Alpen Sylt Nachtexpressfrom 99 EUR
- Very comfortable travel, especially if you are just a few people
- Low price, no need to share compartment with strangers
- Free (even though limited speed) WiFi
- Great crew, cleaning during ride
- Loud brakes and strong centrifugal forces when in bed
- "Just" couchette beds (which are quite comfortable, though)
One thousand kilometres to the sea – or vice versa One thousand kilometres to the Alps – was the slogan a new private night train company started to offer cross-Germany travel in summer 2019. The concept has some significant differences to the Austrian Nightjet, which I recently tested in its premium Single Deluxe compartment between Rome and Munich. For example, the train offers couchette cars only – neither seating cars nor sleeping ones. The trains operate between Salzburg in Austria and Sylt, the Northernmost island of Germany. So this track is in fact crossing Germany in about one night. I checked out the full route South to North. The review is based on NEX 1313 on 18th September 2020.
ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress – The Route / Timetable
The ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress operates four times a week. On Thursday and Saturday evenings, it operates Southbound, i.e. from Westerland / Sylt to Salzburg and takes the inbound route on Fridays and Sundays. On the Southbound routes, the Southbound train departs in Sylt at 19:55 and arrives Salzburg at 11:45 the day thereafter. The Friday Northbound train is scheduled to leave Salzburg at 16:10 and arrive at Sylt on 7:50 Saturday morning, while the Sunday service is departing one hour later, but just arriving at noon.
The key reason for that is the “night time” in the train. On the Northbound route, for example, you may enter at Salzburg, Freilassing, Traunstein, Prien, Munich East, Augsburg, Donauwörth, Nuremberg, Würzburg, Aschaffenburg and Frankfurt South, before the train takes a quite long non-scheduled stop route. The following stops, Hamburg, Hamburg-Altona, Husum, Niebüll and Westerland / Sylt are unboarding only. This means you are for example unable to book a Salzburg – Frankfurt or a Hamburg – Sylt ticket. Between the Friday and the Sunday schedule, the key difference are two hours prolonged sleep time between Frankfurt and Hamburg.
An ordinary train ride between Salzburg and Sylt using Railjet and ICE high speed trains is eleven to twelve hours. Using Intercity and regional connections only, the total travel time is 14 hrs roughly. Compared to that, the Nachtexpress travel time of roughly 16 hours is not too bad. My train’s schedule was slightly moved, having a departure time at 14:43 hrs in Salzburg and a scheduled arrival at 7:52 (i.e. roughly 17 hours travel time). In contrast to our original schedule, the train was not servicing Augsburg and Donauwörth.
Just before I left on my trip, the night train company confirmed that they will have some night train services in December and January. In contrast to the summer connection, the trains will operate between Sylt and Bad Gastein (via Salzburg) to service winter / skiing tourism in Austria. The winter routing will not pass Nuremberg and Würzburg, but the Stuttgart region and stopping in Esslingen, Ludwigsburg and Mannheim as well as Frankfurt Airport. The “night time” is scheduled to be between Esslingen and Augsburg, so that you can board between Sylt and Esslingen and thus also enter the train in Hanover, Kassel and Göttingen. The winter connection feels to have sleeping cars as well.
ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress – Booking Process
The booking process of my ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress ride was slightly different from what you might be used from other rail tickets. The initial effort is of course very similar: you define your date and route and the number of people including the fare. There are no shared compartments – as I traveled on my own, I had a full six person couchette on my own. If you book early, this can be down to 99 Euro one-way. I unfortunately missed to order breakfast as well.
After the reservation is completed and paid, you do not get a compartment assignment. Furthermore, all times are preliminary. I received my final ticket some two weeks before the ride, including the assignment to my wagon and compartments. What I absolutely liked is a small information folder (pdf file), which you receive a day before the trip. It does contain the final timetable and car locators for all train stations where you may enter the night train. It also includes the WiFi password and schematic views of the location of the compartments in your wagon.
ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress – The Rolling Stock
At least during my ride, an ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress night train consisted of eight waggons. The waggons 41 to 47 are couchette cars. 43 was home of the head of the train, while 44 featured a small snack bar (see below). Wagon 44 also featured the wheelchair accessible compartment and the corresponding toilet.
The wagons are old-style couchette cars, which felt to be very well maintained. Each wagon had ten compartments (2 to 11), the wheelchair accessible one nine only. Each wagon had three washrooms, two on one end and one at the other, with a toilet on each side. The washrooms are indeed a bit narrow, the toilets are very fine. There are no showers on board. A very comfortable feature are lights at the end of the corridors, indication whether washrooms or toilets are currently blocked.
While the train did not change the direction of travel on our trip, it still has been operated with different engines. Here are the engines in use at Salzburg and at Westerland.
ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress – The Compartment
When boarding the train, the compartment was set up in day mode (i.e. for seating). Each compartment featured two power plugs with additional two USB ports on top each, so that you had two power plugs and four USB ports. The foldable table as well as the ladder to reach the upper berths were located underneath the seats. You are free to configure the space as you like, it is easy to fold up the backrest to create thee beds in a row (this will also turn the lower seat to be wider for resting.You can have reading lights for each daybed. There is also a full light and a night light for the whole compartment, which you may lock from inside, but not from outside. The curtains darkened the cabin quite nicely. Some of the small tables featured an information brochure about the train. Unfortunately, the snack offering was not available online / in print.
For sleep, I first kept the table. Unfortunately, it was very handy for working, but its width and length made it very difficult to reach the daybed, so that I finally removed the table for sleeping. The night train provided you with simple bedding, a small pillow, linens and a blanket. Additional pillows are sensible and available on request. Overall, I was quite surprised how well my nap has been.
ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress – Service / The Ride
The rail staff was very kind and helpful. The head of train even explained all functions in the compartment. The crew changed twice on the trip, with replacements in Nuremberg and Hamburg-Altona. I liked the small snack bar, even though they were only allowed to sell packed and sealed food, so that that there was also no hot snack available. The hot drinks were instant products, but very fine. Pricing was reasonable. The train crew also includes people who are responsible for cleaning the train, of course especially the sanitary equipment. This worked out almost perfectly.
The whole train offered free WiFi. From my space, connection to one of the routers was comparably weak, but worked out. Of course, the Nachtexpress cannot use as fancy technologies as some European high speed trains for internet connection – finally, 5G / LTE is spread over the connected users. In some areas, I thus preferred tethering from my mobile.
I did not take that many impressions of the trip. I just had the part between Salzburg and Munich on my Rome to Munich Nightjet trip anyway. After Husum in Northern Germany, I took some pictures, mainly looking at the crowded Sylt causeway, which connects the island to mainland, but also the car trains running on it (there is no street connection on it). The train just had a delay of some five minutes. This is also caused by the fact that there were two major stops en route: between Frankfurt and Hanover, the train halted for some one hour during nighttime, while (majorly in order to sort the difficult Sylt traffic) it was additionally scheduled to stop for some 30 minutes in Niebüll. Fun fact, by the way, is that the company who is driving the ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress is also running one of the two peer trains transporting cars to Sylt.
ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress – My View
I was very positively surprised about the great performance of the ALPEN-SYLT Nachtexpress night train. Overall, I did not expect to be able to work that well and also to be able to relax. The WiFi is a nice goodie, which works – not too suprisingly – much better during night time (when less users are connected). The elder wagons feel to be much more sensible for braking, acceleration and curves, though – compared to the Nightjet, I felt these forces on my body much stronger than in the Austrian peer. In addition (maybe the most negative point of the trip), the brakes were really loud. Voices from neighboring compartments, though, were limited – excessive snoring was however present through the wall.
If you book the trip early and catch a 99 Euro ticket for your own (or some more bucks with family or friends), this train ride is a great way to travel from Northern to Southern Germany or even Salzburg overnight. A great performance and a well-deserved Top Pick!
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