Deep in the Dutch countryside, the vintage train trundles past windmill-dotted hay fields and canals stacked with state-of-the-art houseboats. Cyclists stop to watch as the burgundy carriages roll between level crossings, slow enough for the lilting sound of a saxophone solo to lazily drift through the open windows and into the late-June breeze. On board, the Ntjam Rosie Quartet croons out soulful RnB, while a packed-together audience sips on two-euro beers and sways to the rhythm of steel tyres and bongos, languid in the golden-hour heat.
Having departed Rotterdam at sunset, the first Jazz Night Express is in full swing. Travelling overnight to Berlin via Amsterdam, it hosts an eclectic lineup of jazz acts to play back-to-back en route. Engineer and rail travel enthusiast Chris Engelsman is the idea, which took two years to plan and incorporates sleeper cars, two live music carriages, an area for book readings and talks, and a restaurant. Hiring out a rickety, 1980s train to reinvent the magic of old-school travel, Engelsman calls it a ‘jazz festival with a night train message’. In partnership with Rotterdam-based jazz festival North Sea Round Town, the Express links the Dutch music capital with one of the world’s hottest jazz cities.
“The rhythm of jazz and the train goes well together,” explains Engelsman. “I’ve always loved night trains. When I was growing up, every day the Nord Express would pass my house on its way to St Petersburg. But the last night train in Holland was cancelled by 2016 because the railways were focusing on high-speed trains. It was such a pity, because there’s still a demand for them.”
If anything, that demand is increasing. Summer 2019 has been characterised by both sweltering heatwaves (one of which we’re in the midst of on the Jazz Night Express, which arrives in Berlin to the tune of 38 degrees Celcius) and flygskam, a Swedish movement meaning ‘flight shame’ that has translations in German, Dutch and Finnish. Europeans are considering the impact of their holidays on the environment – a train from London to Edinburgh produces 87% fewer CO2 emissions than a flight – and rail travel is skyrocketing as a result.
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