First night train connecting Brussels and Berlin starts operations

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -An overnight direct train service connecting Brussels and Berlin was launched this week by Dutch-Belgian railway firm European Sleeper, reflecting a push in Europe to bolster less polluting alternatives to air travel.

The sleeper train is the first direct, overnight route between the two capitals in more than a decade.

The European Commission has voiced support for establishing new rail services and to improve cross-border connections within the bloc.

"We think there is a major challenge in the administrative and bureaucratic processes of the track managers because they are organised nationally and the rules are all different," Chris Engelsman, co-founder of European Sleeper, told Reuters.

"There is an amazing trend of people wanting to travel sustainably... Slow travel has also become more popular to avoid the hurrying and stress of airports."

The European Sleeper also plans a night service train from Amsterdam to Barcelona, due to start up in spring 2025, as well as other night services, the company said.

The first train departed Brussels at 7:22 p.m. (1722 GMT) on Friday and was due to arrive in Berlin at 8:01 a.m. (0601 GMT). Eager passengers were served champagne on board to mark the occasion.

"I'm taking the sleeper train because I love it. I took it a lot to Marseilles when I was younger," Laurence Couvreur, a doctor from Brussels, told Reuters as she was waiting to board the train.

"It's the best for the climate but it's also a nice way to travel and meet people...and that it has come back, I think it's amazing."

European Sleeper was set up in 2021 and Brussels to Berlin will be its first overnight route. The line will be extended to Dresden and Prague in 2024 with more routes in the works.

(Reporting by Julia Payne and Clement Rossignol; Editing by Susan Fenton and Alex Richardson)