The “Night Ferry”

The Night Ferry (Shipping Timeline).

Dover Ferry Photos Library

April 24th 1924

Harwich – Zeebrugge train ferry inaugurated by Great Eastern Train Ferries.


Société Anonymé de Navigation Alsace-Lorraine – Angleterre (ALA) registered in Paris; renamed Angleterre-Lorraine-Alsace on February 23rd 1927. Owned by LMS Railway and Nord Railway associate SAGA.

May 12th 1927

Start of ALA/LMS steamer service Dunkerkerque-Tilbury using ex-LMS Irish Sea steamers LORRAIN (ex RATHMORE), FLAMAND (ex LONDONDERRY) and ALSACIEN (ex DUKE OF ARGYLL).


March 15th 1928

ALA buys DUKE OF CUMBERLAND (renamed PICARD), replacing LORRAIN.

September 1930

British Parliament turns down Channel Tunnel proposal by 179 votes to 172 on a free vote. Sir Herbert Walker, General Manager of Southern Railway, starts negotiations for a Dover-Dunkerque train ferry in November.

February 29th 1932

Southern Railway buys out LMS shareholding in ALA steamship company.

May 1st 1932

ALA starts running Dunkerque-Folkestone instead of Dunkerque-Tilbury.


LNER buys up Great Eastern Train Ferries and starts a (tidal) Harwich-Calais freight train ferry, using Calais wartime linkspan.


Contract let to J. Mowlen for Dover train ferry dock. Southern Railway buys most of SAGA shares in ALA and gains control.

March 15th 1934

TWICKENHAM FERRY launched at Swan Hunter shipyard, Wallsend.

July 30th 1934

HAMPTON FERRY launched at Swan Hunter yard by Lady Abell, wife of SR’s consultant Sir Wescott Abell, Professor of Naval Architecture, Newcastle University.

October 23rd 1934


November 30th 1934

Conference of SR, Nord and CIWL decides to postpone start of service (planned for 10th August 1935) to October 1936 due to delay in completing Dover train ferry dock.

March 1935

SHEPPERTON FERRY delivered to SR and joins TWICKENHAM FERRY and HAMPTON FERRY laid up at Southampton New Docks and later at Dover.


November 5th 1935

First of twelve Type F sleeping cars delivered to Wagons-Lits bt Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France; cars stored at Aulnoye until needed.

September 22nd 1936

TWICKENHAM FERRY sold to ALA and re-registered at Dunkerque (instead of London), with French crew and flag, but name unchanged.

October 4th 1936

ALA Dunkerque-Folkestone service ends.

October 6th 1936

Freight service starts via Dover-Dunkerque train ferry. LNER gives up Harwich-Calais service.

October 10th – 12th 1936

Sleeping car trials.

October 13th – 14th 1936

Inaugural party travels from Paris to London in two trains of six sleeping cars.

October 14th – 15th 1936

First-ever through passenger train from Britain to mainland Europe for the general public. Also carries the London-Paris mail.

October 15th – 16th 1936

Service commences both ways, nightly except Christmas Day.




November 1st 1936

Non-supplement Pullman car added to SR trains to provide supper and breakfast for Night Ferry passengers.

November/December 1936

ALA ships FLAMAND and ALSACIEN sold for scrap. PICARD sold to Greece.

August 31st 1937

33,000 sleeping car passengers carried since October 1936, plus 30,000 “seats” passengers.

October 26th 1937

CIWL orders six more Type F cars from its car-building subsidiary Compagnie Générale de Construction, St. Denis, Paris.

January 1st 1938

Nord Railway nationalised to become Nord Region of SNCF.

July 1939

Six new Night Ferry sleeping cars delivered to CIWL., for completion in their own workshops.

September 3rd 1939

Outbreak of World War II, HAMPTON FERRY and SHEPPERTON FERRY mobilised for mine laying.


For HAMPTON FERRY, SHEPPERTON FERRY and TWICKENHAM FERRY wartime histories click on links.

May 8th 1945

War in Europe ends. Search starts for about 800 missing Wagons-Lits cars including Night Ferry sleepers. SHEPPERTON FERRY and HAMPTON FERRY used as troop transports Cherbourg – Southampton.


Night Ferry cannot restart because port of Dunkerque (except linkspan berth) wrecked and blocked, and because British Army require the train ferries for BAOR freight and mail via Dover-Calais )Nottingham-Herford military store train).

October 31st 1947

TWICKENHAM FERRY handed back to ALA, after all three train ferries have been converted to oil-burning at Glasgow.

December 14th 1947

Night Ferry starts from Paris; both ways from December 15th.

January 1st 1948

Southern Railway nationalised (but not Pullman Car Company). Pullman now staff BR restaurant car in Night Ferry. WL car Dunkerque-Paris and v.v. added early 1949.


Wagons-Lits orders seven new sleeping cars from Cie. Générale de Construction, St. Denis.

July 25th 1951

New SNCF ship SAINT GERMAIN arrives Dunkerque from Helsingør (Denmark); enters service 28th/29th July. HAMPTON FERRY becomes relief ship, sometimes used on Stranraer-Larne.


January-June 1952

Seven new Wagons-Lits Type F sleeping cars enter service, total now 20. Normally six each way per night. BR press for a London-Brussels sleeper, without success.


1954 (early)

Severe winter; Dunkerque harbour frozen, delaying Night Ferry.

February 20th 1959

Dover Marine closed until March 1st for layout alteration. Engine spurs removed.Platforms extended landwards to take longer trains, requiring construction of new section of footbridge to ferry berth.

January 1st 1962

Dover – London Night Ferry steam-hauled due to severe weather. Last-ever use of steam on the service in Britain.


July 26th 1963

Class 71 locomotive E5021 on up Night Ferry crashes into buffers at London Victoria.The only accident to the Night Ferry train in 44 years.

Class 71 type locomotive

August 21st 1963

TWICKENHAM FERRY entering Dunkerque harbour towed by tug ROBUSTE with tug BELIER attached to the stern; for some unknown reason the BELIER sank in less that a minute. Five drowned, four saved by ALA launch CANODALA.

February 6th 1964

Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, gives go-ahead to Channel Tunnel.

October 2nd 1967

BR starts Harwich- Dunkerque freight train ferry with ESSEX FERRY and NORFOLK FERRY.

May 19th to June 13th 1968

French seaman’s strike. Night Ferry sleepers stranded in London for a week and then return empty to Paris and Brussels by special sailing Dover – Zeebrugge.

Spring 1969

HAMPTON FERRY taken off Night Ferry service, continues as freight train ferry Dover – Dunkerque until autumn, then laid up at Holyhead for disposal.

July 1969

Multi-purpose VORTIGERN enters Dover – Boulogne service as car ferry.

October 6th 1969

First sailing of VORTIGERN with Night Ferry sleeping cars.

November 24th 1969

ALA orders new ferry SAINT ELOI for delivery December 1971.

August 26th 1972

Last sailing of SHEPPERTON FERRY. Sold to shipbreaker in Spain, replaced by ANDERIDA, never used for Night Ferry services.

October 12th 1972

SAINT ELOI launched at Genoa by Madame Margot Noblemaire, wife of René Margot Noblemaire, President of ALA and Director of CIWL (Director-General,1933 – 1958).


Work recommences on Channel Tunnel at both ends.

February 24th 1974

New SNCF multi-purpose ship CHARTRES arrives at Dunkerque; takes first freight sailing Dunkerque – Dover on March 25th, then occasionally takes Night Ferry sailings with sleeping cars.

 May 5th 1974

SNCF suspend service until May 18th to repair Dunkerque linkspan. Replacement sailings via Calais where passengers change to first class couchettes. Last sailing by TWICKENHAM FERRY on May 4th after 22,210 crossings.

January 20th 1975

British Government halts work on Channel Tunnel unilaterally. French obliged to stop too.

March 12th 1975

ALA ship SAINT ELOI at last enters service replacing CHARTRES except for occasional relief duties until July 1976



July 1st 1976

Dunkerque Ouest opens for freight train ferry traffic.

July 4th/5th 1976

Night Ferry transferred to Dunkerque Ouest.

February 21st 1979

SAINT GERMAIN collides in dense fog with Liberian bulk carrier ARTADI off Dunkerque.

March 4th 1980

Sir Peter Parker, BR Chairman, announces end of Night Ferry sleepers in an interview in Paris.

October 31st 1980

Last departure of Night Ferry from London, Paris and Brussels.

June 1985

SNCF announce end of Dover – Dunkerque passenger sailings, thereafter rail freight only. Passengers to go via Newhaven – Dieppe.

All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions found. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking:  for their assistance in compiling this feature.

 Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)


Night Ferry: George Behrend/Gary Buchanan
Ferry Boat de Nuit 1936-1980: Chris Elliott/Eric Duvoskeldt
The History of Dover Harbour: Alec Hasenson
Train Ferries of Western Europe: P Ransome-Wallis
Sealink News: Various
British Rail Archives: Various


  1. Hello, i love those old stories but i told before, the photo’s are from a good quality especially the last one that’s in Dunkirk I presume taken from the air, I like this one because here you can see how the harbor is developed to a harbor how it’s like today.
    Keep up the good work I will say and yes I have something with the past, its because of the expanse of transportation like trucks and cars.
    We can’t stop the renewing from harbors etc. But it’s nice to see how some harbors such as Dover and Dunkirk has developed in time.

    Grt. Henk.

  2. I have such a personal history with the Dover/Dunkerque ferry. My mother and father split up in 1971 after she met, and fell in love with, a chef on the St Germain and went to live with him in Dunkerque. I used that ferry so many times until its demise in 1980.

    Much more to tell, if anyone is interested…

    1. Hi Eric,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on our articles. I am always interested in peoples own incites into the ferry industry and why they have a interest in a particular vessel/route. Every story is different and personal to the person recalling them.

      Best Wishes

  3. Thank you for developing these nostalgic webpages, full of interesting notes.

    I have fond teenager memories of the French-operated Saint Germain and Twickenham ferries, from making several [free] return crossings on them between 1969-1974, all courtesy of their captains and my father, a TH pilot. Unlike the car and truck ferries, train ferry pilotage was compulsory for the Dunkerque-Dover leg owing to the nuances of their turn-around and stern-entry squeeze over the gate sill into the narrow train dock (the post-war arrangement at Dunkerque was more roomy).

    Compared to the British operated ferries, Saint Germain’s stylish looks, spacious bridge and a la carte restaurant were impressive. This plus the romance of the blue SNCF sleeper cars, all lined up in the bowels of the train deck, left hints in my teenage imagination as to what Atlantic-crossing atmospheres one might experience on a fabulous French liner! While the restaurant fare on ‘le Twickenham’ was no less delicious, its elderly wheelhouse was tiny and stuffed with radio and radar sets that seemed to jostle for space between the rich polished brass and wood chart tables, binnacles, telegraphs, repeaters and voice tubes of the pre-war era. Centered between the long bridge wings that offered minimal protection from the wintry elements, its arrangement and contents always turned my thoughts to the era when icebergs earned their reputation! I believe the unique pilotage needs at the Dover end continued until 1980, but can’t remember if the insurers of the BR-operated train ferries allowed their Masters to gain the exemption certificate or not.

    Best wishes

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