New Dutch player Heuro to compete with Eurostar to lower prices
The brand-newly established railway company Heuro aims to be the alternative to Eurostar between Amsterdam, Paris and London from 2028. RailTech spoke to Dutch founder Roemer van den Biggelaar. “We just want lower prices and more people off planes and on trains”.
The core team behind Heuro is currently a trio, including father and son van den Biggelaar. Father Maarten, an established entrepreneur in the Netherlands, was already in talks with French railways SNCF a decade ago, to set up a new international carrier. “The SNCF gave up on that then, they were still in a partnership with NS and did not want to get in their way,” says Roemer van den Biggelaar.
That was the end of the story back then, but as the rail market is opening up more and more, father and son see chances of it succeeding now. Van den Biggelaar: “I’ve been interested in it ever since I was little. Now we are trying again, but together”.
The example of Italy
Compared to 10 years ago, a lot has changed in terms of market opening on the railways. “Trenitalia has now managed to run trains in France between Milan and Paris, whereas for a long time French rail operator SNCF Réseau seemed to be a big bottleneck, having to allocate capacity. You can also see that the newly formed Le Train says they have the permission in to be allowed to run on the French railway.”
The entrepreneurs are additionally inspired by the example of Italo in Italy. Since that operator started competing with state-owned Trenitalia’s high-speed trains in 2012, prices there have fallen and passenger numbers have risen. “We want to get people off planes,” van den Biggelaar says. “There are still 55 flights from Amsterdam to London and back, which I think is a lot. And that while there is a very nice tunnel with a high-speed line. Personally, I also find travelling by train 10 times nicer than by plane. And towards London, there are still capacity problems in terms of passport control, but something like that can be solved.”
The inspiration for the name ‘Heuro’ comes from high-speed and Europe. The carrier will focus purely on international connections. Besides London, a connection to Paris also goes without saying, says the entrepreneur. “The Eurostar (former Thalys) is often quite full. If we start running trains there too, we hope the prices will drop.” He does not yet comment on what a Heuro ticket will cost. It will probably be below the price of a Eurostar ticket, though. And if Heuro becomes a success, other connections in Europe will follow, says van den Biggelaar.
For Amsterdam – Paris, Heuro is aiming for 16 rides per day, of which 2 will come from Groningen in the morning and 2 will arrive in Groningen again in the evening. For Amsterdam – London, the target is 15 daily rides. This number is supposedly based on demand from passengers. This was the subject of “extensive analysis” by Marveltest. This company, which van den Biggelaar runs the Venture Capital arm of, does market research and gives companies advice based on data for their strategy. Van den Biggelaar: “We think it can be done, and that there is real demand for it.”
The 15 to 16 rides per day is considerably more than Eurostar’s current frequency, especially to London. Eurostar to London makes four trips a day. Frequency to Paris fluctuates, but is around 11 rides on a weekday and around six on weekends, according to the latest timetable.
Former NS board members on board
The entrepreneurs behind Heuro “see themselves as project developers”, bringing in all kinds of people for the necessary expertise from the rail sector. “For buying trains, we are advised by former board members of the NS, and several industry experts from the relevant countries are involved in the project. This is how we are building a team and network that will take the project forward.” To run the company, suitable management is being sought, preferably from the rail sector itself. “We ourselves are better at building a brand and selling tickets,” says van den Biggelaar.
For many start-ups in the rail operator branch, one of the biggest barriers is the financing to buy train equipment while there is still uncertainty about whether train paths will be granted. “We know it is and will continue to be difficult. For Heuro, we have brought in two investment firms, one from New York and one from Switzerland. They will work with us to set up the financing.”
Because it involves quite a lot of money, new high-speed trains are a big investment. Heuro plans to buy trains capable of at least 300 kilometres per hour and is in talks with several manufacturers to do so. Each train will have seating for up to 550 passengers. As reference rolling stock, Heuro mentions Hitachi Rail’s Frecciarossa 1000. To illustrate: Trenitalia received a 550 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) two years ago. That would be enough to pay for half the purchase cost of 34 of these Frecciarossa trains.
A wave of competition?
Heuro’s announcement that it will compete with Eurostar is not the only one, even this week. Last weekend, British newspaper The Telegraph reported that Englishman Richard Branson’s Virgin Group company is also planning to run high-speed trains through the Channel Tunnel.
In addition, both Arriva and Qbuzz previously applied to the Dutch Consumer and Market Authority (ACM) for a connection to Paris. Arriva on the Groningen – Paris route from June 2026, and Qbuzz on Amsterdam – Paris from January 2027. In addition, new player Evolyn was in the news last month: an agreement was reportedly reached with French train manufacturer Alstom to buy 12 high-speed trains for a connection between the UK and continental Europe. Alstom responded by toning down that only a “short-term agreement has been reached for initial engineering activities for train systems, should the parties eventually conclude a contract for the purchase and delivery of a certain number of trains.” Provided Evolyn is able to secure project financing.
Italian rail operator Trenitalia has also hinted that it would consider connections to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin. “We are currently looking at how we can potentially be partners or players for that part of Europe,” Carlo Palasciano Villamagna, chief international officer of parent company FS Group, told The Financial Times.
Where there is currently no choice but to take the Eurostar for someone who wants to travel between Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and London by high-speed train, that could look quite different in a few years’ time. The question is – should the plans and necessary funding of all these new and existing players get off the ground – whether there will then be enough space on the tracks to offer the desired frequencies. Despite all the announcements of upcoming competitors, van den Biggelaar does not yet see any problems in that. “The more competition, the better.”