Four French entrepreneurs want to operate trains differently
Launching your own trains in France is not easy, yet four entrepreneurs are trying to put private trains on the rails where the SNCF has abandoned services. They all have a different business model and must now primarily secure their financing. Meet RailCoop, Midnight Trains, LeTrain and Kevin Speed.
Railcoop is probably the most atypical project. It is a cooperative that currently has almost 13,000 “members” who have bought 100-euro shares (or more). The cooperative has about 8 million euro at its disposal but wants to reach 43 million euro to finance its project to revive the Bordeaux-Lyon line.
Half of this sum is needed to finance the assets (rolling stock), while the other half is needed in the form of a guarantee from banks and financial lending institutions.
Railcoop does not currently have this guarantee to present and therefore cannot provide a start-up date for his project Bordeaux-Lyon.
This is a project that aims to “reinvent the night train” at competitive prices compared to air travel. It is a start-up company founded by Adrien Aumont and Romain Payet with a top management team, including personalities such as Franck Gervais, former CEO of Thalys, and Odile Fagot, former Director of Transformation & Performance Finance at SNCF.
Midnight train wants to launch night trains with an innovative concept of a hotel on rail. This means with a restaurant car and a bar car. The operator says it has the necessary finances and has chosen a manufacturer for its rolling stock, without giving further details. It seems that the company is aiming to re-launch the Paris-Venice night train, formerly run by Thello.
This project originates from the south-west of France (Bordeaux, Aquitaine). The Paris-Bordeaux high-speed line has created frustrated people, explains Alain Gertraud, the general manager. The city of Angoulême, in particular, does not benefit from enough TGV services and the local councillors are dissatisfied.
Le Train is now a small holding company with several subsidiaries, which may be companies that either own rolling stock or do maintenance.
The area targeted by Le Train extends mainly north of Bordeaux, with lines from Bordeaux to Nantes, Bordeaux to Tours and Bordeaux to Rennes. The company intends to acquire both second-hand and new rolling stock. Yesterday, the Spanish press mentioned the purchase of 10 Talgo Avril trains. One of these trains is already being tested in France, to receive homologation.
This French company, despite its English name, aims to offer high speed service for everyone on a daily basis. This recent company was set up in 2021 by Laurent Fourtune, an engineer who has worked for the RATP (Paris public transport) and Getlink, the Channel Tunnel operator.
Kevin Speed wants short high-speed trains for medium-distance journeys. The company is aiming for fast, frequent Intercity-style rotations, with up to 12 rotations per day and very few time station stops. It advertises fares of 3 euros for a 100 kilometre journey.
Kevin Speed wants to sign a “long-term contract” with SNCF Réseau to have guaranteed train paths and thus allow the rolling stock to be amortised on services that he has not yet specified.
It will be interesting to follow all these projects in France, where the SNCF brand clearly dominates the long-distance segment, despite the recent entry of Trenitalia and the upcoming entry of Renfe.
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