Rail passengers who travel through major European hubs could soon have less expensive and more seamless trips, thanks to a new alliance of high-speed rail operators. Railteam, an alliance of Deutsche Bahn, SNCF, SNCB, NS Hispeed, ÖBB, SBB and Eurostar UK, unveiled this week its new network which aims to compete with airlines for international travellers.
Beginning in early 2009, travellers will be able to book rail tickets to destinations in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria, with a single transaction on the railteam.eu website. With all tickets and prices listed and sold in one place from separate operators, prices will be easier to compare and Railteam officials expect fares to drop as a result.
To facilitate this new booking system, Railteam is investing 30 million Euros in connecting the separate distribution systems, and will guarantee to offer the cheapest fare between any two stations in the network.
At the five main European hubs of Lille, Brussels, Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, Railteam will hire multilingual staff to work onboard trains and in stations. Under a plan called 'Hop on the Next Train', the network will allow passengers to board the next available train if they are delayed because of late service, even if they have bought a non-flexible ticket. And similar to frequent flyer miles, frequent rail travellers will eventually be able to accumulate "train miles" anywhere on the network to get discounts on future trips.
Departure and arrival schedules will also be adjusted so passengers will not have to wait more than 15 minutes between trains.Railteam said research shows business travellers will travel up to four hours on rail "because of the increased productivity versus the airlines".
The individual alliance partners will field complaints about each other's service, which means travellers will no longer have to contact operators in foreign countries.
Railteam expects 25 million international travellers will be using their European high-speed rail network by 2010, and the number of rail passengers to triple by 2020.
For more information, visit railteam.eu.
Report by Lucinda Housley