“We are upgrading cars that had been written off,” explains Julien Polito, rolling stock manager at the Charentes Périgord technicentre.

“They were abandoned, they had been cannibalized – that is to say, we had taken parts for our maintenance activity – some had been damaged, vandalized, squatted …”

Victims of the sinking of the night trains and destined to be demolished, 51 cars were recovered in extremis by the SNCF when the government announced that the Paris-Nice and Paris-Lourdes night services would be put back on track, as part of the relaunch, in September 2020.

They were added to the 71 cars of the two lines that still existed, Paris-Briançon and Paris-Rodez/La Tour de Carol/Cerbère, which the government decided to renovate.

The Périgord technicentre recovered most of the workload, with some of the cars being refreshed in Tergnier (Aisne). There are in all for a few hundred million euros.

The cars are stripped, asbestos removed, straightened, shot-blasted, if necessary supplemented when parts have disappeared, repainted and reassembled. The points of corrosion have been erased, leaving an impression of newness that belies a small plate on the running board?: De Dietrich, 1977…

Inside, everything is removed, inventoried, refurbished or changed, and put back in place. “The mattresses (berths) of first are all replaced by new ones”, specifies Mr. Polito while an AFP team goes from one workshop to another under the great hall of the venerable technicentre, between painting, padding, upholstery and connectors.

“It’s artisanal”, remarks the director of the establishment Mathieu Michaud: “everything is done by hand?!”. “To renovate a night train, it takes about fifteen weeks (…) and 4,000 hours of work”, he underlines. Enough to occupy more than 200 people.

– Nothing left to renovate –

“It’s not just a facelift,” insists Mr. Michaud. “The trains come out of here completely renovated”, ready to go back on the rails for a dozen years.

These cars built in the late 1970s keep improbable electrical outlets for shaving in the hallway, and -?for insiders?- a very vintage telephone hidden in the controller’s cabin. The renovation brings other sockets near the berths, wifi, LED lighting and brand new sanitary facilities.

Cars treated at Tergnier benefit from a much more summary refreshment. You will have to be lucky when making your reservation, if you want wifi, for example.

The Périgueux technicentre is halfway through its 93-car refurbishment program, which will occupy it until March 2023.

Beyond this rejuvenation of the old night trains, we will have to find new reliable and comfortable cars to launch new night connections. Because the SNCF has nothing more to renovate.

The government wants to expand the network by 2030, by extending the existing lines to Albi, Aurillac, Barcelona or San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country, and by creating cross-sections such as Bordeaux-Nice, Metz/Geneva-Nice /Barcelona/Bordeaux.

The former Minister Delegate for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari spoke in December of “about 800 million euros of investment”, favoring a call for rental companies capable of providing rolling stock. Perhaps we will choose more comfortable cars, with individual cabins??

Beyond the Paris-Vienna reactivated last December and the Paris-Berlin announced for the end of 2023, Mr. Djebbari also expressed his desire to “link Paris to other European capitals: Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen, maybe -be Stockholm”.

At the forefront of the revival of night trains in Europe, the Austrian company ÖBB has planned to invest 500 million euros in new equipment. In Italy, Trenitalia has just launched a call for tenders to buy up to 370 cars, estimated at 2 million each.