Thalys, the high speed train service between Paris and Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne, is aiming to go ticketless by the end of the year.
Francois Dodane, its corporate account manager, said the goal was to text ticket details to passengers' mobile phone. These messages could then be read by the onboard train manager. Dodane was speaking at the Global Education Conference of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) in Prague.
Thalys, owned by the French and Belgian national rail companies, is among the first major train operator to introduce ticketless travel. The move comes as the Thalys network is due to expand on December 13 with the opening of the last stage of the high speed link between Amsterdam and Brussels. From that date, Paris will also have a full high speed connection to Amsterdam and Cologne.
Dodane told delegates that liberalisation of passenger rail services in the EU on January 1 2010 could bring competition to companies like Thalys and Eurostar, the cross channel operator.
But he said while there were expected new players in the field, like Veolia, the French conglomerate which has been in talks with Air France, it could take some years before new services were established. He said it took about 15 years after air liberalisation before that market became settled.
Adrian Watts, sales and distribution director at TheTrainline, UK booking engine, said the perception that business travellers would only use trains for journeys under three hours was changing.
He told ACTE delegates that "the threshold is now starting to push out to four or four and a half hours". But he said there were still difficulties in getting just one ticket which could be used for a journey which crossed national borders and used more than one train company.
Watts said London to Paris and then Paris to Brussels was "not an uncommon" journey but added "It is still very difficult to book one ticket" as it is necessary to go to different places to book each leg of the journey.
He said rail lacked a body like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which set industry standards for aviation.
Report by Stanley Slaughter