What is a Couchette?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A couchette is a train car that offers sleeping accommodations for passengers. In most cases, beds are suspended from two walls within the train car, leaving just a narrow space between the bunks. It is common for there to be three bunks on each side, the first being rather close to the floor of the train car, the second being at about the chest- or shoulder-level of an adult, and the third being much higher. There is usually a ladder that is used to get to the second and third bunks. The sleeping accommodations in a couchette are not private and people normally sleep fully clothed when spending the night in one of these train cars.

A continental breakfast served for those in a couchette.
A continental breakfast served for those in a couchette.

It is common for a couchette to be a convertible space. This means that the beds can flip up so that they are flush to the walls and the space can be used for seating rather than for slumber. When night falls and it is time to reconfigure the couchette, the beds are pulled down and an attendant brings pillows, blankets, and sheets to the passengers. Even when the beds are pulled down there is some storage space for luggage.

A couchette offers sleeping accommodations for passengers.
A couchette offers sleeping accommodations for passengers.

People may reserve space in a couchette when traveling long distances by rail. It is common in many parts of the world for railways to schedule long-distance trips as overnight trips. This allows riders to sleep through most of the trip instead of having to entertain themselves for hours during a daytime trip. It also allows travelers to cut down on the number of nights that they have to spend in hotels and also maximizes the amount of time they can spend sightseeing. In many cases, spending a night in a couchette is much less expensive than spending the night in private quarters on a train.

In addition to including sleeping accommodations, a couchette also includes basic lavatory facilities. These lavatories rarely include bathing facilities but do include sinks and toilets so that travelers can freshen up a bit as needed. Railways that offer overnight trips and couchette accommodations also usually offer at least simple food services. There may be a dining car or train attendants may come by with packaged foods and beverages that riders can purchase. There are some railways that serve continental breakfasts to those who spend trips in couchettes.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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