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

List of Named Wagons-Lits Expresses

 

The following are a list of named CIWL expresses in Chronological order as well as their primary routes. Where the name served multiple destinations over the years (such as the Nord Express), the train in its original conception has been used.

Train

Route

Introduced

Train Eclair

Paris-Vienna

1882

Calais-Nice-Rome Express

Calais-Paris-Nice-Rome

1883

Orient Express

Paris-Istanbul

1883

Calais-Nice Express

Calais-Paris-Nice

1884

Calais-Méditerranée Express

London-Calais-Paris-Nice

1886

Trouville Express

Paris-Trouville

1886

Sud Express

Paris-Madrid and Lissbon

1887

Club Train

London-Dover-Calais-Paris

1889

Hendaye-Luchon Express

Hendaye-Luchon

1889

Marseille-Nice Express

Marseille-Nice

1889

Méditerranée Express

Paris-Lyon-Marseille-San Remo

1889

Paris-Bordeaux Express

Paris-Bordeaux

1889

Peninsular Express

Calais-Brindisi

1890

Rome Express

Calais-Paris-Florence and Rome

1890

Pyrénées Express

Paris-Biarritz and Luchon

1891

Suisse Express

Calais-Laon-Reims-Lucerne

1891

Ostende-Wien Express

Ostend-Vienna

1894

Calais-Interlaken-Engadine Express

Calais-Interlaken and Coire

1895

Ostende-Karlsbad Express

Ostend-Carlsbad

1895

Ostende-Wien-Constantza Express

Ostend-Vienna-Constanța

1895

Ostende-Wien-Triëst Express

Ostend-Vienna-Triëst

1895

Gibraltar Express

Paris-Algeciras

1896

Nord Express

Ostend and Paris-Berlin-St. Petersburg

1896

Wien-Nizza-Cannes Express

Vienna-Nice-Cannes

1896

Bombay Express

Calais-Marseille

1897

Nord Süd Brenner Express

Berlin-Verona-Milan-Cannes

1897

Riviera Express

Marseille-Menton

1897

Caïro-Luxor Express

Caïro-Luxor

1898

Luchon Express

Paris-Luchon

1898

St.Petersburg-Wien-Nice-Cannes Express

St.Petersburg-Vienna-Nice-Cannes

1898

Royan Express

Paris-Royan

1898

Trans-Siberian Express

Moscow-Tomsk

1898

Amsterdam-Mons Express

Amsterdam and The Hague-Mons

1899

Berlin-Budapest(Oriënt) Express

Berlin-Budapest-Constantinopel

1900

Carlsbad Express

Paris-Carlsbad

1900

New York Express

Paris-Cherbourg

1900

Transatlantique Express

Paris-Le Havre

1900

Amsterdam-Engadine Express

Amsterdam-Frankfurt-Basle-Coire

1901

Berlin-Schweiz Express

Berlin-Switzerland

1901

Ostende-Suisse Express

Ostend-Strassburg-Basle-Lucerne

1901

Berlin-Neapel Express

Berlin-Napels

1902

Napoli-Palermo Express

Napels-Palermo

1902

Tunis-Oran Express

Tunis-Constantine-Algiers-Oran

1902

Paris-Aix les Bains Express

Paris-Aix-les-Bains

1903

Berlin-Marienbad-Karlsbad-Wien Express

Berlin-Mariënbad-Karlsbad-Vienna

1904

Cabourg Express

Paris-Cabourg

1904

Dauphiné-Savoie Express

Paris-Evian and Chambéry and Geneva

1904

Oberland-Léman Express

Paris-Saint-Maurice and Berne

1904

Paris-Barcelone Express

Paris-Barcelona

1904

Vichy Express

Paris-Vichy

1904

Oberland Express

Calais-Paris-Interlaken

1906

Simplon Express

Calais-Paris-Milan-Venice

1906

Ägypten Express

Berlin-Napels

1907

Berlin-Karlsbad-Marienbad Express

Berlin-Karlsbad-Mariënbad

1907

Danmark Express

Berlin-Warnemünde-Gedser-Kopenhagen

1907

LLoyd Express

Hamburg-Genoa

1908

Roma-Firenze-Cannes Express

Rome-Florence-Cannes

1908

Côte d'Argent Express

Paris-Biarritz-Hendaye

1910

Ostende-Bad Kissingen Express

Ostend-Bad Kissingen

1910

Andalus Express

Madrid-Sevilla

1911

Berlin-Engadin Express

Berlin-Basle-Coire

1911

Gotthard Express

Berlin-Basle-Milan-Genoa

1911

LLoyd & Riviera Express

Hamburg-Genoa and Berlin-Ventimiglia

1911

Maroc Express

Madrid-Algeciras

1911

Wien-Roma-Napoli Express

Vienna-Rome-Napels-Palermo and Taormina

1911

Berlin-Tirol-Roma Express

Berlin-Merano-Rome

1912

Wien-Tirol-Riviera Express

Vienna-Bolzano-Cannes

1913

Simplon Oriënt Express

Calais-Paris-Milan-Triëst-Bucharest and Istanbul and Athens

1919

Boulogne/Paris/Ostende-Strasbourg-Vienne Express

Boulogne and Paris and Ostend-Strassburg-Vienna

1920

Boulogne/Paris/Ostende-Strasbourg-Prague-Varsovie Express

Boulogne and Paris and Ostend-Prague-Warschau

1920

Paris-Carlsbad-Prague Express

Paris-Carlsbad-Prague

1921

Pyrénées Côte d'Argent Express

Paris-Biarritz-Irun

1921

Trans Mandchuria Express

Vladivostok-Harbin-Changchun

1921

Trouville Deauville Express

Paris-Trouville-Deauville

1923

Wien-San Remo-Nizza-Cannes Express

Vienna-San Remo-Nice-Cannes

1923

Suisse Arlberg Express

Paris and Calais-Vienna

1924

Engadine Express

Paris and Calais-Coire

1925

Milano-Nizza Express

Milan-San Remo-Cannes

1925

Golden Arrow/Flèche d'Or

Paris-London

1926

Milano-Montecatini Express

Milan-Montecatini

1926

Milano-Venezia Express

Milan-Venice

1926

Anatolie Express

Haydarpaşa-Ankara

1927

Calais-Bruxelles Pullman Express

Calais-Brussels

1927

Deauville Pullman Express

Paris-Deauville

1927

Étoile du Nord

Paris-Amsterdam

1927

Gotthard Pullman Express

Basle-Zürich-Milan

1927

London Vichy Pullman Express

Boulogne-Vichy

1927

Milano-Ancona Pullman Express

Milan-Ancona

1927

Torino-Nizza-Cannes Pullman Express

Turin-Nice-Cannes

1927

Edelweiss

Amsterdam-Basle-Lucerne

1928

Paris-Côte Belge Pullman Express

Paris-Ostend-Blankenberge-Knokke

1928

Torino-Venezia Pullman Express

Turin-Venice

1928

Andalus Pullman Express

Granada-Sevilla-Malaga

1929

Barcelone Express

Paris-Barcelona

1929

Carpati Pullman Express

Bucharest-Brasov

1929

Dunarea Pullman Express

Bucharest-Galatz

1929

L'Oiseau Bleu

Antwerp-Paris

1929

Ostende-Köln Pullman Express

Ostend-Cologne

1929

Côte d'Azur Pullman Express

Paris-Ventimiglia

1929

Roma-Napoli Pullman Express

Rome-Napels

1929

Star of Egypt

Caïro-Luxor-Shallal

1929

Sunshine Pullman Express

Caïro-Luxor-Shallal

1929

Taurus Express

Haydarpaşa-Rayak-Bagdad

1930

Arlberg Oriënt Express

Paris and Calais-Vienna-Bucharest

1931

Golden Mountain Pullman Express

Montreux-Zweisimmen

1931

Riviera-Napoli Express

Berlin and Amsterdam-Cannes-Ventimiglia-Rapallo-Napels

1931

Danubiu Pullman Express

Boekarest-Galatz

1932

Fulger Regele Carol I

Bucharest-Constanța

1933

P & O Overland Express

London-Calais-Marseille

1935

Nederlandse LLoyd Express

The Hague-Paris-Turin-Genoa

1936

Night Ferry

London-Paris

1936

Rotterdamsche LLoyd Express

Rotterdam-Marseille

1936

Tirol Express

Paris-Salzburg

1936

Cataluña Express

Madrid-Barcelona

1943

Lusitania Express

Madrid-Lissabon

1943

Ankara Express

Haydarpaşa-Ankara

1945

Puerta del Sol

Paris-Madrid

1969

Subcategories

  • History
  • Other Historical Articles and Vehicles

    As well as information regarding CIWL vehicles we also have information on other vehicles or historic articles that are relevant to the goals and aims of IRPS. 

    These include The Nord Night Ferry Mail Van.