Getlink, formerly Eurotunnel, works on low-cost trains between France and the United Kingdom. It’s inspired by other low-cost rail links in Europe, Le Journal Du Dimanche (France) and De Standaard (Belgium) write. What are those continental examples?
The French train operator SNCF started the low-cost brand Ouigo, linking not Paris but nearby Marne-la-Vallée with major French cities such as Lyon, Marseille or Nantes. Under the name Izy, you have a cheap alternative for the Thalys from Brussels to Paris.
Using Marne-la-Vallée instead of an urban Paris station such as Paris-Nord, Paris-Est or Paris-Austerlitz mimics the Ryanair technique of using airports further afield.
Ryanair markets Charleroi as ‘Brussels South‘ and uses or used Bratislava in Slovakia as Vienna in Austria.
The French are not alone. Sweden has the government-owned rail operator SJ, but there’s also Snälltåget, connecting Stockholm, Malmö, Åre and even Berlin in Germany. Interrail and Eurail passes are valid on these trains.
RegioJet collaborates with Flixtrain and Flixbus to broaden its horizons. This is also air transport inspired. Flixtrain offers cheap train travel across Germany, using old Swiss and Austrian coaches. There routes from Cologne to Hamburg and from Berlin to Stuttgart. As in France, Flixtrain uses less centrally located stations.
These low-cost rail operators not only mimic low-cost airliners, they’re inspired by bus travel. There’s a market for travellers willing to give up some or much comfort for cheap transport.
But, there’s a big but. There is a major difference between low-cost airliners and low-cost train operators. The train operators do offer different classes. Flixtrain lets you choose between coaches with or without airconditioning. Leo Express also has different classes.
It’s certainly a way to promote rail travel. Who knows, passed a certain age and passed a certain level of income these low-cost rail users will upgrade to other, more comfortable products such as ÖBB‘s NightJet.
We all know air travel is under pressure. Rail travel and cheap rail travel can provide an answer.
A next step is unifying a European rail ticketing service.