The Night Ferry

For more information on the Night Ferry Service please follow the link to The Night Ferry Book published by IRPS in 2011. This bilingual book contains a lot more detail and firsthand accounts.

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Night Ferry - Sleep your Way Through To Paris

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Many reading this page would be surprised to know that the Blue and Gold sleeping cars belonging to Wagons-Lits operated in the UK, considering them entirely a European mainland entity.

The Night Ferry, like the Golden Arrow, connected London with Paris. In contrast to the Golden Arrow Pullman service, where the passengers alighted in Dover to embark on a Ferry crossing to France, the Night Ferry was a direct service. The sleeping cars themselves were conveyed by Ferry, allowing the passengers to sleep their way through to Paris.

At first glance the Sleeping cars of the Night Ferry service look similar to our own sleeping car no. 3916, but on closer inspection the Night Ferry cars were both shorter and narrower to fit the UK loading gauge.

The Night Ferry commenced its service from Paris to London on the 14th October 1936 and ran each night, with the return service from London commencing on the 15th October 1936. This nightly service continued up until the 31st October 1980, although it was suspended at the outbreak of war, recommencing on the 14th December 1947. In its later years strike action was also to disrupt services.

Not all the cars travelled from London to Paris, one or two cars served London to Brussels and for a short while a direct service to Basle was provided but did not prove a commercial success. The coaches all dividing or joining at Lille.

Wagons-Lits established the service, provided the Night Ferry sleeping cars and staffed the cars until the 31st December 1976 at which point the service was transferred to the SNCF, who brought 7 sleeping cars from Wagons-Lits and leased the rest of the older cars, with British Rail providing the sleeping car attendants. This arrangement lasting until the termination of the service in 1980.

The establishment of the service was a considerable undertaking, for not only had a fleet of new sleeping cars to be provided by the Wagons-Lits, but the Southern Railway needed to provide three ships and docking facilities at Dover. Due to the tidal range of 25ft and the restricted space at Dover unlike Dunkerque where space was available for a 500ft link span.

Shepperton Ferry Shepperton Ferry

At Dover a dock had to be constructed 414 feet long and 70 feet wide complete with double lock gates weighing 30 tons each, a substantial pumping station, with a 230 hp pump capable of 720,000 gallons per hour and a much shorter link span of only 70 feet long.

Shepperton Ferry Shepperton and Hampton Ferries Hampton Ferry

The ships, built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, were 359 feet long with a displacement of 3000 tons. Each capable of holding 12 sleeping cars on 4 tracks, the Ferries were named Twickenham Ferry (July 34 - May 74) Hampton Ferry (Nov. 34 - Nov. 69) and Shepperton Ferry (March 35 - Sept. 72)

A total of twenty - five steel sleeping cars, known as type F (for ferry) were built for the Night Ferry. These were numbered 3788 to 3805 and 3983 to 3989. All 25 were identical in layout with nine compartments each containing an upper and lower berth. The upper berth folded back when the compartment was used for single occupancy.

Nos. 3788 to 3799 were built in 1935/36 by the Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France. Nos. 3800 to 3805 were built by the Compagnie Generale de Construction at St. Denis Paris in 1939. To prevent these cars being used by the German war machine, they were deliberately not completed until 1946, the bogies being conveniently absent during the course of the war.

The Night Ferry service, having been suspended for the duration of the war, the cars already in service were requisitioned by the German authorities and came under the control of the Mitropa sleeping car company. Of the 12 requisitioned 5 were never to return to Wagons-Lits. Nos. 3788 and 3795 simply disappeared while nos. 3793, 3796 and 3799 were converted by Mitropa into restaurant cars, and never returned to Wagons-Lits. The company suffered considerably during the war losing a total of 189 cars in France alone with 200 seriously damaged.

Car 3793 converted by Mitropa Car 3793 converted by Mitropa

July 1968 WR Mitropa ex CIWL WL-F 3793 at Prague - Express Prague - Berlin - Warnemunde

Cars Nos.3983 to 3989 were built by the Compagnia Generala de Construction at St. Denis in 1952 to replace Ferry cars lost in the war. It is these 7 cars that subsequently passed into the ownership of SNCF in 1971.

In addition to the Ferry cars the Night Ferry also consisted of usually 2 ferry vans, these were SNCF, one was for the post. In the early days the southern railway had 4 ferry wagons but these were soon diverted to other services. The problem with the Night Ferry service was the channel crossing. Rough weather or striking dock workers lead to delayed or cancelled services, along with the general disinterest in the service on the part of British Rail, resulted in a service that was not particularly reliable in its later years. With the ever increasing popularity of the airplane leading finally to the demise of the service in 1980, the final service cars returned empty to France on the 1st November 1980, bringing down the curtain on international rail travel from Britain. At least until the commencement of the Channel Tunnel, once again makes the railway the convenient mode of travel to Paris & Brussels.

The motive power for the Night Ferry in England during the days of steam was usually a Merchant Navy 4-6-2 or West Country / Battle of Britain 4-6-2, although the schools 4-4-0, Lord Nelsons 4-6-0 were also used as were the 4-4-0 D1 and E1. Due to the gradients and the train weight the service was usually double headed. In the later years of steam the Britannia's were in common use on the service.

Once the service had been electrified Bo-Bo class 71 were the usual motive power along with Bo-Bo diesel electric's class 33 and electric diesel class 73.

Bulleid Merchant Navy Class Pacific no. 35029 Ellerman Lines (Now sectioned at the NRM) with the Night Mail headboard An unidentified rebuilt Merchant Navy being turned for the Night Ferry duty nf10 British Rail Class 71 hauls the Night Ferry. Note the less ornate headboard 

Condition of remaining Night Ferry Cars

The following table is a list of all the Night Ferry Cars and to the best of our knowledge the current status/location. We would welcome any further information to update this table, as in some cases the information used is several years old. If you are able to fill in any of the gaps containing question marks, please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to send the information to us.

Click on any underlined number for more information about the coach

No. 

Built 

Withdrawn By WL 

Notes 

Status 

Current Owner 

3788

May-35

1948

Disappeared during War

Scrapped

 

3789 

Oct-36

1974/1977

Les Ifs - Scrapped in 2009

Scrapped 

 

3790 

Apr-36

Dec-74

Workers Dortoir at Nancy

Assumed scrapped

 

3791 

Feb-36

Dec-74

Scrapped in 1977 

Scrapped 

 

3792 

Feb-36 

Dec-74 

Restored by WL for NRM, York 

Restored 

NRM 

3793 

Mar-36 

Dec-47 

Rebuilt by Mitropa as restaurant car 

Scrapped 

 

3794 

Mar-36 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1981 

Scrapped 

 

3795 

Apr-36 

Dec-47 

Disappeared during war 

Scrapped 

 

3796 

Apr-36 

Dec-80 

Rebuilt by Mitropa as restaurant car 

Scrapped 

 

3797 

Apr-36 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1983 

Scrapped 

 

3798 

May-36 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1981 

Scrapped 

 

3799 

May-36 

Dec-47 

Rebuilt by Mitropa as restaurant car 

Scrapped 

 

3800 

Jul-39 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1981 

Scrapped 

 

3801 

Jul-39 

Dec-80 

Preserved at the Bluebell Railway 

Preserved 

Private 

3802 

Jul-39 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1981 

Scrapped 

 

3803 

Jul-39 

Dec-80 

Les Ifs France

Unrestored

Private

3804 

Jul-39 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1981 

Scrapped 

 

3805 

Jul-39 

Dec-80 

Scrapped in 1981 

Scrapped 

 

3983 

Jan-52 

Nov-80* 

Last known stored in 1984 

Assumed scrapped

 

3984 

Jan-52 

Nov-80* 

Seen at Denian 

Unrestored

3985 

Mar-52 

Nov-80* 

Unknown 

Assumed scrapped

 

3986 

Mar-52 

Nov-78* 

Used as spares 

Scrapped 

 

3987 

Apr-52 

Nov-80* 

Preserved by Chemin de Fer Trois Vallees. Location: St Quentin, France 

Unrestored 

3988 

May-52 

Nov-80* 

For Sale 1985 

Assumed scrapped

 

3989 

Jun-52 

Nov-80* 

For Sale 1985 

Assumed scrapped

 

Night Ferry Car 3797 Night Ferry Van

Night Ferry Advertisements

Front page of the original leaflet for the start of service.

Front page of the original leaflet for the start of service.

Inset from the original leaflet for the start of service.

Inset from the original leaflet for the start of service. (Click for larger image)

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Fares for the start of service