FlixTrain plan trains to the Netherlands from next year
FlixTrain’s bright green trains that are already running in Germany and Sweden may come to the Netherlands next year. Flix notified the Dutch Consumer and Market Authority (ACM) this week and applied for track capacity at ProRail. The company is targeting a start date of 10 November 2024 for an open-access connection to possibly several destinations in Germany.
FlixTrain has offered long-distance trains on German rail since 2018, and is looking to expand its operations across Europe, just like it’s sister company FlixBus. The requested FlixTrain connection to the Netherlands is between Rotterdam and Oberhausen, near Essen and Duisburg, and will further stop at Arnhem, Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague HS, according to the application to the ACM that FlixTrain shared with RailTech. It involves two train pairs per day, with around 500 to 700 seats per train, depending on the season; longer trains will be used in summer than in winter. The train will cross the border at Zevenaar.
The train service between Rotterdam and Oberhausen will take about 3 hours and 15 minutes. The notification of the connection to ACM lists departure times from Rotterdam at 8.15 in the morning and 16.15 in the afternoon, with arrival in Oberhausen at 11.24 and 19.24 respectively. From Oberhausen, a train leaves for the Netherlands at 8.35 am and 4.35 pm, arriving in Rotterdam at 11.49 am and 7.49 pm according to this timetable.
Railway companies that want to offer passenger rail transport have had the right to “open access” to the railway since 1 January 2019, writes the ACM on their website. This means that besides parties with a concession, NS, other railway undertakings may also offer passenger services. The right to open access applies to connections within the Netherlands, but also to international rail connections to and from the Netherlands. In this way, Arriva, for example, now operates nightly trains on Friday night and Saturday morning on the route from Schiphol Airport to Maastricht and Groningen.
German destinations are flexible
That the connection to Germany only goes to Oberhausen is not the case, Arthur Kamminga, expert on legal affairs and public affairs at Flix, explains to RailTech. “We have now made the application for to Oberhausen, but that can also be another destination in Germany. In the Netherlands, you have to apply 18 months in advance, in Germany you don’t.” So if there is capacity for the Dutch stretch up to the border, FlixTrain could go in other directions from there.
If the train could run earlier than 10 November 2024, Flix will want to start earlier, but no earlier than 1 August 2024. A pause may also be planned due to extensive works on the German network between Emmerich and Oberhausen, with a restart after completion of works when capacity is available.
The connection will use the same Siemens Vectron locomotives that FlixTrain also operates in Germany, which can also cross the border into the Netherlands. The carriages are from FlixTrain’s current fleet of carriages. These are former Deutsche Bahn coaches of the InterRegio type, which were modernised in 2020-2022 in Aachen by Firma Talbot.
Concession to NS could make things difficult for Flix
Much of of FlixTrain’s international expansion to the Netherlands will depend on the Dutch government’s plans for the main rail network. This expires at the end of this year for state-owned operator NS, and State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management Vivianne Heijnen plans to award it privately to the NS again for 10 years, including the international lines. This was not the plan at first, but following an adopted motion, the state secretary wrote to the Lower House in February that if by 10 June 2023, carriers have not submitted any or no suitable open access applications to the ACM on the lines to Paris, London and Frankfurt (Basel) and the IC Berlin (outside the afternoon rush hour), these will be included in the main rail network concession with the same size and frequency as there is now. The same applies to the other international connections that NS now operates.
What the new concession will look like is not yet clear, however. The draft concession has yet to be made public, and will be shared with the Dutch Lower House “soon after the summer of 2023”, state secretary Heijnen indicated on 24 April. The concession must be awarded by 24 December 2023 at the latest. The ACM spokesperson said that in terms of options for open access alongside the concession, there are still ambiguities. “It is not explicitly delineated how much the required capacity is for the main rail network concession, which also makes it difficult to determine whether around it open access services could be profitable for parties considering offering it. We have also indicated that to the ministry, that there should be more clarity on that.”
According to Kamminga, who is also active for organisation AllRail, which advocates market opening and the interests of independent carriers, including international lines in the concession for NS is “absolutely against European rules”. Whereas NS now pays a fee of some 80 million euros a year for the concession, it may not have to pay any fee in the new concession. A subsidy is also on the table, the state secretary announced last month. “What they don’t realise at the ministry is that it is state aid, and illegal. You give a company a monopoly on a lucrative service from which they make money. There is no reason why NS should get protection in a concession for these lines when it can be done in open access, there really is a lack of knowledge at the ministry.”
For the route to Oberhausen planned by Flix, however, the new main rail network concession has no consequences, says the ACM spokesperson, as it is not on any of the routes to, say, Berlin, Brussels or Frankfurt. “What could still throw a spanner in the works however is how much capacity is included in the main rail network concession, and how much space is left for open access services. However, that does not stand in the way of the notification, if they run into that it will come to ProRail, which manages the capacity.”
FlixTrain wants to run trains all over Europe in the future, but including international trains in the national concession is an obstacle, says Kamminga. “Technically speaking, we could run trains on the remaining capacity around the concession at other times, but not in practice, says Kamminga. “You are then competing with someone who gets subsidy and priority on capacity, there is by definition no level playing field.”
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