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The Nightstar was a proposed overnight sleeper service from various parts of the United Kingdom to continental Europe, via the Channel Tunnel.


To run alongside the Eurostar and north of London day time Regional Eurostar services, the Nightstar was the last part in a round the clock passenger train utilisation of the Channel Tunnel.

After rejection of various British ideas for the service that was to become the Eurostar train, which eventually was created from the existing French TGV scaled for a British loading gauge, the Nightstar emerged as an individual locomotive-hauled passenger stock. The trains were to use equipment based on the British Rail Mark 4 coaches modified for long distance service,[1] configured as a fifteen coach train as follows:

  • Coach - 2 * 2 per train
  • Lounge/Service - 2 * 1 per train
  • Sleeper - 2 * 5 per train

On electrified lines the services were to be hauled by Class 92 locomotives. These locomotives were built and designed as multipowered electric units for this role as well as hauling Channel Tunnel freight services. On non-electrified routes Nightstar services would have been hauled by a pair of Class 37/5 locomotives, which would have come a dedicated from an operational pool of twelve units (37601-37612). These diesel locomotives were modified during 1995 & 1996 at Doncaster Works and fitted with through wiring for Electric Train Supply (ETS, used for powering services in the coach such as air conditioning) and RCH jumper cables to enable the locomotives to work in multiple.[2]

The proposed services were to operate via intermediate stations on five routes to Glasgow, London, Manchester, Plymouth and Swansea in the UK to/from Amsterdam, Dortmund and Frankfurt.[3]

The 139 carriage stock order began construction in 1992 and continued slowly until the whole project was put on hold in 1997, then formally abandoned in 1999. The reasons for the delay in the start of operations and then the final cancelling of construction are similar to those given for the non-start of Regional Eurostar service: primarily due to rising costs and competition from low cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.[4]

In retrospect, the service was ill conceived. Specifying numerous trains to numerous destinations meant loadings would have been low, and security at some stations high-cost trying to separate security cleared international passengers from local commuters.[5]


Although only 45 cars (20 seated, 19 sleeper & 6 service vehicles) of the 139-car order were completed when the project was put on hold in 1997, at least 32 more were partially complete and all the body-shells were complete. All the complete and partially complete cars were moved to secure storage, mainly at MoD Kineton which stored 38 numbered complete cars and 32 unnumbered incomplete cars in 2001.[6]

As it became clear that the Nightstar services were unlikely to ever run, in June 1997, London and Continental Railways initially sold half of the fleet of twelve Class 37/5 locomotives to Direct Rail Services, followed by a further three locomotives three years later bringing the DRS total to 9 Class 37/6 units.[7]


After withdrawal of the service, in 2002 London and Continental Railways were credited by the UK Government with the lease fees on the carriages. The UK Government reached an agreement with builders Alstom to sell the carriages back, subject to Alstom securing a new purchaser.

There was interest in the carriages from both British and European operators but the weight, high HEP requirement and the need to extensively modify them to suit the prospective operator's needs meant there were no takers, with Alstom accepting that if they couldn't sell them they would all eventually be scrapped. The heavy weight steel (by European standards) of the cars (seated cars: 50.2 tonnes, sleeper cars: 53.3 tonnes, service vehicles: 52.9 tonnes) came from all the safety systems required for the carriages to run through the Channel Tunnel, and the wiring for the over-specified hotel services. The same over-specified hotel services also account for the high HEP requirement.

Just before the service was finally withdrawn, it was estimated by one expert to The Sunday Times that only one European produced locomotive could have hauled and powered a fully laden Nightstar - and that the locomotive was not due into production for another two years, would not fit the British loading gauge, and would draw too much power from a single section, thus requiring it to have special clearance while operating. The article concluded that the only pair of locomotives available to power and move the complete train was - the Eurostar modified TGV power car.

VIA Rail Canada

Alstom confirmed in early May 2000 that Canada’s VIA Rail was interested in purchasing some of the redundant Nightstar stock.

VIA Rail took delivery of three cars for evaluation in June 2000, with the first three cars shipped - Intermediate 61 19 20-90 029-1, Sleeper Car - Intermediate 61 19 70-90 029-0, and Service Vehicle (Intermediate) 61 19 89-90 003-4. The cars were moved from Alstom at Washwood Heath to Newport Docks, and loaded onto the MV Fairload after she had discharged EWS Class 66 locomotives 67023, 67024, 67025 and 67026. MV Fairload arrived Halifax on 5 June, 2000, and the carriages aboard carrier wagons flat-cars arrived at Pointe Saint-Charles on 14 June.

The carriages required several modifications for Canadian service:

  • Fitting of knuckle couplers
  • Doorways to suit Canadian low-level platforms
  • Compatible with the 480V HEP system
  • Enhanced air-conditioning system

It was suggested that, due to the need to sell the carriages, that purchasers could expect anything up to 20% off the original construction cost.

On 15 December, 2000 VIA Rail issued a press release,[8] confirming that it had placed an order with Alstom for the supply of the 139 Nightstar cars. According to the press release VIA planned to use them to expand service in the Windsor-Québec corridor (notably on services between Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, and Québec), on sleeper routes from Montréal to Halifax and Gaspé, and to free up existing stock for use on the Toronto–Vancouver transcontinental route.[9]

The first five carriages arrived in Canada on 20 February 2001 aboard the MV Jumbo Challenger. On 5 November 2001 the last thirty-two cars arrived at Bombardier Transportation’s Thunder Bay facility, where the conversion work was carried out.[10]

These Renaissance-branded carriages have proven to be ill-suited to Canada's cold winters, with doors and toilets freezing up. [11]


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