish a fairly complete first version of the inventory, as well as diagrams of the railway cars themselves.
So my work begins with two things: first, to open and strengthen dialogue with the different entities involved in operating a night train. There’s the DGITM: the Directorate General for Infrastructure, Transport and Mobility. Then, of course, SNCF Réseau, which manages French railway infrastructure. I relied on the relationship Adrien and Romain had already created to help them understand the needs of our future train routes. It’s often said that to reserve lines for new trains, you must order one year in advance, from Y-1. In reality, it’s more complex than that. To run a night train, as well as the furrows, you have to squeeze in works which are generally carried out after dark and so can be a hindrance for a company like ours. More often than not, these repair operations are planned years in advance, particularly because you need to get factory trains to carry them out. In short, you have to go Y-2 or Y-3 to be sure you have the train paths you need.
Finally, I spoke with different operators who could tow us, starting with those who do rail freight. But very quickly, Romain, Adrien and I realised that not where the solution is to be found. The players we’re talking to within the sector say they know all about the transportation of goods, but not a great deal about transporting passengers. They would be straying a little too far from their core business if they start dabbling in humans. When getting humans from A to B, we have to consider all eventualities, especially keeping them informed and guaranteeing their comfort. As this is not the case with freight, our contractual requirements on punctuality and reliability have been met with caution. Finally, freight experts can’t see it working with their operations, due to a lack of suitable locomotives, or even an appropriate geographical location. Therefore there’s still a way to go on the issue of traction, in France, and then abroad.
However, these contacts are only the tip of the iceberg. Because the second thing I have to do is to take stock of the constraints we face in terms of the rail network and rolling stock. And there’s plenty to get on with there.